Madeira wine is a unique red wine that was born at sea. During the Age of Exploration in the 16th and 17th centuries, wine made on the Portuguese Island of Madeira was mixed with a small amount of distilled alcohol to fortify or help stabilize the wine. It was then shipped on long sea voyages along the clipper trade routes. When one shipment returned unsold, it was discovered that the high temperature and humidity of the Tropics along with the slow oxidization in the casks had changed the wine. What had started the voyage as a simple wine fortified with cane sugar alcohol had transformed into a complex wine with hints of caramel, roasted nuts and burnt sugar. Madeira wine was so highly prized, that George Washington and the other Founding Fathers of the U.S. celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a glass of it.
Madeira wine is also a great wine to use in cooking and sauces as the fortified wine holds up very well to heat, keeping its original flavors. I find that this wine is a natural complement to cocoa-rubbed short ribs, and significantly adds to the flavors of this dish. I came across the recipe for cocoa-rubbed short ribs in Saveur and adapted it to my own tastes. I hope you enjoy it, I certainly do!
Madeira Braised Short Ribs with Celery Root Mashed Potatoes
For the Short Ribs
- 3 lbs. boneless short ribs, cut into 2 inch pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, cut into one inch pieces
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 cups Madeira, ruby port or full-bodied red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 stick cinnamon, about 2 inches long
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs sage
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 star anise
- 1 cup baby spinach for garnish
For the Celery Mashed Potatoes
- 2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup milk or half and half, more if needed
- Heat the oil in a cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the ribs with salt and pepper and rub with cocoa powder, ensuring ribs are evenly coated.
- Working in batches, cook ribs, turning as needed, until browned, 8–10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- Add garlic, celery, onion, and carrots to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, about 6–8 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for three 3 minutes. Add wine or port and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
- Return ribs to the Dutch oven and add beef stock, cinnamon, bay leaves, sage, thyme, and star anise. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered until the beef is very tender, about 2½ hours. This can also be cooked in a preheated oven set at 400° F once the ingredients have come to a boil on the stove.
- To make the celery root mashed potatoes, peel and chop celery root into 1-inch pieces. Add to boiling water along with a large pinch of kosher salt and cook for 25-30 minutes or until tender. Bring a separate pot of salted water to a boil and add the potato cubes. Cook the potatoes for about 15 minutes or until tender and easily pierced with a fork. Drain the water from the potatoes and set aside.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the celery root and transfer to a blender, purée until smooth.
- Mash the potatoes with a potato masher (or fork) in the pot, over low heat. Add the puréed celery root, butter and milk and mix well, until the butter has melted.
- Divide the celery mashed potatoes between plates and top with short ribs; drizzle with sauce and garnish with a small sprig of thyme or crispy sage leaves.