Welcome to Never Fail, a semi-regular column where we wax poetic about the recipes that never, ever let us down. This week: the slow-roasted short ribs recipe that food director Carla Lalli Music just couldn’t live without.
“And the rib, which Travis had taken from a cow, made he this dish, and brought it unto us.”—Carla Lalli Music
I love this method for slow-roasting short ribs for a lot of reasons, but Number One on the list is that I get to say “set it and forget it” many times while it cooks. I learned this preparation from chef Travis Lett of Gjusta and Gjelina in Venice, CA, and while many chefs overcomplicate things just for the fun of it, Lett’s approach is as relaxed as the surfer vibes that emanate off of him like a vapor cloud of patchouli. I mean this as a compliment!
Lett’s short rib technique is an anti-braise, if you will—a low-and-slow dry heat oven process that yields crunchy-tender mammoth ribs that take on the color of burnt marshmallows while achieving complete and utter fall-off-the-bone status. For someone who had no idea that short ribs could get all wobbly-gelatinous-shreddy without having been half-submerged in burbling liquid for several hours, this alone was a revolutionary revelation. Still is, I tell you! Then there’s the cool way Lett recommends having the ribs portioned; rather than buying pre-cut, tidy squares of short ribs, you’re instructed to ask your butcher for long Flintstones-style ribs that are 10” long. The meat shrinks back from the bone during cooking, and at the end you’re left with a tray of double-handled meat bone mallets. It sounds like a thing only chefs can get from their fancy-pants meat guys, but I have purchased exactly this from many different outfits including Whole Foods, boutique whole-animal butcher shops, and old-school meat counters where the guys taking orders remind me of my Grandpa Eddie. But the main reason I keep coming back to these ribs is because I’m lazy, they’re easy, and the results will astound you and whoever is lucky enough to have been invited over that day. Is there any better kind of recipe? Short list of ingredients, hands-off, foolproof technique, minimal equipment needs, superstar end product.
I worship these ribs so much that not only have I made them a dozen times at home over the past few years, I even made a video about them (above)! I make them in the winter, when I want to take a nap with the smell of beef drippings wafting through my house, then throw together a pot of polenta, open a bottle of red wine, and wade through deliciousness for dinner. I make them in the summer, when the relatively low oven temperature won’t overheat my kitchen, and then finish them outside over a hot charcoal grill, where the tender ribs take on some smoke while they crisp up.
Lett wrote the recipe with a fresh herby gremolata as a finisher, which sometimes I follow to the letter, and sometimes riff on completely, depending on my mood. The key is to pair them with something bright, acidic, and crunchy, which balances out all that fatty richness. Pickled red onions, shaved celery dressed with lemon juice, or a vinegar-doused cabbage slaw would all do the trick.
I love it when people beg to find out how I made something, and then I get to say “Oh, it’s easy! Anyone can do it!” Usually, I’m not being completely honest. But in this case, it’s 100% true. Friends, believe me: You can do this, too.