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Short ribs with ale & treacle.

Elisabeth Ayrton includes a wonderful recipe for beef braised in ale and treacle in her Cookery of England, and the bittersweet combination is in fact traditional to British foodways. This recipe from the Merry Monk in Isleham via The Cambridgeshire Cook Book takes a departure from the tradition to add the treacle only after the beef, in this case short ribs instead of brisket, chuck or shin, has roasted in a slow oven for a long time. Then the treacle is brushed onto the beef while it slowly simmers and its sauce reduces to create something akin to British barbecue. Lots of ribs.

  • Beer-Flowers-Strong-Ale.jpgabout 1 Tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 sliced celery stalks
  • 2 smashed and minced garlic cloves
  • about 1 lb quartered mushrooms
  • 4 bay leaves
  • heaped teaspoon dried thyme
  • about 6 lb beef short ribs
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups ale
  • some beef stock or water
  • 2 Tablespoons treacle (see the Notes)

Preheat the oven to 300°.

  1. Put a big heavy oven pot on medium low heat: Once the pot is hot add the oil followed by the onion.
  2. Once the onion softens, turn the heat up to high and add the butter followed by the carrot, celery, mushrooms, bay, thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. Stir the pot, plunk the beef atop the vegetation, let it all cook a minute or two and then pour on the beer, adding enough stock just barely to cover the meat.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil, remove it from the heat, cover the pot and cook the ribs until tender, usually in 4 to 5 hours.
  5. Move the pot back to the stove over high heat, add the treacle and reduce the sauce until it thickens.
  6. Reduce the heat to a simmer and baste the ribs with the treacly sauce for another 40 minutes or so.
  7. Let the ribs rest in a warm place (like the ‘cold’ oven you just used to cook the dish) for 20 minutes before serving with mashed potatoes laced with prepared horseradish or horseradish cream.


-Treacle is a British product similar to Steen’s cane syrup from Louisiana, which is a good substitute. Tate and Lyle’s treacle is, however, ubiquitous in the United Kingdom and available at better supermarkets as well as specialty shops in the United States. Molasses is not so good here due to its sulphury tone.

-The original recipe uses only half the vegetables.

-The cooking time required for any given rack of short ribs--“Jacob’s Ladder” to the people at the Merry Monk--varies a lot, so check the pot with some frequency after about three and a half hours.

-Any good British or American bitter or pale ale will do, but most IPAs are a bit too hoppy for these ribs. Porter makes a soothing variation.