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What's Cooking? Featuring Jake Dempsey: Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos

Updated: Jun 19

When Sandra asked me to write some words and share recipes for her new magazine, I struggled somewhat with what to write. Spending hours or even days in the kitchen, obsessing over a meal, is not out of the ordinary for me. I envisioned readers' eyes glazing over and losing interest while reading long lists of ingredients or complicated recipes. However, I have a genuine passion for cooking and food. If you are reading this, I hope that you share the same love.

So, let's dive right in, dear reader.

I present to you my recipe for beef short rib tacos. This recipe involves making a flavorful adobo sauce from scratch, using dried chiles that can be found at one of our many local Spanish markets. Adobo sauce is ubiquitous in Mexican cooking, known for its rich, smoky, earthy, and umami flavors with a hint of sweetness. Once you have made it, you will find it to be a versatile addition to various dishes. It serves as an excellent base for soups, can complement different proteins, and even works as a delicious salsa on its own.

Let’s start by prepping our ingredients and organizing our mise-en-place.


Good quality corn tortillas 

3 good sized English cut beef short ribs 

1 large yellow onion - Half in slices and the other half peeled and left whole 

2-6 whole cloves garlic 

1 16oz can crushed tomato 

5 dried guajillio chiles (seeds removed)

5 dried California chiles (seeds removed) 

1-3 dried arbol chiles for heat 

Lots of fresh cilantro 

Lime wedges 

Thinly sliced radish 

Crumbly Mexican fresh cheese (like Queso fresco) 

1 tsp cumin powder 

1 tsp coriander powder 

One fresh jalapeño halved 

1 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican) 

1 tbsp tomato paste 

Salt and pepper to taste 


1. Add your onion half, garlic cloves, and fresh jalapeño halves to a dry, hot pan. No oil. We want the onions slightly charred and the chiles lightly roasted.

2. To the same pan, add all of your dried chiles. The arbol chiles are there for heat and pack a punch. If you’re sensitive to heat, start with one, or omit them altogether. The guajillo and California chiles will bring some mild spice to the party on their own.

3. Let the onion hang out undisturbed while stirring the chiles until they’re fragrant and a few whisps of smoke appear. At that point, transfer everything into a pot and cover it with water.

4. Cook this mixture on a medium simmer until the chiles are soft, which may take around 12 minutes.

5. Transfer everything in the pot, including just enough of the cooking liquid to make a thick sauce, to a blender and blend until very smooth. Salt to taste. Some people strain this through a fine sieve, but it is optional.

6. Set aside and congratulate yourself on learning some traditional Mexican cooking. Normally, an adobo sauce includes fresh tomatoes, but we’re taking a shortcut with canned crushed tomatoes here. They’ll go in later.

7. Season all sides of the short ribs generously with salt and pepper and transfer to a hot Dutch oven in a little oil on the stovetop. Sear well on all sides and remove. There will be some crispy bits burned onto the bottom pan. Those are our friends. Those bits are called a “fond”. We’re going to use them to build flavor in our sauce.

8. To the pan, burnt bits and all, add half a sliced onion and let them cook over medium heat for a minute. Add the tomato paste and stir until tender. At this point, your pan is going to appear to be a burnt mess. Not to worry. We’re going to deglaze with our sauce and tomatoes, and it’ll all lift from the pan.

9. The ratio of adobo sauce and tomato should be about 1:1. Add the crushed tomato and adobo sauce to the hot pan and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk, making sure to release all of that caramelized goodness from the bottom of the pan. Add the cumin, coriander, and oregano. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Simmer for a few minutes.

10. Place your seared ribs into the sauce, ensuring that they are almost covered. If the sauce is too shallow, add a little stock or water. Cover and transfer to the center of a 325-degree oven and cook for 3 hours, or until the ribs are fork-tender but not totally falling apart. Pat yourself on the back for braising something properly.

11. Assemble your tacos by putting some chunks of lovely, tender, flavorful short rib and sauce in a tortilla or two. Garnish with radish slices, cilantro, crumbled Queso fresco, and a squeeze of lime.

12. Serve the tacos with some fresh guacamole and pico or enjoy them as they are.

Photo by Cloud Bobby

Jake Dempsey is a tremendously well-respected Roanoke, VA based musician, dad, and chef.  You can find him on various stages and kitchens in and around the Roanoke area. 



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