I must admit that I’m delighted now the cold weather’s arrived.

I much prefer the cold, crisp days to the mild, drizzly nonsense we’ve endured for the last month or so.

At this time of year I expect to be chiselling frost off my windscreen and making full use of the heated seats in my car.

I love the early commutes over the tops into work, just as the sun is starting to paint the eastern horizon with pale gold, when the freezing skies are clear and cold, showing off the Pennines in glorious ultra-high definition.

And just as much as I adore the chilly weather, I love the cooking that we can do when the temperatures drop.

Winter is pretty much my favourite culinary season, because, although there’s little in the way of local fresh veg or fruit, the recipes we can use are just up my street. Puddings, pies, roasts and casseroles. Stews and soups, curries and biryanis. Dishes that take little time to prepare, but a long time to cook, eking out every bit of flavour with gentle, deliberate heat. Hungry? I know I am. So let’s get cracking.

This week, we’re using a little-known cut of beef known as Jacob’s Ladder, or short rib. It’s a cut that most of you may not have heard of, although many chefs are getting on board with it now, and taking advantage of its brilliant flavour, not to mention the low cost.

The ribs are cut from the top of the ribs towards the front of the animal, and are well-covered in a thick later of dense meat and plenty of fat. The meat requires careful cooking, as it tightens quickly, but when slow-roast or braised, it relaxes as the fat renders away, leaving a succulent, melt-in-the-mouth texture with enormous flavour.

Short ribs are absolutely brilliant for the sort of cooking these chilly days were made for. They love marinades; waddling in tubs of wine or ale, enlivened with herbs and spices, ready to be cooked to melting tenderness.

Short ribs or Jacob's Ladder

They can take spice rubs well, too, meaning you can tandoori them, or prepare them in Oriental ways, with star anise and hot pepper. Or you can go straight for the classics, and simply give them a day bathing in red wine, followed by a slow pot-roasting with onions, root vegetables and herbs to make a hearty, sticky braise.

I can’t recommend them highly enough, and more often than not your butcher will be happy to sell them.

Jacob’s Ladder is still pretty poorly-known, even among the cheaper cuts of meat, and butchers do like making the most of their beasts. Here, we’re taking things further, flavour-wise, by curing the beef for several days, before burying them in muscovado sugar.

The cure helps tenderise and flavour the meat, and the sugar then rehydrates the flesh, adding all that wonderful muscovado liquorice-y-ness and caramelisation when cooked. I’m indebted to Peter Hannan, a Northern Irish butcher, for the genesis of this recipe – his sugar-pit cured pork ribs are legendary, and I’ve wanted to try the method for ages. The ribs cook slowly, browning and intensifying, until they’re practically falling apart into sweet, savoury flakes. All you need is a good blob of mash (I’m going for colcannon here) and some greens, and you have the perfect cold-weather recipe.

It does take some time, though. With the holidays coming up, it’d be a good one to do with a few free days.

You’ll also need a suitable container in which to cure and sugar-cure the ribs, as well as making sure there’s enough room in your fridge for said container.

Saltpetre can be easily sought from a friendly local butcher or purchased online. Be careful with it, though; it can be dangerous stuff, and must definitely be kept well out of the reaches of the mitts of the little ones.


2½-3kg Jacob’s ladder (beef short ribs)

60g Maldon salt

40g table salt

40g unrefined dark muscovado sugar

3 bay leaves

The needles of a large sprig of rosemary

The leaves of a few sprigs of thyme

½ tbsp black peppercorns

½ tsp saltpetre


500g unrefined light muscovado sugar

500g unrefined dark muscovado sugar


Colcannon mash

800g floury potatoes

300g Savoy cabbage or kale, finely shredded

12 spring onions, trimmed and shredded

100ml double cream or milk

7g g butter



A suitable container for the ribs and cure


Get the ribs curing as soon as possible – they take 5-7 days. Ensure your butcher has removed all the membranes, and cut just through the ribs to make them manageable and to allow the cure to mingle.

Mix the salts and sugar in a bowl, along with the herbs, spices and saltpetre. Put a third of the cure in the bottom of the tub, and pop the ribs on top. Add the remaining cure, rubbing all over the ribs, and packing around the sides.

Refrigerate for 3-5 days, turning the ribs daily. Then, remove from the cure and rinse in cold water. Clean and dry the tub. Mix the two muscovado sugars together and repeat the coating process with the ribs.

Allow them to sugar-cure for a further couple of days., then pat the excess sugar loose.

Heat the oven to 120˚C / Gas ½ or as low as the oven will go. Place the ribs in a lightly-oiled baking tray and cook for about 6-7 hrs, covering with foil if necessary, until the meat is pulling away from the bone and beautifully caramelised. As the ribs gently cook, make the colcannon.

Boil the potatoes until tender, then pass through a mouli or ricer. In a saucepan, sauté the cabbage in half of the butter until just beginning to colour, then throw in the spring onions and the cream, followed by the mashed potato. Stir together, and add the remaining butter.

Season well, and beat until beautifully light and airy.

Serve with the sticky ribs and some greens, should you so wish.