Usually when I have a week off from work, I end up making at least one or two dishes in my slow cooker.  It’s ideal for letting me flex my culinary muscles while giving me time to catch up with my chores or go to the movies.  Often my choices will depend on what I have in my refrigerator or what I find at the farmer’s market.  Last weekend I went to the farmer’s market looking for my usual Crock Pot staple of brisket, but I discovered that the guy at the meat stand had just sold his last one.  And that’s when I decided that I would buy short ribs instead, since those are usually successful in the slow cooker.  I looked through the recipes I’d saved in my computer and through my slow cooker cookbooks, and finally settled on a recipe I hadn’t tried before: Korean Braised Short Ribs from the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook.

The good thing about making something from an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook is that you know that each of their recipes were tested, and re-tested, and adjusted and re-adjusted and re-tested until they REALLY got it right.  I used to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated, a magazine run by the same people as America’s Test Kitchen, and most of the recipes included at least a page’s worth of information detailing all the steps they went through in order to come up with the recipe that made it into the magazine.  What this basically boils down to is that if I find a step in a recipe that seems weird or unusual (i.e. – cut the meat off of the bones and then microwave the bones for 10-15 minutes), I’m more likely to think … well, America’s Test Kitchen always tests the hell out of everything, so this MUST work!  Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t take a shortcut or two …

The recipe calls for “one pear, peeled, cored, and chopped coarse.”  My first choice was to use an actual fresh pear, especially since my boyfriend said that we had one left in the hanging basket next to the apples.  But after I saw that the pear in question was past its prime, I threw it out and decided that it would save me some time in the long run if I just used pears out of a can or jar instead.  Okay, it’s not EXACTLY the same as a fresh pear, but look at all the time I would save!  None of that pesky peeling, coring, and chopping!  Well, my shortcut was rewarded with a process that took me LONGER than it would have to follow the instructions to the letter.  That’s because I had to spend a lot of time at the store figuring out which pears to buy (eliminating all of the ones packed in syrup, by which I mean most of them).  Then I brought home a jar of pears packed in water with a touch of sugar, and COULDN’T OPEN THE DAMNED JAR for the next five minutes.  As I groaned, cursed, and grunted while struggling to get the jar open, the irony was not lost on me that it would have taken less time to have used an actual pear instead.  Anyway, after I went through each of my mother’s techniques for getting a stubborn jar lid off when there isn’t a man around to help you — using a rubber grip, banging the lid on the edge of the counter, and running the jar lid under hot water — I finally got it open.  I fished out two pear halves, rinsed them off to remove any sugar residue, and added them to the food processor.  Perceptive cooks may also notice another shortcut in that picture — I used several tablespoons of minced garlic in oil from the jar we keep in the fridge instead of mincing up garlic cloves from scratch.  So my version was nearly the same as the actual recipe, but my version was more liquid while the “real” version is probably more like a paste.  So after I got the paste ingredients together in the food processor, I started working on separating the short ribs into meat and bones, which was a little more labor-intensive than I might have imagined.

On a related note, after this process was all done I asked my boyfriend if he wouldn’t mind sharpening our knives some time … when I wasn’t home.  As I might have already mentioned a time or two, I have really good hearing.  Which means that sounds that irritate me — like the sound of metal scraping on metal — can follow me all over the apartment and drive me INSANE.  So that’s a future project for my boyfriend that will make tasks like separating meat from bones a lot easier.  Anyway, when I was done I took that dish filled with short rib bones, covered it with paper towels (not mentioned in the recipe, but I thought it would help keep the microwave less gruesome), and microwaved it for ten minutes.  This was a technique that I never would have CONSIDERED doing, but the geniuses at ATK said it would brown the bones and help to pre-emptively cook off some of the fat.  And … whaddaya know?  It worked!

Now I was ready to start assembling my dish … except I couldn’t find the slow cooker liners that we always keep on top of our refrigerator.  I spent fifteen minutes searching fruitlessly for them, until I finally gave up.  My boyfriend’s cleaning job was going to have to be a little tougher than usual, unfortunately.  I ended up buying some more when I went out in the afternoon to make future projects easier to clean up.

So I put everything into the pot — the bones, the paste, the chicken broth and Minute tapioca (!!!), and the seasoned meat.  I set it on low, and headed out the door.  Nine hours later, I took the meat and bones out of the pot, discarded the bones, skimmed the fat, and assembled the dish:

And all I can say is … WOW, was this good!  My boyfriend would not stop raving about it.  This is definitely going into our recipe bank to be revisited in the future.  When I make it again, I’ll definitely try to use a fresh pear and fresh garlic, and the only adjustment I think I might make would be looking at the bones more carefully before I discard them and seeing if I can salvage any meat off of them first.  I know that there’s a lot of fat there, so I would want to make sure that the extra fat gets discarded.  But since short ribs are so expensive, especially the super-duper organic and natural ones I got at the farmer’s market, I might as well try to utilize all of the meat that I can and try to get an extra portion out of this recipe.

Verdict: DEFINITELY a keeper.

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