Most of the things I write about are sweets or veggies. But when the weather turns, comfort foods tempt even the best of us. Heck, I’m going to be wearing a sweater for the next 4-6 months, so why not indulge a little?
This recipe is one of my favorite indulgences. Slowly-braised boneless beef shortribs in a smoky chipotle tomato sauce (called “tinga”) in Mexico. It’s somewhat spicy, not hot spicy, but more accurately described as smoky and warm — with the flavors of cumin and garlic. I’d compare it to a good chili base amped up slightly in flavor.
If you’ve never worked with chiles before, I really encourage you to give it a go. It’s a very easy way to add a ton of flavor to your dishes. The preparation is simple — remove the seeds from the dried chiles and toast them for a minute or two (here with cumin seeds) in a dry sauté pan before continuing with the other, wetter, ingredients. After everything is cooked, the whole shebang gets blended and comes together into a wonderfully flavorful sauce.
Once the shortribs are braised, you have a lot of options for serving the meat. I like to just serve them up with the sauce over a bed of polenta, rice, or mashed potatoes with a nice big green salad on the side. But you can also shred the meat and serve it as tacos or in enchiladas, with the sauce poured over it and topped with some cheese. The shredded meat also makes a great “game day” sandwich on a bun, tailgate-style.
Give it a try if you’re so inclined and lucky enough to have access to dried chiles. I realize this might be a bit for difficult for some of my Midwestern followers, although most large supermarkets have dried chiles if you look for them. But at any rate, cooking can sometimes be an adventure, so there’s no better excuse for a field trip to the nearest Latino market! You’ll wow the entire neighborhood.
- 3 dried chipotle chilis, stems and seeds removed
- 5 dried pasilla or New Mexico chilis, stems and seeds removed
- 1 tsp (5 g) cumin seeds
- 1 tsp (5 g) dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
- 1 (28 oz or 794 g) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- ⅓ cup (79 ml) cider or white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
- 3 white onions, diced
- 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) boneless beef short ribs
- Remove the seeds and stems from the dried chiles.
- Heat a sauté pan until hot, then add the chiles and cumin seeds. Toast for 1-2 minutes, until you are getting a nice toasty smell.
- Add the can of tomatoes, oregano, garlic cloves, and about 1.5 cups of water. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Blend the chile/tomato mixture with the vinegar in a blender until smooth.
- In a large dutch oven, at least 5.5 quarts (5 L), sauté the onions in olive oil for 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat until starting to brown.
- Meanwhile, season the shortribs with salt and black pepper.
- When the onions are ready, add the shortribs and brown them slightly with the onions. You don’t need to develop a brown crusty outside here, you’re just cooking the outside of the shortribs a bit so that they hold together during the long braise.
- Once the shortribs have browned a bit, add the chile/tomato paste and enough water to cover the everything. Use up to 2 quarts (2 L) of water.
- Simmer uncovered for 5 hours. And by simmer, I mean that you should see steam rising off the top, and a bubble from time to time, but not all that often. Don’t boil this. During the 5 hours of cooking, you might need to add extra water if the level of the sauce starts to expose a lot of the shortribs. You want the mixture to reduce and thicken, but use your judgment and add some water if you think it’s reducing too much. You should also stir this from time to time to prevent any potential burning on the bottom.
- After 5 hours, the meat will be fork tender and delicious. Season your work with salt to taste and serve in any way you like!