I love braised beef. It’s so flavorful and there are so many different ways to cook them. It’s such a versatile dish and always a crowd pleaser. I have a few versions under my belt that I make often. Today I’m sharing a Chinese-style braised beef using beef short ribs and some typical Chinese spices and seasonings. It has a unique sweet fragrance with the combination of star anise, cinnamon, sugar, and soy sauce. This dish pairs extremely well with rice and light vegetables dishes like baby bok choy with shiitake mushrooms.
I like using beef short ribs for braising because short ribs have the perfect combination of lean and fatty tissues. For this Chinese style braised short ribs, I prefer the crosscut (also known as flanken style) short ribs in which the ribs are cut across the bone. I separate the short ribs along the meat and sauté them first in caramel sugar before adding liquid sauce for pressure cooking.
You may have noticed that the title says “Instant Pot.” Yes, an Instant Pot can be used to braise beef. Using an instant pot cuts the total time down from more than 2 hours to about 1 hour. I used to use a Dutch oven to braise short ribs and it would take at least 2 hours from start to finish. But these days as a busy mom with two young kids, I prefer the Instant Pot to the Dutch oven as it greatly reduces the amount of time required to make the perfect tender and juicy short ribs. And it’s worry free, meaning I can just set the timer on the Instant Pot and forget about it. I don’t have to check in the middle or worry about getting the right temperature.
With the crosscut short ribs, you should set the Instant Pot timer to 45 minutes. This amount of time allows the short ribs to become fall-off-the-bone tender and at the same time absorb all the flavors from the various spices and the sauce. The bones in the crosscut short ribs add more beefy flavors to the dish, but fear not if you cannot find crosscut short ribs. You can use boneless short ribs instead. With boneless short ribs, cut the meat into 1-inch (2.5cm) cubes and reduce the Instant Pot timer to 40 minutes to have the perfectly cooked juicy and tender short ribs. I would not recommend the English-cut short ribs for this Chinese-style recipe as they are more suitable for plating—as in French braising recipes.
For braising beef, the best cut to use is short ribs. If you cannot find short ribs, you can use beef chuck, brisket, or shank instead. With those cuts, increase the Instant Pot timer to 50 minutes as it takes a little longer to break down the connective tissues in those cuts.
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 70 minutes
Servings: 4-6 people family style
Tools: Instant Pot
- 1.5 pounds of crosscut short ribs or boneless short ribs1
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 3 medium or 4 small carrots
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 medium sized rock sugar pieces (about 40-50 grams)2
- 1.5 cups (~355ml) hot water
- 1 green onion (separate green and white parts)
- 1 1-inch (2.5cm) long piece of ginger
- 2 star anises
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) Chinese cooking wine or rice wine
- 2 dried chili peppers or 1 teaspoon spicy/chili bean paste, also known as La Douban Jiang (optional)3
See notes for substitutes
- Gather all the ingredients. Cut the white part of the green onion into 1-inch long chunks. Cut the ginger into thin slices. Roll-cut the carrots into large chunks. (When roll cutting, cut the carrots at a diagonal, rotate the carrots 45 degrees, then cut again at the same diagonal. Keep repeating this same pattern.) If your carrots come with carrot tops attached, don’t discard them. Try this simple carrot top recipe.
- Wash the short ribs with running cold water and pat them dry with paper towel. Cut the short ribs along the meat part (there are clear parts where the bones are). Season with a pinch of kosher salt.
- Press the “Sauté” button on the Instant Pot and add the 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the 2 medium sized rock sugar pieces. Stir often to prevent rock sugar from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- When all the rock sugar pieces dissolve into caramel (about 5 minutes), add the short ribs, immediately stirring and tossing to cover all the short rib pieces with the rock sugar caramel.
- After all the short ribs are covered with caramel, add the carrot chunks, stirring to combine. Then pour in the 1.5 cups of hot water (make sure it’s hot) to cover all the short ribs and carrots.
- Add the rest of the ingredients: green onion chunks, ginger slices, 2 star anises, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine. Optionally, add the 2 dried chili peppers or 1 teaspoon of spicy fermented bean paste for a spicy kick, mixing well.
- Press the “Cancel” button to stop the sautéing process. Close and lock the lid. Make sure the stem valve points towards “sealing,” and not “venting.” Press the “Meat/Stew” button and increase the timer to 45 minutes (or 40 minutes if using boneless short ribs).
- When the Instant Pot is done cooking, it will switch to “Keep Warm” mode automatically. You can use a utensil to manually switch the valve to the “Venting” position to let out the steam. (WARNING: Never use your hand to turn the valve as the steam will be hot. ALWAYS follow all safety instructions that come with your particular Instant Pot.) Optionally, if you are not pressed for time, wait 15-20 minutes until the Instant Pot naturally releases pressure. No matter the method, be sure to wait until the little floater next to the valve drops down before opening the lid.
- Transfer the short ribs along with the carrot chunks and some liquid sauce to a large plate.
- Like I mentioned earlier in the opening, beef chuck roast, beef shank or brisket works as well for braising. Increase the timer to 50 minutes if using any of the alternatives.
- Rock sugar can be substituted with brown sugar. Substitute 2 medium sized rock sugar pieces with 4 tablespoons of brown sugar.
- Spicy Chili Bean Sauce (La Douban Jiang 辣豆瓣酱) is a type of Chinese sauce using fermented broad beans and chili peppers. There are many different brands. I prefer the Pi Xian Dou Ban 郫县豆瓣(Pi Xian is literally the place where this sauce is made). This specific chili bean sauce—Pi Xian Dou Ban 郫县豆瓣—is the key ingredient to many famous Sichuan dishes including double cooked pork, which I will share in the near future.