Ancho-Coffee Braised Short Ribs

Dsc02394 A few weeks ago, through Eric’s work, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Bon Appetit Grand Tasting Sip and Stroll, which was part of Uncork’d, the magazine’s food and wine celebration week, which is held each year in Las Vegas.  During this event, over 40 of Las Vegas’s best restaurants were represented, each with a booth located around the perimeter of a ballroom, at which chefs prepared their signature dishes or latest creations for the lucky attendees.   

What made this event extra special was that most of the restaurants’ celebrity chefs were also there, mingling with the guests, posing for photos, signing autographs, but ironically, not cooking  (I suppose they are allowed a night off….).  I recall looking to my left and seeing Daniel Boloud having an animated discussion with Joel Robuchon.  To my right was Cat Cora, in all of her Iron Chef glory.  I took a few steps forward and almost ran over Guy Savoy, which would have been embarrassing, although not surprising, as I tend to do that sort of thing more often than I’d like to admit. 

The highlight of the evening was meeting Mr. Spago, Chef Wolfgang Puck himself, who I have Wolfgangpuck_photo watched and admired since his early Food Network days.  I’m not usually the one to approach a celebrity and ask for a photo, but he was right there, so I couldn’t resist.  It was a true relief to find that he is just as friendly in the flesh as he is personified on T.V.   I can’t imagine how many photos he has had to pose for over the years, but he happily posed for one more with me (sorry, it’s a bit blurry–Eric took it while balancing his plate and while being jostled by the crowd.)

I thought that Eric put it very eloquently when her described the event as "Julie’s Superbowl," and since I won him a trip to see his Patriots play at the actual Superbowl earlier this year, I guess we are even. 

The gourmet fare during the event was plated in amuse bouche-sized portions, so that we would be able to try as much as possible.  We managed to make it to each restaurant’s booth, although there were some (anything with the dreaded mayonnaise, cream cheese, or scallops, which I am allergic to) that I skipped.  While everything was delicious, it was apparent to me that the superstar chefs didn’t all get together and have a big pow-wow about who was going to make what.  It was also clear that there are certain menu items which are currently considered "hot."  Many items, although prepared in different styles, were a common theme throughout the event.  There was an abundance of tartare, lots of flan,  and pea soup was well represented.  The one dish that seemed to pop up the most, however, was short ribs.  To be fair, I think the chefs were just being smart.  I mean, who doesn’t love a slowly braised, falling-off-the-bone short-rib?  I took it upon myself to sample them all, and not a one disappointed.  My compliments to the chefs.

Ever since that evening, I have been wanting to create my own version of short ribs at home.  One of the best flavor combinations that I have recently tasted is an Ancho-chile and coffee based sauce.  I though this would taste heavenly with the short ribs, and it did.  The spiciness from the chiles mellows out over time and the sauce becomes thick and rich as the ribs simmer.  Serve them over polenta or with lots of good bread for mopping up the sauce.  Here are some extra tips for tall on flavor short ribs:

  • If possible, prepare the ribs one day in advance.  Ribs improve if flavors have time to develop.  After braising the ribs, let them cool completely, uncovered, and then chill the ribs in the pan, tightly covered with a lid or with foil.  Remove any solidified fat from the top prior to reheating in the pan.
  • Do not be alarmed if the sauce tastes bitter or spicy prior to braising the ribs.  The flavor really mellows out during the braising process.
  • If you like a thicker sauce, combine 2 tablespoons of the liquid with 1-2 teaspoons cornstarch, and mix well to blend.  Add this mixture back to the sauce in the pan, stir, and simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens to your desired consistency. 
  • To maximize moistness, rotate the ribs a few times during the braising process.
  • I like to serve the ribs over soft polenta that has been cooked in chicken broth and seasoned with chopped fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper.  I’ll either stir in soft goat cheese, grated parmigiano-reggiano, or smoked cheddar for extra flavor. 

Ancho-Coffee Braised Short Ribs

Serves 6


2 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons Ancho chili powder

1 medium yellow onion, quartered

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt and pepper

6 pounds beef short ribs

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso

1/3 cup red wine (recommend Zinfandel or Cabernet)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  In a blender, combine the ancho chile powder, broth, onion, garlic, chipotles and adobo sauce, maple syrup, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Puree the mixture until smooth.

Season the short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then brown the ribs in 3 batches, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch.  As they brown, transfer the ribs to a casserole pan or dutch oven large enough to hold the ribs in 1 layer. 

Carefully transfer the chile puree to the same skillet (be careful as the sauce will splatter a bit), and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes.  Add the coffee and wine, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes longer. 

Pour the liquid over the ribs in the pan.  It should reach at least halfway up the sides of the ribs.  Cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil.  Roast at 350F for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 300F, and braise the ribs until very tender, 2 1/2-3 hours longer.  Serve the ribs with the sauce over polenta, couscous, or mashed potatoes.

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