I’m always looking for ways to do the holidays differently. Ham is predictable. Turkey – unless it’s deep-fried – can be dry and disappointing. Roasting beef to everyone’s specifications is enough to trigger a Christmas Day meltdown. But beef short ribs – especially short ribs that are given an East Asian cast by way of soy sauce, ginger and star anise, and which you can put in a pressure cooker and ignore – are an alternative worth investigating.
Yes, I’ve joined the legion of Instant Pot devotees on the internet. Before getting one of my own, I scorned it for being faddish, one of those gadgets you buy out of curiosity, cook with once or twice, then never use again. But the Instant Pot has changed the way I cook. Its power is not just in speeding up cooking times – these short ribs need just one hour at high-pressure, as opposed to 3-5 in the oven or slow-cooker. The meat also reaches exalted degrees of melt that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. The fat renders into treacly ribbons, the meat parts from bone as easily as a ripe tomato is plucked from the vine, and once the ribs are fished out of the pot, the sauce is left to reduce until it has the look and consistency of molasses.
Of course, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, a slow cooker or a simple Dutch oven will still yield delicious results. But when I say these are the best short ribs I’ve ever had, I give far more credit to technology than to myself (as well as to the chefs at Cafe O’Lei in Maui, whose recipe this riffs on).
For a dish this unctuous and robust, you need a wine that can hold its own. The Owl and The Dust Devil hails from Mendoza; alongside the inevitable Malbec, it also stars Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Tannat. It’s aged in new French oak for 18 months, enough to give it a supple roundness, to soften tannins from “grippy” to “velvet”, and pours opaquely black, until it catches a flicker of candlelight with a ruby wink. This is the stuff of classic winter drinking – every degree of required warmth and ampleness is present – with enough backbone, structure and acidity to hold up to beef at its most oleaginously decadent.
It telegraphs cool evenings, air that smells crisply of wood smoke. The wine tastes like harvest and warms from within. The galette perfumes your house as it bakes. The ribbons of honey drizzled on top tie the two together. The whole affair feels like the best kind of retreat from the world, away from encroaching cold and towards comfort and closeness.
Pressure-Cooker Short Ribs
Adapted from Café O’Lei via Bon Appétit
For the short ribs:
400ml light soy sauce
240g light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
6 star anise pods
4 2-inch-thick, bone-in beef short ribs (about 500g/1lb each)
Juice of 2 limes
Sticky or jasmine rice
Several spring onions, thinly sliced
1-2 bird’s eye chillis, thinly sliced
Small handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1. In a large bowl, add the soy sauce, water, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine, red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger and star anise pods. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Meanwhile, fit your short ribs snugly in the bowl of your Instant Pot (or other preferred pressure cooker), ensuring they don’t exceed the maximum fill limit. Pour over the soy sauce mixture and seal the pressure cooker. Cook under high pressure for 1 hour and leave to release naturally.
3. Note: if you do not have a pressure cooker, you can make your short ribs in a slow cooker or in the oven. Prior to cooking, leave the ribs to marinate for a minimum of several hours, and up to overnight, in the soy sauce mixture. Transfer the ribs and marinade to a Dutch oven, put on the lid, and cook in the oven at 165° Celsius (325° Fahrenheit) for approximately 2–3 hours, or until the meat is just falling off the bone. You can also use a slow cooker; cook for approximately 5–6 hours.
4. Once the ribs are completely tender and the fat has rendered, carefully transfer the ribs to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Strain any solids from the remaining cooking liquid, and skim and discard as much liquid fat as you can from the surface. Using your pressure cooker’s sauté setting, cook for approximately 15–20 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Turn off the heat and add the juice of two limes. Taste and add additional salt or sugar if needed.
5. To serve, place a generous heap of rice on each plate and top with a short rib (the meat will be falling off the bone so you can adjust the portion sizes as needed). Drizzle over the glaze, and garnish with the spring onion, chillis and coriander.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.