Cocoa Braised Short Ribs with Celery Root Puree

Cocoa short ribs

Oh, guys… you’d think that by this point in winter, I’d be sick of braising every piece of meat I can get my hands on, but my weekly braise is one of our family’s dinnertime highlights and will likely continue to be until warmer weather finally shows its face and brings springtime produce along with it. This week’s cocoa braised short ribs with celery root puree fulfilled our comfort food cravings and, thanks to a refreshing bed of celery root and a garnish of crisp, peppery watercress and juicy pomegranate arils, managed to feel a bit lighter fresher than short ribs usually do, making this an unexpectedly perfect dish to carry those who are impatient for spring through this last leg of winter.

Cocoa Braised Short Ribs with Celery Root Puree

Adapted from Saveur

For the short ribs:

4 1/2l bs short ribs

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black peppercorns

4 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, divided

Olive oil

7 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

3 celery ribs, cut into small dice

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small dice

1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons tomato paste

750 ml. (1 bottle) full-bodied dry red wine (I used a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, but feel free to use what you have)

4 cinnamon sticks

4 allspice berries

3 cloves

2 sprigs sage

2 dried bay leaves

1 bunch thyme

3-4 cups beef stock

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee

For the celery root puree:

Olive oil

2 medium leeks, white and light green parts cleaned and sliced thinly

4-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Kosher salt

2 medium celery roots (about 4 1/2 lbs), trimmed and cut into small cubes (you may find them labeled “celeriac” at your grocery store)

6 cups chicken stock

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee

3/4 teaspoon ground celery seed

To finish:

Arils from 1 pomegranate

A few handfuls of watercress

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel, then season them liberally with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder over the ribs and rub it into the meat.

2. Pour enough olive oil into a dutch oven or other heavy lidded, oven-safe pot to lightly coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, then brown the ribs in pot on all sides, taking care to not crowd the meat in the pan (you’ll steam the meat instead of browning it if you don’t leave a bit of space between each piece). Remove the ribs to a plate.

3. Add the garlic, celery, carrots, and onion to the pot. Season the vegetables with a few healthy pinches of salt, then lower the heat and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute or two, then add the wine and bring to a boil, making sure to scrape all of the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the wine. Let the wine reduce by about 1/2, then add the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, sage, bay leaves, and thyme. Stir this all together, then nestle the ribs, bone side down, into the liquid and add enough beef stock to almost cover the ribs, leaving about 1/4″ of meat exposed.

4. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover and place in the preheated oven. Leave this in the oven, undisturbed, for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave the pot in the oven to cool for a couple of hours. This may seem frivolous, but this extra time allows the meat to grow more tender and the flavors to deepen.*

5. Remove the ribs from the pot and strain the vegetables, herbs, and spices from the sauce. Return the strained sauce to the pot over medium-high heat and whisk in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Simmer the sauce until you have roughly 3 cups left in the pot, then stir in the butter. Season with salt and pepper.

6. To make the celery root puree, place a large pot over medium heat and coat the bottom of the pot moderately with olive oil. Add the leeks, season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, lower the heat a bit, and cook until the leeks are very soft, about 8 minutes, but do not brown them. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, then add the celery root and stock to the pot and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the celery root is easily pierced with a paring knife.

7. Strain the cooking liquid from the pot, reserving 2 cups of it. Using either an immersion blender or an upright blender, blend the celery root with the reserved liquid until it is a smooth puree. Stir in the butter and celery seed, then taste and add salt as necessary.

8. To serve, place a scoop or two of celery root into a bowl and top with the short ribs. Garnish with a few stems of watercress and a spoonful of pomegranate arils.

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