October 21, 2017 – My dad loved tomato gravy. His version, as best as I can remember, was simple. Diced tomatoes cooked down with some chopped onion and, of course, a little sugar. “Of course” because my grandmother put a little sugar in everything she cooked. She said it made anything taste better.
Dad grew up in the era of the Great Depression. My grandmother belonged to that heroic generation of women who found ways to feed their families using only the most basic and cheapest of ingredients.
They grew much of their food in their gardens. They kept chickens for eggs and, on special occasions, for meat.
They kept a cow for milk. It’s true. I drank milk straight from the cow when I was small and I lived! I’m not recommending that we do away with pasteurization. That would be foolish. I’m just pointing out that people usually do what they have to do to survive.
Their husbands roamed the woods with rifle and shotgun, hunting food. I ate many a bowl of squirrel gumbo when I was a boy. And I loved every bowl!
Each time those mothers placed a meal on the table, no matter how basic it might have been, they convinced the children that they were eating in high style. Later in life Dad and his brother still loved those simple dishes.
In our house beef is considered health food. And short ribs, along with a juicy ribeye steak, are the healthiest of all!
So that brings us to Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Tomato Gravy. A bit of the past and a lot of what we love.
Slow-cooking is the key to great short ribs. If you don’t treat’em with respect, they can be tough to gnaw off the bone. Done properly, the meat falls off the bone with no help.
My tomato gravy recipe starts with the Trinity. Traditionally in Louisiana that’s onion, green pepper, and celery. At the risk of being charged with heresy, I’ve started using roasted red pepper. I like the additional flavor they add and these days I’m all about short cuts as long as they don’t take away quality.
I sautéed my Trinity in butter and olive oil. I would have used only olive oil but I didn’t have much in the pantry. I often use half butter, half olive oil for sautéing. The butter adds flavor; the olive oil keeps the butter from burning. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Hot pepper sauce is an essential in this type of hearty recipe. My go-to brand is Tabasco. But other high quality brands will work.
I also included two of my favorite spices. Smoked paprika and freshly grated nutmeg. The paprika adds, well, a smoky flavor. And the nutmeg is a sort of secret ingredient. The kind of thing that makes people say, “What am I tasting? It’s delicious, but I can’t quite place it.” Just be sure to get whole nutmegs and grate them yourself. Don’t waste your money on the already grated stuff.
We decided to serve the ribs with a baked potato. Perfect accompaniment to a hearty tomato gravy.
It’s best to use a heavy, oven-proof pan for this dish. A braising pan is perfect.
So here we go.
Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Tomato Gravy
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
8 – 10 beef short ribs
1/2 onion, chopped
1 – 2 celery ribs, preferably the tender ones from the heart, including leaves, sliced in 1/4 inch sections
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 1/2- ounce cans diced tomatoes
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Tabasco, or other hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 275.
In a large, heavy pan melt the butter and heat the olive oil. When it’s hot but not smoking, add the short ribs, turning to brown each side. When they’re browned on all sides, take them out and let them rest on a plate covered with a couple of paper towels.
Saute’ the onion, roasted red pepper, and celery until they have begun to soften. Add the garlic and continue to saute’ for another minute.
Add all the other ingredients. Mix well. Let the gravy simmer for ten to 15 minutes until it thickens.
Put the short ribs back in the pot. Clear a space for each rib as you place it and cover each with sauce.
Cover the pan and put it in the oven with the rack in the middle position.
Let it cook for three and a half hours. Check it every hour or so to make sure it still has enough liquid. The gravy should be thick but if necessary you can add a little water.