There has been lots going on for the Lemurs lately, and I’ve been neglecting the blog. Truth be told, I’ve been neglecting cooking too and that’s always an index of my overall wellbeing. Obviously, it can be pretty fun to be too busy to cook when what’s taking up your time is an endless round of parties and social events, and it can even be exhilarating to find yourself working super hard on an important project. I’ve been doing a bit of both of these and it’s certainly no hardship to attend glamorous book launches, film festival premieres and gallery openings. Nonetheless, I’m enough of an introvert that I need time at home to replenish my energies, and when I’m too tired even to cook, it’s a sign that I ought to slow things down. If I’m going to make it through the festive season in one piece, I need to take a breather and get myself back into the kitchen.

In that spirit, I bought some short ribs from our lovely local butcher with a vague thought of sticky and warming braised meat. Short ribs are different in the UK from the American version, and in fact we don’t usually see anything called ‘short ribs’ in Britain. I was excited to see something under that name but it didn’t look quite the same as the American cut I’m familiar with. I’m too ignorant of butchery to understand the difference technically but maybe readers with more cow-knowledge can figure it out. Regardless, they looked incredibly tempting and they were perhaps the nicest smelling meat I’ve ever bought. Really, I know that sounds weird but I just had to keep sniffing them.

Of course, you know I wasn’t going to braise them in red wine! No, no. I decided to do a version of the Sichuan red braise that I’ve often seen with pork, especially pork belly. The key ingredient is Sichuan chili bean paste, which really you should always have a jar of in the fridge. The combination of Sichuan chilies and lovely umami fava or soy beans transforms all kinds of dishes. Red-braised beef turns mostly pantry items into a deep dark sauce that will definitely remind you of why it’s nourishing to cook at home. I served it with wok-fried Chinese cabbage with pickled garlic. It felt really good to eat something so redolent of cozy, dark evenings by the stove.

Red-braised short ribs

  • 2 large short ribs
  • a bunch of spring onions / scallions
  • a big chunk of garlic
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 pieces dried tangerine peel
  • 3 heaping tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fermented black beans
  • 2 cups water
  • a small bunch of cilantro for garnish

First, make a quick stock by simmering the water with the fermented black beans for 10-15 minutes. The water should darken slightly and reduce. Drain, discarding the black beans. Meanwhile, chop the spring onions into inch-long lengths and thickly slice the ginger, giving each piece a good bash with the back of a knife. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns to release the oils.

In a heavy pot, fry the chili bean paste in a couple of tbsp of vegetable oil util aromatic and slightly darkened. Then add spring onions, ginger, peppercorns and tangerine peel. Next add in the meat and fry on both sides quickly.

Next, add in the Shaoxing wine and soy sauce, then add in stock to come halfway up the meat or a bit more. Bring to the boil and then cook, covered, at a very low heat, for at least 2 hours. Check it every now and again to turn the meat and add water if necessary. By the 2 hour mark, you should be getting to the dark, reduced, sticky-but-still-liquidy braise you are dreaming of.

To serve, cut the meat off the bones (it will be falling off) and cut crosswise into bite-sized chunks. Serve with the braising liquid and top with cilantro.

Serves 4