Monday, June 16, 2014

Short Ribs in a Cinnamon and Red Wine Sauce: An East Indian take on a North American Classic

          This was one of the first posts I published back in 2010 when I started to blog.  Because my readership was nowhere near what it is now, I should not have been as surprised as I was to see that it never really attracted a big audience. That struck me as a shame because it is a spectacularly interesting take by a master of Indian cooking who invented one of the most unique cooking styles anywhere--a fusion between Indian inflected spices and great Canadian ingredients--in this case the country's phenomenal grass fed beef.  As to its seasonality, I say it would be as good in July as it would be in January.  After all, it's a variation on that summer staple--Ribs.  What makes it a particularly attractive take on Ribs is that it doesn't require firing up a grill.  Instead it cooks away in the oven for hours.   So here, a reprise of something awfully good that I hope will get the attention it deserves.
          If you’ve had any luck in life, you’ve had the good fortune to visit Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s a city that’s got it all. They say in winter you can sail and ski on the same day. Surrounded by water and a little over an hour from the slopes at Whistler, that sounds highly possible. Yes, it has that Pacific Northwest climate with a few more rainy days than I’d find ideal, but it’s blessedly warmer than the rest of Canada in winter and temperate all summer. And Vancouver is a foodie’s delight. In fact, Mimi Sheraton thinks the best Asian cuisine in North America is found there. I’d add that the best South Asian food in Vancouver is served at Vij’s, Vikram VijDescription:’s no reservation restaurant at 1480 West 11th Street in the South Granville area of the city. And I wouldn’t be alone. The New York Times called Vij’s “Easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world.” 

Granville Island and beyond South Granville, home to Vij's Restaurant

         Vikram Vij arrived in Vancouver in 1993. What he has done is to employ the very best Canadian ingredients with Indian cooking techniques and a deft hand with signature Indian spice combinations. This is truly locavore cooking and the crowds that line up to open the place at 5:30 pm wind all the way up the street by 6 o’clock. They’re drawn to the phenomenal food—things like Lamb Lollipops and Local Pork Belly with Apple Chutney, the latter priced by the spoon!

One of the most intriguing combinations-- something that absolutely would never find its way onto an Indian menu anywhere near India-- is Vij’s recipe for Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red Wine Sauce. This combination boosts the richness of the beef into the stratosphere and the play of Indian spices adds to the warmth and depth of flavor of the dish. Like all braises, it’s basically a breeze to cook, requires little tending and once you’ve done the mise-en-place your work is basically done until the beef is beyond tender and you reduce the sauce down to a hearty consistency. While I realize this may sound like a cold weather dish, it’s really a short rib classic that you can serve anytime of the year to oohs and aahs. It’s also hardly a weeknight dinner dish but I wanted to share it with you in advance of any weekend plans for this week.

To no regular reader’s surprise, I got my ribs at Costco. They were boneless and excellent although Vij’s recipe calls for the more readily available bone-in short ribs. I don’t think you’ll have any problem finding the spices, they are pretty widely available. As to the ghee, if you have an South Asian market near you, you’ll find it there. And wonder of wonders, Trader Joe’s now sells ghee.  If you’re any kind of a dedicated home cook, you can use ghee as a substitute whenever clarified butter is called for in a recipe.  So it’s a great thing to have in your pantry and has a shelf life of…forever.  But I wouldn’t get crazy if I just used regular unsalted butter. So here it is: 

Recipe for Short Ribs with Cinnamon and Red Wine Sauce 

8 large short rib of beef, bone in with excess fat trimmed off.
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil 
2 tablespoons ghee (or clarified butter) 
1 large onion, very finely chopped (approximately 1 cup) 
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, more to taste 
1 15 ounce can of Diced Tomatoes 
1/2 cup red wine 
4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock * 
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 piece cinnamon bark (approximately 3 inches long) 
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek, more to taste
1 tablespoon cumin powder, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder, more to taste (preferably Mexican) 
*I use a mixture of both.

1. In a large, heavy saucepan with fitted lid, melt the ghee on medium to high heat. Add the cooking oil and the cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the cinnamon and the onions and sauté until the onions are medium brown in colour. 

2. Smell for the cinnamon throughout the cooking process. You should smell a mild cinnamon flavour instead of a strong one. If cinnamon is the only spice you smell, take out the bark and continue cooking the curry. 

3. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until garlic is golden brown and onions are a darker brown.The darker you sauté the onions without letting them burn, the richer the onion flavour will be in this dish. Temporarily lower the heat and add the tomatoes and all of the remaining spices. Once you stir the powdered spices in the tomatoes, increase the heat back to medium.

4. Stir regularly and continue cooking the spices until the oil/ghee separates from the tomatoes. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. If at any time the onions or tomato spice mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan or looks like it’s about to burn, either lower the heat or add 1 tablespoon of oil or ghee. Do not add water. This is meant to be a rich curry. 
5. Stir in the stock and red wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. 
6. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the oil/ghee separates from the stock and rises to the top, stirring occasionally. Skim the fat from the surface and discard it. 
7. Add the short ribs and stir well. (There is no browning in this recipe and it doesn’t seem at all necessary.) Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer the short ribs until the meat completely separates from the bone. This will take approximately 4 hours and you will need to stir occasionally. 
8. Once the meat is tender to the bone, remove it from the sauce to a dish and cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Turn the heat up and reduce the sauce at a rolling boil. Return the meat to the sauce briefly then serve on a bed of warmed greens—I use fresh baby spinach. 


  1. Trace's hand made it into the blog.

  2. Oh figured it out! He loved the dinner by the way...XOX Monte

  3. I feel like Julie & Julia! I made the short ribs and have to say it was fantastic! I followed everything you told me to do cooked it the night before and served it the next. I wasn't sure that I or my family was going to like the Indian proflie but it was really delicious.
    I do have a comment however. There are some directions that are just not intuitive. When you say "let the fat rise to top top" You don't say skim it off. It would help the novice cooks out there to be specific.
    Looking forward to the next receipe.

  4. Hi Monte, this dish sounds delish. I love that there's the warmth of cinnamon in there. So healthful! Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much KC. It's one of those dishes that makes the whole house smell wonderful while it cooks. All best Monte