I’m a sucker for cheap cuts of meat. I guess it’s a carry-over from one of those habits I had when I was in college. I would spend quite a bit of time walking around the meat section, familiarizing myself with cuts of meat and trying to pick the one that was the best bang for the buck. Then, I’ll scratch my head and figure out the best way to cook it. In fact, just a couple of days back, a door to door meat salesman (yeah, that apparently exists) came over to try to sell us some very nicely packaged cuts of meat of filet, sirloin, and rib eye. It was then that I realized how long ago it was since I bought a cut of meat like that – it must have been a year.
I love ‘off-cuts’ of meats such as short ribs, ox-tails and hanger steaks because I feel that they tend to be really flavorful yet cheaper than their more tender counterparts. (Unfortunately, the rising popularity and ‘coolness’ of nose-to-tail is starting to drive the prices of some of these parts up.) What makes them tricky though is the misconception that they are hard to cook. Yeah, chances are you can’t just throw it into a foreman and expect a good result but that doesn’t make it hard.
And so I chanced upon this concept of preparing a short-rib very simply by just seasoning it with salt, pepper and onion powder before dumping it into a crock pot. This was counter-intuitive to me. I’ve always been taught to brown your meats before stewing to add flavor the final product. Wouldn’t simply leaving the meat in a crock pot give you a grey and dull tasting mess?
But unlike caramelization, browning meat involves the interaction (Maillard reaction) of more than just sugar molecules but proteins (amino acids) as well. Unlike caramelization, you don’t necessarily need a specific strike temperature for the reaction to occur. Low moisture helps with the reaction as well. (It is also influenced by the pH level. I’m no scientist so I won’t go too deep into detail.) So technically, you could cook it low and slow in little moisture and still achieve a similar browning effect.
And that is what I was achieved here. After a good 8 hours, the ribs were indeed soft, tender on the inside and brown on the outside. The collagen and fat within meat prevented the meat from being overly dry but honestly it wasn’t THAT moist. Also, taste wise, something was missing. There was too much of a ‘low note’ to this dish. It tasted one dimensional to an extent. Kind of like a water-soaked beef jerky.
In an attempt to spike things up, I skimmed the fat from the leftover juices and deglazed the fond (brown stuff stuck to the pot) with a tiny bit of sweet vermouth. Then I added drippings from a smoked chicken dish I made a few days ago. That made things a little more interesting.
Overall, I would say the dish was ok, but not anything to write home about. The sauce did it for me but there was something up with the meat. I’m still intrigued by this method of low and slow cooking and this is definitely something that I’m going to keep experimenting with. We’ll see what transpires.