What trendy young restaurant chefs today have yet to learn, but what Southern home cooks have known for centuries, is that there’s one way and only one way to transform tough, cartilage-laden short ribs of beef (like lamb shanks) into a culinary wonder: braising them slowly in liquid for hours. No dry-heat cooking, no marinating and grilling, no quick method whatsoever will break down the meat fibers and soften up the fat as braising does. Cooking short ribs correctly is a long but easy process. The technique I’ve used for years involves both boiling and braising the ribs with vegetables for optimal succulence and tenderness. Most Southerners cook short ribs simply in water, but, just recently, I’ve found that beer provides a slight bitterness that beautifully balances the sweetness of the meat and onions. Do shop very carefully for short ribs, rejecting any that have more bone than meat. What you’re looking for are meaty ribs at least 4 inches wide and 3 inches thick. Remember that nothing freezes as well as uncooked short ribs.
Place the short ribs in a large saucepan or pot, add the beer and, if necessary, enough water to cover, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer at least 3 hours, adding more beer or water if necessary to cover. During the last hour of simmering, add the onions. During the last 30 minutes, add the potatoes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a large, shallow baking dish, place the onions and potatoes around the meat, and add the tomatoes and their juice. If the juice does not fill the baking dish by three quarters, add a little of the cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper and
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