Beef short ribs are a bargain - so much so they'll probably soon go the way of monkfish, pork belly and lamb shanks and become prohibitively expensive. Get them while you can but remember to leave some at the butcher's counter for me or we'll have words.
They need to be cooked long and slow and they're perfect for this dark, luscious tagine with orange and prunes. Like all stews it benefits from being made the day before and re-heated. If you have freezer space it would be a great make-ahead Christmas Eve supper.
The ribs are pretty hefty so whether you have one or two apiece depends on your appetite. If you want to scale it up for 6-8 people, add extra beef, onions and stock and maybe another pinch each of coriander and cumin, but keep the other ingredients the same. If you can't source beef short ribs, the tagine is equally good with oxtail.
We ate it with couscous made with chicken stock and tossed with fried onions, sundried tomatoes, tarragon and nigella seeds, based on an Ottolenghi recipe. Honestly, this tagine may be the best thing I've cooked in months. Give it a go and tell me what you think.
Beef Short Rib Tagine With Orange and Prunes (serves 2-4)
4 short ribs of beef (mine weighed about 1 kilo)
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn cayenne
A pinch of saffron threads soaked in a little warm water
The juice of 1 orange
4 strips of its peel (not the white pith though)
1 tspn honey
600 ml chicken or beef stock
200g soft-dried prunes
To serve: a little orange zest
Pre-heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
Heat the oil in a deep oven-proof casserole and when it's sizzling, sear the beef all over until it's brown and crusty. Remove and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions for 7-8 minutes until they've softened, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and ground spices and cook gently for a minute or two more.
Now add the cinnamon stick, orange juice, orange peel, the saffron and its soaking water, the honey and the prunes. Pour in the stock and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the beef back into the pan and make sure it's just covered by liquid. If not, add extra stock or water.
Bring to the boil, put on a lid and place in the pre-heated oven. Cook for about two and a half hours or until the meat is falling off the bones. When it's done, remove the meat while you deal with the sauce, which by now should have reduced and intensified.
Discard the cinnamon stick and orange peel. Leave the tagine to settle for a few minutes then blot any oil from the surface of the sauce with a piece of kitchen roll.
Check the seasoning then when you're ready to eat, reheat the meat in the sauce. Place the ribs on a mound of couscous with the sauce and prunes spooned over. Grate a little fresh orange zest over the top, eat and enjoy.