Our family always goes big for the holidays. We bake more than 30 kinds of cookies, roast beef and turkey; embrace vegetables and fruity side dishes made by guests; and stock up on wine and spirits. This holiday season, I dreamed of seating 20 guests in our new home. I pictured four tables full of food and friends.
While the pandemic safety precautions mean those tables went unused, my kitchen did not. I cooked with pleasure for loved ones — wearing a mask and washing hands frequently. Then, I packaged my expressions of love in small containers to deliver safely to front doors. We all reheated our holiday meals and ate together on FaceTime.
Successful reheating of all these dishes factored into my menu planning. Few entrees beat beef for festivity. A roast proves difficult to turn into small meals; steaks don’t reheat well. Instead, I braised beef short ribs. These meaty cuts sport full flavors that actually improve when made in advance.
Plated individually, beef short ribs feel as festive as restaurant fare. The recipe that follows coats the ribs in bold, dark brown sugar, salt and fresh pepper before browning. A slow oven-braise in red wine flavored with balsamic vinegar and earthy Worcestershire renders the ribs tender. Thick slices of carrot and parsnip add sweetness and absorb a bit of the richness.
I encourage you to order the ribs in advance from your local butcher or meat counter. Six English-cut, bone-in, beef short ribs, each 2 to 3 inches thick, weigh about 5 pounds and serve six guests.
Alternatively, you can use the 1 1/2 -inch to 2-inch thick Flanken-style short ribs; plan on two per person for a main course. (The Korean-style short ribs, typically 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick are not suited here.) Other options include 4-inch boneless chunks of beef chuck or a whole 3 1/2 – to 4-pound bone-in beef chuck roast. A whole beef brisket works as well, but requires a tad more time in the oven.
To accompany the beef, stir up a batch of instant polenta. Other side dishes can be simple, such as roasted Brussels sprouts or steamed green beans.
The short ribs can be made three days or so in advance and refrigerated. They also freeze well, but allow at least one day to thaw in the refrigerator. For serving, reheat the ribs in a hot oven separately from the pan juices and vegetables. The dry heat will add a bit of crustiness to the beef while you thicken the pan juices.
Beef back ribs, also known as prime rib bones, prove another excellent make-ahead beef entree. These large ribs are in good supply due to the popularity of boneless rib roasts and rib-eye steaks. They are also likely to be about half the price of short ribs. They taste every bit as good and beefy as those cuts, albeit richer. Since beef back ribs are super rich I plan on one rib per person, with a couple of extra for heartier eaters.
I like to roast these ribs to render some of the fat. Truth be told, I then roll steamed vegetables or roasted potatoes in the beef fat.
I serve these bronzed beauties with a pile of sweet and sour red cabbage to cut the richness. I save the pan juices (which are mostly rendered beef fat) to make the most decadent oven-roasted potatoes ever. Fresh herbs help moderate their richness.
Whichever beef entree you choose, start the meat with a hearty salad of romaine and radicchio tossed with a vinegary dressing. Crusty sourdough bread welcomes the pan juices.
These entrees deserve full-bodied red wine or dry sparkling wine. Offer tart sorbet, such as lemon or blood orange, along with crisp cookies for dessert.
Brown Sugar- and Balsamic-Braised Beef Short Ribs
Prep: 30 minutes; Cook: 2 hours; Reheat: 20 minutes. Makes: 6 servings
3 medium-large carrots, trimmed, peeled (use multicolored carrots if you have them), about 1 pound
2 or 3 medium parsnips (or more carrots), trimmed, peeled, about 12 ounces
1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise, well-rinsed
6 English-cut, bone-in beef short ribs, or 10 to 12 pieces (each 2 inches thick) Flanken-style short ribs, total 5 pounds
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons oil for high-heat cooking, such as expeller-pressed canola oil
6 shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
5 or 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary or ¼ teaspoon dried
2 cups beef broth or chicken or veal stock
3 tablespoons each: Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons flour dissolved in about ¼ cup water
Black pepper polenta, see recipe, optional
Thinly sliced green onions or chives, for garnish
Cut carrots and parsnips on the diagonal into ½-inch-wide slices. Slice white and tender green portions of leek crosswise into ½-inch-wide slices.
Pat the short ribs dry; place in a large shallow pan. Mix brown sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Coat ribs on all sides with the mixture.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add the oil and then the short ribs in a single, uncrowded layer. (You may have to work in batches.) Brown the short ribs, turning, until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate when ribs are brown.
Working in the same pot, add the leek and shallots. Cook, stirring, to soften slightly, about 2 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 1 minute. Stir in wine; heat to a boil while scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in carrots, parsnips, thyme, bay leaves and rosemary. Add the broth, Worcestershire and balsamic.
Nestle the short ribs back in the Dutch oven, fatty side up. Cover the pot with a piece of parchment paper or foil and then cover with the lid. Bake, turning meat occasionally, until nearly tender when pierced with a fork, about 1½ hours.
Uncover and continue baking until meat is completely fork-tender and liquids have reduced, about 30 minutes. Cool on counter, about 1 hour. Remove ribs carefully with tongs to a food storage container. Remove vegetables from pan juices and store in separate containers. Refrigerate all, tightly covered, up to 3 days.
To serve, heat oven to 375 degrees on convection or 400 degrees on conventional. Put short ribs on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and nicely glazed, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, scrape off and discard the congealed fat from the pan juices. Put the juices and vegetables into a large saucepan and set over medium heat. When hot, stir in the flour-water mixture and cook until juices boil and thicken, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Spoon a piece of the hot crisped polenta onto a serving plate. Top with a spoonful of the vegetables and pan juices. Top with a hot short rib and more sauce. Garnish with green onions and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 477 calories, 23 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 91 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates, 17 g sugar, 33 g protein, 1,080 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
Black Pepper Polenta
Prep: 5 minutes; Cook: 10 minutes; Reheat: 10 minutes. Makes: 6 servings
1 cup instant polenta cornmeal (such as the Colavita brand)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Butter or short rib pan juices, optional
Expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil
Heat 4 cups water to a boil over high heat in a deep-sided, 2-quart saucepan. Add pepper and salt. Reduce heat to medium. Using a whisk to keep things moving, slowly pour in the polenta. Continue whisking to be sure there are no lumps. Change to a flat-sided wooden spoon; continue to cook and stir over medium-low heat, 5 minutes. The polenta will thicken and bubble and start to pull away from the bottom of the pan. Be careful as spatters are very hot.
Remove from heat. If desired, stir in a tablespoon or 2 of butter or short rib pan juices. Immediately spoon into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and spread to 1-inch thickness. Cool. Refrigerate covered up to 3 days.
To serve, flip the polenta out of the container onto a cutting board. Cut into 6 pieces. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Film with a little oil and add the polenta pieces in an uncrowded layer. Cook until golden and crispy, about 2 minutes, flip and crisp the other side. Serve hot.
Nutrition information per serving: 88 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 2 g protein, 194 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Glazed and Roasted Beef Back Ribs
Prep: 15 minutes; Cook: 1 ¼ hours; Reheat: 10 minutes. Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Roast potatoes in the beef fat or roll steamed green beans or broccoli spears around in the pan juices. You won’t be sorry.
2 tablespoons sweet paprika, preferably imported Hungarian
1 tablespoon each: sea salt, dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon each: ground ginger, cumin, black pepper
¼ teaspoon each: ground allspice, cayenne
5 pounds beef back ribs (aka prime rib bones), about 8 pieces
2 pounds small red and yellow potatoes, halved
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons pure cane syrup, pure maple syrup or honey
Watercress or chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, green onion tops
Mix the salt, sugar and spices in a small dish. Pat the ribs dry; place them on a baking sheet. Rub them all over with the spice mixture. Refrigerate loosely covered at least 1 hour or overnight.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place ribs on a shallow metal baking pan. Roast until deeply bronzed and tender, 60 to 70 minutes. Remove from the oven. Transfer with tongs to a food storage container. Cool, then refrigerate covered up to 3 days.
Add the potatoes to the pan juices; turn to coat them well. Sprinkle with salt. Bake, stirring once or twice, until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Refrigerate covered up to 3 days.
To serve, let the ribs come to room temperature on a broiler pan. Heat the broiler. Broil ribs 6 to 8 inches from heat source, until heated through, about 2 minutes per side. Drizzle each rib with about 1 teaspoon of the syrup and broil until glistening, 2 minutes. Turn ribs, glaze again and broil 1 minute.
Meanwhile, put potatoes into a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high, stirring once or twice, until hot, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle ribs and potatoes with watercress or herbs.
Nutrition information per serving (for 6 servings): 414 calories, 18 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 38 g carbohydrates, 11 g sugar, 26 g protein, 1,252 mg sodium, 4 g fiber