An unfamiliar but increasingly popular cut of meat
There aren’t many foodstuffs that can take their name from religious mythology, but Jacob’s ladder is one of them. It is named after a stairway between earth and heaven that the Hebrew patriarch Jacob dreamed of in Genesis. Though it sounds enigmatic, the ‘stairway to heaven’ allusion is quickly explained when talking to anyone who is familiar with this cut of meat.
“Another name for Jacob’s ladder is the short rib, and that is what it’s called in terms of the anatomy of the animal,” explains Dominic McCourt, who runs Northfield Farm, who is a fan of this particular cut of meat. “It is a wonderful cut, but sadly not one a lot of people cook with much.”
“It’s the joint that comes from the end of the fore rib,” he explains. “If you think of a cow, there is a section just behind the front legs where the bones head down from the back bone toward the belly. The short rib comes from the lower part of the ribcage where the rib bones are thinner. Ours come predominately from Aberdeen angus cattle, which produce high quality short rib of a good size.”
Slow, long cooking
Another fan of this particular cut is Morgwn Preston-Jones, head chef at Bedales. With his international background, he has been cooking with this cut for years. “It is not a cut you see a lot of but it is getting more popular—you see it more often in France and the US. The thing with short rib is that it has a really high fat content which makes it great for slow, long cooking, so you normally see it cooked on the bone.”
The classical thing to do with this cut is braise it, which comes from the French tradition, making it a good dish to serve at this time of year on what are—usually—cold wintry evenings. “I would definitely suggest braising them if you haven’t cooked them before,” Morgwn advises. “It is a really easy thing to do and the result is wonderful.”
Sear off the short ribs in a large heavy pan, add your mirepoix—a roughly chopped vegetable mix, usually of onions, carrots, and celery—a small amount of roux made from a mix of flour, butter, and a little milk or water to thicken the sauce. “Add some red wine and cook slowly until the meat is nice and tender.” Serve with mashed or roast potato and some winter vegetables.
A dinner party
“If you have 2kg of short rib, for a dinner party for example, I would set the oven at between 160-170C and cook it for three to four hours, so it is a really slow cook,” Morgwn suggests. “Short rib really benefits from this method, and there isn’t really a risk of the meat drying out because of the fat content.”
Morgwn’s last tip for braising is to cook it a day before you want it. “It is even better the next day when the flavours have really had time to mellow and develop.”
Morgwn also points to the Korean method of cooking Jacob’s ladder, which is the polar opposite of the braising method—but equally as tasty. “In Korea, they take the meat off the bone, cut it into very thin slices and cook it very quickly on grill. It’s delicious,” he explains.
Melts in the mouth
“Because the meat grows so close to the bone even when it is taken off, it still retains that strong beefy flavour. Korean chefs really prize short ribs with very high fat content for this, because it makes the meat more succulent. When they come off the grill it just melts in the mouth.”
But Dominic has a word of warning for prospective fans of this cut of beef. “The thing about short ribs is they can be in short supply—firstly because there is not a lot to be had from each animal, but also the people who know about them love them and will grab some whenever they see they’re in stock.”
So if you come across this cut while perusing the meat counters of Northfield Farm or The Ginger Pig, grab it while you can. You won’t be disappointed that you did.