A couple months ago, I was out with friends and we stopped briefly back at a friend’s place (hi Jocelyn!). It smelled amazing and it turned out she had chicken chili going in the crockpot. Despite not planning to stay, we inhaled a bowl in her yard before heading back out again and I have not stopped thinking about it since, hospitality on a you-never-know level. Stews and hearty soups are already wired with this energy — they keep well, are easily reheated, and if nobody else eats it, you’re happy to have it for yourself. But if it’s already ready, it means you can have impromptu drop-ins, and they are unquestionably the best kind. The table isn’t set, the toys aren’t put away, you’re still in sloppy clothes, and everyone has more fun.
And here’s a new pick for peak December cozy luxury. It merges two of my favorite cold-weather foods, braised short ribs and french onion soup. We had a Hanukah Happy Hour a few weeks ago and along with the usuals — an overflowing tray of latkes and everything good you can put on top of them, endive salad (this, but as boats for handheld suitability), lots of pickles, Manichewitz Sours, and doughnuts (I didn’t make them this time, but you still can) — thinking of that you-never-know chili, I thought it might be nice to have something hearty on the stove in case someone was hungrier.
In the end, everyone stayed long, there wasn’t a scrap of latke or a drop of soup left, and it was one of my favorite drop-ins to date. So, if this soup sounds good to you, I hope you make it and have it at the ready for whatever the second half of December sends your way, be it a Christmas or New Years dinner, a more casual cocktails-and-cookies thing, or just to spoil yourself. I hope it’s wonderful.
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6 months ago: Perfect, Forever Cornbread and Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches
1 year ago: Gingerbread Yule Log
2 years ago: Unfussy Sugar Cookies
3 year ago: Falafel
4 years ago: Dutch Apple Pie
5 years ago: Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts
6 years ago: Pull-Apart Rugelach and Tres Leches Cake + A Taco Party
7 years ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix and Gingrebread Biscotti
8 years ago: Eggnog Florentines
9 years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
10 years ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
11 years ago: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
12 years ago: Coffee Toffee
13 years ago: Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken + Bread Salad
14 years ago: Chicken and Dumplings
15 years ago: Pecan Squares
Short Rib Onion Soup
- 3 pounds (1.3 kg) bone-in beef short ribs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive or vegetable oil
- 1 large carrot, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 large yellow onions, or 1 large onion plus 1 large leek, chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup (235 ml) red wine, any variety but ideally a dry one
- 8 cups (1.9 liters) beef broth or stock
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces or 85 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 pounds (1.15 to 1.25kg) yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) dry sherry
- 6 to 8 (one per bowl) thick slices sourdough or country bread
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled
- 1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated gruyere cheese
- Chopped fresh chives, for serving
Toasts and assembly
If there’s a lot of fat in the pot, pour it off until you have 2 tablespoons left. Add carrot, onion, leek (if using) and cook on medium-high heat until lightly browned at edges, about 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes; it will get a little darker. Add the red wine and cook until it has reduced to just a puddle, about 3 minutes. Return the short ribs and any juices that have collected to the pot. Add garlic, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf, then pour broth over ribs and vegetables. Cover with lid, transfer to the oven, and braise until the short ribs are falling off the bone and everyone in your home is falling over from how good it smells, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the onions: [If you have another large Dutch oven (fancy!) you can use it here. A large soup or stock pot will do, too. Or, you can use a large, deep frying pan for just the onions and finish the soup in the short rib’s pot later.]
Melt butter over medium heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in butter and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes. They don’t need your attention.
Uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in salt — I start with 2 to 3 teaspoons of kosher salt. Cook onions, stirring every 5 minutes (you might be fine checking in less often in the beginning, until the point when the water in the onions has cooked off) for about 40 to 90 minutes longer. Onions are caramelized when they’re an even, deep golden brown, sweet and tender. Add sherry and scrape up any onions stuck to the pan, then simmer it until it disappears and you’re swatting strangers who crept in, enticed by the aroma, out of your kitchen.
Finish the short ribs: When the short ribs are cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the broth and transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Strain the broth, discarding the vegetables. If the broth looks fattier than you prefer, you can use a fat separator to remove it, or carefully spoon it off the surface. Discard the short rib bones and pull the meat into large bite-sized chunks. You can de-fat the ribs a bit here, too, if there are easily-removed pieces.
Place the caramelized onions in the final soup pot, if they’re not already there, and rewarm over medium-high. Add broth and bring it to a simmer and season to taste with more salt and pepper. Add short ribs to broth and gently simmer everything together for 10 to 15 minutes.
To make the cheese toasts: Heat your oven’s broiler (or turn it to its top temperature). Coat a large baking sheet with foil, for easiest cleanup. Gently toast the bread until semi-firm and dry to the touch. Rub each with the raw garlic clove. Divide cheese between the toasts and return the tray to the oven until the cheese has melted and the toasts are browned on top.
To serve: Ladle ribs and broth into bowls and sink a cheese toast halfway in. Sprinkle with chives.
Do ahead: I love making this a day ahead of time; short ribs are fantastic the second day, even better, you could argue, plus any excess fat in the broth will be easier to remove once chilled. You can make everything but the cheese toasts early, or just a component or two (the short rib braise, the caramelized onions). Rewarm over medium-high heat until simmering to serve.