A handful of fresh cilantrofinely chopped, stalks and all – as garnish
Preparing the marinade
Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir thoroughly. In particular, make sure the sticky tamarind paste is really well combined into the marinade. Good. Time now for the ribs.
Preparing the short ribs
Brown first, marinade second. That sequence is a bit unusual but there’s a reason for it. The ribs have a pretty high fat content and you want to melt it down so that the meat gets the most benefit from the marinade. You also want to get some of dark gold char on the ribs to max their flavor in the sauce.
So, begin by setting a large skillet on a high heat and add the olive oil. As soon as it just starts to smoke, drop the heat to medium, and start browning the ribs in batches. They need to lay evenly spaced in a single layer in the skillet – do not try to brown them all at once. (In my 12 inch skillet, I did them three at a time.)
Let them sizzle on one side for four minutes and then turn them for another four minutes on that medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the skillet and set them aside on a dinner plate. Keep the skillet on its medium heat and quickly start browning the next batch of ribs.
Once they’re all browned, remove the skillet from the heat. It will be holding a fair amount of hot fat. This is good. It’s an important, flavor-boosting ingredient in the sauce.
After the ribs have cooled a little on their plate, lightly stab them all over about a dozen times with the tip of a sharp knife. This will allow the marinade to more easily flavor the ribs.
Bringing it all together
Preheat your oven to 340F / 170C. Choose a large casserole pot with a tight-fitting lid. I used a ten-pint, cast iron one that easily held all the ribs, baby onions, and the sauce.
Dunk each rib into the marinade and use your fingers to give it a thorough coating. Then place each coated rib in the casserole pot. Pour in all the remaining marinade, plus all the fat from the skillet, and any from the plate you set the ribs to cool on.
Add all the other sauce ingredients, including the baby onions – but don’t stir yet. Set the pot onto a medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Then drop the heat to low. Now, taking care not to break up the ribs, carefully stir the pot to combine all the ingredients. Let the pot gently simmer for ten minutes on low, then turn off the heat.
Now, quick as you can, cover the pot with a sheet of tin foil that’s big enough to extend an inch or so down its sides. Put on the lid. Time for the oven.
Set the pot in the middle of the oven and let it cook at 340F / 170C for three hours. After it’s been in the oven for an hour or so, I like to remove it for a quick check on its saltiness. The soy and the fish sauce are both pretty salty, but you might find that you need to add some more ground sea salt to suit your taste. Once you’re happy with that, return the foil covered, lidded pot to the oven to complete its three hours’ cooking.
Making the salsa, cooking the rice
While the pot’s in the oven, you’ll have plenty of time to make the mango salsa. This is really easy. Simply mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl and set it to cool in the refrigerator. Just before you’re ready to serve the ribs, taste the salsa to see if there’s enough tartness from the lime juice. Add some more if you feel it needs it.
For the rice, I like to soak white basmati for at least an hour, just barely covered in some lightly salted water – a heaped teaspoon is enough for rice that will serve four. Cook the rice as it says on the packet, so that it’s ready just as the sauced ribs finish cooking in the oven.
Plate the ribs and the sauce. Serve the rice and salsa on the side so folks can help themselves.
Drinks? I’d go for a pretty big, fruity red – especially when it’s cold outside. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz would suit me fine.