Stout Braised Beef Ribs! Perfection for a cold winter’s day where the snow hangs heavy in the trees, the cold clings to your skin and you can hear the snow creak beneath your feet. When it’s paired with a cheesy risotto (basically fancy mac and cheese in my books) it instantly becomes one of my favorite comfort foods. Put this dish/meal on your stove top to cook before heading out for a snowshoe or set it in a slow cooker in the morning, and it will be waiting for you at the end of the day.
The original recipe was featured in Taste Magazine (I heart Taste Magazine, btw), winter 2010. The recipe seemed foolproof; perfect for my mental state. The problem is that not all Porters and Stouts (beer) are created equally. There’s a fair bit of complexity to them and the variations of malt to hops can differ greatly from one brand to another. I wanted to use a local beer called 52 Foot Stout from Bakersville, BC. Delish! BUT, after 2 hours of cooking, the hops became overpowering and the dish tasted bitter. Like…gross bitter. When15 dollars of beef, 8 dollars of beer…not including other ingredients, turns into a barely edible mess, needless to say I felt like shedding a few tears.
The recipe below turned out to be incredibly delicious in the end, so I’ll share that version with you rather than the one I started out with. I hope is the lesson I learned turns out to be useful should this scenario happen to you.
Today’s braised beef recipe really highlights how something that could have been fabulous can become a miserable flop because of the flavor influence of ONE, yup 1 ingredient. The beer you use. I wanted to share this experience with you for two reasons. First, because of my recent interview with Jennifer Cornbleet where we discussed the influence of the 5 tastes in cooking, recipe creation and flavor balancing. Secondly, chances are if it happened to me, it could happen to you. (Insert horror movie soundtrack here).
Here is what I learned about cooking with beer:
When cooking with beer, the IBU is an indicator of the perceived bitterness of that beer. The higher the IBU rating the greater the amount of perceived bitterness. There are many exceptions of course (click here to read up on it if you choose) but it works as a general rule. It’s not often desirable to introduce a lot of bitterness to a recipe as only a small amount is required to bring out the complexity of the flavors.
Other factors at play:
Bitterness can be compounded if the recipe also includes ingredients from foods that exhibit bitterness of their own. Examples include greens such as kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula, or foods like olives, walnuts, eggplant and endives.
How to fix it:
Adding sweetness to a dish will greatly balance out the level of perceived bitterness. If you decide to make a stew with beer (or make any dish) and it has a bitter taste, try adding honey, sugar, maple syrup or even molasses as a quick fix. I like honey, but if one of these sweet ingredients are already present in the recipe, it’s a good bet to just add a little more to get the flavors right. You can also add foods that present sweetness in them naturally such as tomatoes, most fruit, winter squash, yams or sweet potatoes. Keep in mind that if a lot of sweetener is required a bit more salt may be required as well.
During my catastrophe I chose to add tomato paste and honey which worked brilliantly. What was almost inedible turned out plate-licking good. Tears abated. Drama averted. It’s always amazing to me how a little tweak in a recipe can make such a difference.
Onto the recipe and notes:
You’ll notice a measurement range for the honey, simply because the beer you choose to use may not be as bitter as mine. The IBU rating on the 52 Foot Stout is 52. If you’ve read up on it in the link above you’ll know that looking for a beer with an IBU less than 52, is not really enough to know exactly how it will play out in your recipe but hopefully….armed with a bit of honey, it won’t matter as much.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 10-12 oz beef short ribs
- salt and pepper
- 2 onions, sliced into 1/8 inch wedges
- 2 onions, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
- 1 small celery root, peeled and cubed into 1 cm pieces (approx 2 cups)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 1 1/2 cups stout beer (or porter)
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1-2 cups beef or chicken stock (depending on the size of the pot)
- 1-1 1/2 Tbsp honey (to taste)
- salt and pepper to taste (I used almost a 1 1/2, but the amount will vary depending on how well the meat was seasoned before the browning process)
- In a heavy bottom pot set over medium high heat, add 2 Tbsp olive oil. Pat the ribs dry with paper towel and season well with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on all sides, approx 8 minutes. Remove the ribs from the pot and drain all but 2 Tbsp of fat.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions, carrots, celery root and garlic. Cook for approx 5 minutes or until onions begin to soften, stirring occassionally. Add the beer, tomato paste and rosemary.
- Place the ribs back in the pot. Add enough stock to cover the ribs just under half way. Bring the mixture to a light simmer. Cover and cook on low heat for 1.5-2 hours or until meat is tender.
- Remove the ribs from the pot. Bring the sauce mixture to a full boil. Reduce the sauce until it reaches desired thickness. Add the ribs back into the pot to heat through. Serve with creamy risotto, crusty bread, parmesan quinoa, polenta or gnocchi. Links for side dish recipes included below.