Stephen Benenson Braises Short Ribs



COOK-Novmber + December 2009
Text + photographs by Maria Alexandra Vettese

Tender meat with a rich sauce and gremolata make this dish ideal for cozying up on cold winter days.



Stephen Benenson has three words for his favorite winter dish: “Rich, soothing, and warming.” He has been cooking this crowdpleaser, based on an Italian recipe from the Piedmonte region, for six years and says it has evolved over time based on seasonal ingredients here in Maine.

On the morning I arrive at his Portland East End home, he’s already hard at work in a bright and well-loved kitchen. Despite the fact that his plain white T-shirt has a smear of sauce on it, Benenson clearly cares about the details. “Cooking is my distraction in life, and while I don’t have any fantasies about ever becoming a chef,” he says. “It is something I take great pleasure in.”

Benenson grew up in a family that encouraged cooking as a “community thing,” and he even foraged for mushrooms with his uncle, but he didn’t really become obsessed with it until he studied in Italy in his early 20s. “I probably learned more about cooking than I did about painting, which was what I was supposed to be studying.”


Today, Benenson, his wife, Merry, and Christopher Campbell own One Longfellow Square, a two-year-old arts venue in downtown Portland that, Benenson says, is “more of a listening room than a bar.” The venue’s newest venture, Food Films, pairs local restaurants with cinema.

Back in Benenson’s kitchen, over a heaping dish of short ribs, we finish up with talk of fostering community through food, and I leave feeling full, cozy, and wondering when I can host my first braised short ribs dinner party.

One Longfellow Square | 181 State St. | Portland |


Braised Short Ribs

Serves 6
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 4 ½ hours

For Braised Short Ribs

1/4 lb. pancetta, cubed
6 large-boned beef short ribs, seasoned with salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large carrots, sliced into coins
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
1 large fennel bulb, cored and roughly chopped
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 lg. can crushed tomatoes
1 bunch thyme, rosemary, and oregano, bundled
together with kitchen twine
2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (optional)

For Gremolata

1 bunch flat leaf parsley
3 tbsp. grated fresh horseradish zest of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat.
Add pancetta and cook until slightly browned. Remove pancetta
but leave the rendered fat in the pan. Increase heat to mediumhigh
and add short ribs. Brown very well on all sides. This should
take 20–30 minutes.

Remove the short ribs and set aside. Pour off all the fat but 2 tbsp.,
which should go back in the pot. Add garlic, carrots, onions, celery,
fennel, red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds. Cook until vegetables
are softened.

Add the browned short ribs and pour in red wine, chicken stock,
and tomatoes. Add herb bundle and mushrooms. Bring all contents
to a simmer over high heat, then cover and place in the oven. Cook
for 3 ½ hours or until meat is falling off the bone.

Just before serving, make the Gremolata by mixing together
all ingredients. Plate the ribs with some of the braising liquid,
vegetables, and top with a large pinch of Gremolata as well as sea
salt if desired.

Cook’s Notes: (1) Braised Short Ribs are best when made a day
ahead. (2) Use the leftover braising liquid on pasta or with other
meats by straining out the fat and warming what remains with as
much butter as you like.

Local Food: Stephen’s favorite local suppliers for this recipe
are Caldwell Farms (ribs), Freedom Farm (vegetables), Mainely
Poultry/Rosemont (chicken stock), and Oyster Creek (mushrooms).

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