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Braised Short Ribs from West Town Tavern

The West Town Tavern in Chicago is justly known, among other things, for its pot roast. They have elevated a homely dish with roots in England and New England to rise to something else, in part because their version is not pot roast at all. They apply the traditional braising technique for a big hunk of chuck to individual short ribs to produce a transformational dish. The black vinegar sauces sound Germanic, but the British have a long tradition of adding vinegar and brown sugar to the braising liquid for beef; this sauce may be considered a variation on the theme if you choose. For four; may be doubled.

For the beef:

Beef.jpg-4 beef short ribs on the bone
-coarse salt (we like Maldon) and pepper
-2 Tablespoons corn or olive oil
-2 carrots cut into big chunks
-2 celery ribs cut into big chunks
-a red onion, peeled and cut into eight sections
-2 bay leaves
-about a dozen stalks of parsley
-a heaped teaspoon dried thyme
-hot sauce
-glug of Kitchen Bouquet (optional but optimal)
-about 1½ cups robust red wine

For its sauce:

-2 cups red wine vinegar
-about ½ cup Demerrara, Turbinado or plain brown sugar
-scant ½ cup raisins


Preheat the oven to 325°.

  1. Season the meat with generous doses of salt and pepper.
  2. Set the oil over high heat until it shimmers in a heavy oven pot big enough to hold the ribs fairly snugly and sear them until browned.
  3. Add all of the other ingredients for the beef to the pot; use enough wine to rise about ¾ of the way up the side of the ribs.
  4. Bring the wine to a boil, cover the pot and put it in the oven for at least 3½ hours or until a fork pierces the meat with ease.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce by boiling the sugar in the vinegar until it reduces by about half to a blackish syrup, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the raisins to plump them. If you go too far and need a little liquid, strain some of the cooking wine from the beef pot.
  6. You will need a green vegetable--sprouts are best--and either mashed potatoes or grits to accompany the beef.


- We have doubled the amount of vegetables and bay, and added the thyme, to the original recipe, from West Town Tavern Contemporary Comfort Food by Susan and Drew Goss (Chicago 2010). We also have added the hot sauce and optional Kitchen Bouquet; the influence of New Orleans on the Editor. She throws some Worcestershire into the pot for good measure as well.

- The West Town Tavern uses boneless ribs. The presentation is less rustic but we like the added flavor and richness from the bones and their marrow.

- The tavern uses canola oil; we do not like it. To the Editor it smells a little sharp, even bitter, and it spatters more than other oils.

- They also always use Zinfandel for braising the beef, a good idea if you have some but not, strictly speaking, necessary if you do not. If you do not have enough wine to reach the required depth (we always use whatever is left from a previous dinner) top it up with some beef stock or, last resort, water, but do not overdo it; you want a winey, winey taste to this dish.

- If you have no red onion, a white one will do. We like to add tiny pearl onions (as usual, defrosted frozen Birds Eye) to the pot for the last 20 minutes or so, and fish them out for service with the beef. Toss the other vegetables.

- Strain and keep the cooking wine to use in making coq au vin; beef instead of chicken stock works better anyway.

- You could do a lot worse than follow the West Town Tavern recipe to make your Brussels sprouts. It and other recipes for sprouts appear in the practical.