Asian-Style Pressure-Cooker Short Ribs
Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 60 minutes Servings: 2-4
Unless you live off the grid you’ve probably heard of the Instant Pot, the programmable electric pressure cooker that everyone’s mother, sister, or hairdresser’s third cousin once removed is raving about.
Unlike your grandmother’s old-fashioned pressure cooker – an aluminum or steel monstrosity that hissed like a irate cobra and threatened to explode if you so much as looked at it cross-eyed – the Instant Pot is safe, convenient, and a handsome-enough countertop appliance that you won’t try to hide it when guests come over. It is also very versatile, since it can be used not only as a pressure cooker but also as a sauté pot, slower cooker, canning pot, and rice steamer.
I am a bit of a kitchen gadget geek, with the under-the-counter appliance graveyard to prove it. I will say, however, that the Instant Pot is indeed worthy of most of the hype. I use mine daily, making everything from perfect peel hard-boiled eggs to delicious spare ribs like the ones described below here. You won’t be able to go from frozen chicken to a Michelin-starred four-course meal for twelve despite what various Instant Pot-dedicated cookbooks and websites claim (those recipes always fail to include the heating and venting time, which can add an additional 10-20 minutes to any recipe), but it does make it much easier to make fall-off-the-bone ribs and other slow-braised meats in about one-third of the time. It even makes a good cheesecake, but that is for another blog post.
The recipe below is adapted from one for beef ribs that first appeared on Mark’s Daily Apple. I’ve altered the recipe to work St. Louis-style pork spare ribs, which I prefer and which seemed more appropriate for an Easter holiday weekend given the tradition of eating ham. I’ve also added a couple extra steps to enhance the flavors, including a quick broil right at the end to give the ribs a nicely caramelized and crispy texture.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, don’t worry. You can still make these ribs using a sauté pan and an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven. Instructions to do that are also provided at the end of the recipe below, but plan for the ribs to require about 2 hours longer to cook.
2 teaspoons salt (I used Hawaiian pink salt, but Himalayan or kosher salt works just as well)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly peeled and grated ginger (about 1″)
1/2 cup chicken broth (homemade if you’ve got it)
1/2 cup coconut aminos (or gluten-free tamari if you tolerate soy)
2 teaspoons Red Boat fish sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Pat the ribs dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. I usually do this while the rack of ribs is still intact, massaging the seasoning in and then letting them sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before I cut the ribs into individual portions.
Use a sharp knife or kitchen meat shears to cut the rack of ribs into individual portions. I prefer to use the former, standing the ribs on end and slicing downwards in order to ensure an even distribution of meat on each isolated rib. This also prevents you from nicking your knife on the bone or accidentally lopping off a finger.
Set your Instant Pot to sauté (medium setting) and add the coconut oil. When the oil is sizzling hot, add the ribs and sear until nicely browned on all sides. Do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pot. This will ensure an even browning on all pieces. You might find that the ribs stick when you first but them in, but they will come loose after about a minute or two. If they leave behind some nice caramel brown bits attached to the bottom of the pan, so much the better. Those little meaty morsels will come loose when you add the onions a little later and they will impart a wonderful richness to the eventual sauce.
Once each batch of ribs is browned, transfer them to a clean plate and start searing the next batch.
Once all the ribs are browned, set them aside and add the diced onion to the Instant Pot. Cook the onion until it is soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. You’ll find that the liquid released by the onions will cause the brown bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pot to come free. That is a deliciously good thing.
Add the garlic and ginger to the Instant Pot and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until the aromas of the garlic and ginger fill the kitchen.
Stir in the broth, coconut aminos (or tamari), fish sauce and balsamic vinegar, then layer in the ribs. Pack them in as best you can but don’t worry if not all of the ribs are immersed in the liquid. Don’t forget to also pour back in all the meat juices that accumulated on the plate.
Seal the Instant Pot and cook the ribs for 35 minutes on high pressure. Once the cooking time is up, either manually release the pressure (the faster to get to the meaty nom noms imprisoned inside) or let the pressure come down naturally (about 10 minutes or so). I prefer to do the latter as it gives the ribs even more time to become fall-off-the-bone tender without overcooking or drying out.
Take out ribs and place on a foil-covered sheet pan. Cover with another piece of foil and let rest while you finish off the sauce.
Turn the Instant Pot back to sauté and simmer the sauce until nicely reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes or so. While this happens, turn on the oven broiler and place a rack about 2-3 inches below the flame (if a gas oven) or heating elements (if electric).
Spoon most of the reduced sauce on top of the ribs, reserving about 1/4 of a cup for serving. Place the ribs under the broiler and toast until nicely browned and crisp, per individual taste. This only takes about 2 – 3 minutes, so keep a close eye on it lest the ribs start to burn.
Sprinkle ribs with freshly chopped cilantro and sesame seeds then serve 2-3 ribs per person with the reserved sauce on the side. This goes well with a fresh side salad with bright vinaigrette or a more hearty side like roasted beets with feta (or both, as in the picture below).
Note: This recipe can also be made on the stovetop. Brown the ribs and sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger in a cast iron or non-stick pan. Add the liquid to the pan to briefly deglaze and then transfer all the ingredients to an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven. Cook covered at 300° F (150° C) until ribs are fork tender, then reduce the sauce and broil the ribs as described above.