“El, you really must try this because it’s puerco pibil. It’s a slow-roasted pork, nothing fancy. It just happens to be my favorite, and I order it with a tequila and lime in every dive I go to in this country. And honestly, that is the best it’s ever been anywhere. In fact, it’s too good. It’s so good that when I’m finished, I’ll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen and shoot the cook. Because that’s what I do. I restore the balance to this country.”
Once Upon A Time In Mexico isn’t a particularly good movie. Even though it has scenes of San Miguel, Guanajuato and Selma Hayek. But it has a subplot about Agent Sheldon Jeffrey Sands that got me absolutely hooked on a Mexican dish. Throughout the movie, Agent Sands (as played by Johnny Depp) is constantly ordering his favorite meal, Cochinita Pibil. Which greatly influenced me to begin doing unrecognizable impressions of Johnny Depp (“sounds more like Marlon Brando”) in an attempt to convince Don Day’s Wife to make the Yucatan classic at home.
It worked once, then twice, but then my Johnny Depp impressions seemed to go unheard.
“You never know who’s going to have banana leaves in stock. Sour oranges are almost impossible to find. And, besides, Agent Sands never eats his cochinita pibil at home, only in restaurants”, was Don Day’s Wife’s most recent rejection.
So I took to eating my cochinita pibil out. At La Posadita and La Casa del Diezmo in San Miguel de Allende. But I hadn’t quite given up.
Don Day’s Wife was reading Gourmet magazine the other day and told me she might try this short rib recipe. She described it and something clicked. There were some distinct similarities with cochinita pibil but no banana leaves, sweet not sour oranges, and, of course, beef not pork.
She had short ribs on the shopping list for my weekly visit to the butcher and, accidentally of course, I misread the two kilos as four and we were suddenly burdened with an extra four strips in the fridge. What to do?
Well Don Day’s Wife isn’t very good at directions. On road signs or recipes. She considers them more like inspirations. Which doesn’t always work if you’re trying to get to a rural restaurant like El Vergel. But always seems to work when she makes a new dish.
So, even though it had very little resemblance to that recipe in Gourmet, last week Don Day’s Wife made Short Ribs Almost Pibil.
And how good was it? Well let’s just say that if I was Agent Sands I would have to shoot her.
Anyway, I wondered if perhaps other men and women might be getting the cold shoulder at home when it came to getting pork shoulder cooked en pibil. So I asked Don Day’s Wife to share her short rib recipe. But please don’t tell Director Roberto Rodriguez about it. Like I said earlier Once Upon A Time In Mexico was only a just alright movie. And I’m not sure I could handle a sequel.
Short Ribs Almost Pibil (serves four)
3 lbs. beef short ribs, thick cut with bone in.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp. sweet Mirin seasoning or 1 tbsp. honey (optional – dependent on how sweet your orange juice is)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 dried guajillo chiles, stem and seeds removed
1 cup fresh orange juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 325°. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Working in batches, sear short ribs until evenly browned, about five minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter.
Remove any burned bits from pot, but leave the golden-brown pieces (doing this will help keep the finished sauce from tasting bitter). Place onions, garlic, celery, coriander, cumin and chiles in pot – season with salt and pepper and stir to coat.
Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened and spices are fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Add orange juice, wine, beef stock and 1 cup of water to pan, scraping up any browned bits. Add ribs with any juices accumulated on the platter, making sure they’re completely submerged.
Tightly cover pot and braise ribs in the oven until meat is tender and falling off the bone, 3-4 hours.
Carefully transfer ribs to a platter. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until sauce is thickened. Return short ribs to pot and turn to coat.
Serve with rice to which chopped green onion, chopped orange zest, chopped sweet red pepper, and chopped fresh cilantro have been added for the final five minutes of cooking.