Friday, October 12, 2007
When I was young I lived on a farm. Because we were self-sufficient (at least in the food category), we ate a lot of meat. A lot of beef, a lot of pork, and a lot of chicken. We always enjoyed the spare ribs, but for some reason I haven't really had them in my adult life. Back ribs seem to be much more popular in the grocery aisle and at restaurants, so I was skeptical about trying to make them at home, wondering how they could be really good if everyone has turned to back ribs.
I started by learning the difference between the two: spare ribs have more meat on them, but the bone is larger, and back ribs are easier to cut apart. That doesn't sound like any big deal, of course, so I'm not sure what the big deal is. Maybe in the South spare ribs are still more popular.
In the past, I've used Alton Brown's recipe for making baby back ribs and really liked the method, but I wasn't crazy about the flavors, so Mark and I decided to shake it up a bit. (Of course it was a collaboration, since it involved a big piece of meat.) I really like the flavor of my brother Dan's dry spice rub (or my loose interpretation of it, based on what I had around the house), and I have some of that on hand still. But, since the weather is cooling, I couldn't really plan on grilling for several hours. The charcoal wouldn't have held its heat, and I didn't have that kind of time to devote to one thing. So I decided to combine a few ideas.
We rubbed the meat, let that soak in for an hour, then braised it in the oven, using Alton Brown's suggestions. Then we used the braising liquid as a base for a sauce to baste the ribs with while finishing them off on the grill. The rub had all the spice we used in the recipe and the sauce was a sweet and acidic balance to the spice, making the overall spice fairly mild (just tolerable for Emily). Additionally, the meat was really tender and easy to pull from the bone, while the flavor was nice and bold. I really liked doing it this way, though if it were just for adults, I'd throw more rub on in the beginning to make it spicier. Of course, this is all assuming you don't have a smoker.
We served it with potato salad and the corn salad recipe from the other day, sans the bleu cheese, which it didn't really need, since I wanted to make that one last time before fresh, local corn was gone for the summer. My potato salad is pretty simple: boil red potatoes, slice them, add cider vinegar, chill them, and add diced sweet onions, lots and lots of chopped pickles, a touch of pickle juice, chopped boiled eggs, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. It was a good potato salad. A good standard potato salad. Sometimes I like a more inventive one (with tarragon or Dijon or bacon or something), but sometimes the standard is good, too.
In case you might get to it, here is the recipe for the spare ribs. And if it's too cold to grill, you can finish them under the broiler, but watch them carefully and don't put them too close to the heating element.
Dan's Spice Rub
adapted from Dan Metcalf, or you can use his original recipe
3 T. brown sugar
1 1/2 T. Kosher salt
1 1/2 T. cumin
1 1/2 T. black peppercorns
1 T. dried, ground chili of choice (I used ancho or guajillo), or chili powder
1 dried guajillo chili, destemmed, torn (or 2 Anchos would be good here, too)
Throw all the ingredients in a blender and blend to a fine powder. Set aside.
extra-long heavy duty aluminum foil
Dan's Spice Rub
1 rack (4-5 lb.) spare ribs
3/4 c. white wine
1 1/2 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. honey
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 t. yellow mustard
1 T. molasses
2 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. apple cider
dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
Lay out a long sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet. If it will not be wide enough to wrap around the ribs and roll together, place to sheets side-by-side and roll the ends together to make it fairly airtight. Set the rack of ribs on top of the foil.
Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with the spice rub and with a light, even dusting of Kosher salt, then rub it into the meat. Use a thin layer for mild to medium ribs, more as desired. Bring the foil together on top of the rack and fold together (as you do the top of a brown paper bag), leaving extra air above the meat for steaming, then roll up the ends. Let the meat set for an hour to absorb the rub.
Preheat the oven to 250°F.
In a bowl, combine the wine, 1 1/2 T. white wine vinegar, 1/4 c. honey, 2 T. Worcestershire, and garlic cloves. Microwave for one minute, then stir to blend well. Open up one end of the foil, pour the liquid in, and close the foil back up. Shake it gently to slosh it around inside, just to spread it a bit. Place the baking sheet with the ribs on it in the oven and bake for 2 1/2 hours.
Open up the foil end again and pour off the braising liquid into a small saucepan (it will have multiplied, since it has pork stock in it as well now). Return the ribs to the oven and let them continue to cook for about 20 minutes as you make the sauce. As you start on the sauce, light up the charcoal for your grill to get it ready (unless you're using gas).
Set the saucepan over medium to medium high heat and whisk in the mustard, molasses, vinegar, cider, Worcestershire, and about 1/2 c. of brown sugar and 1/4 c. honey to start. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to about 1 or 1 1/2 cups. Taste for flavor and adjust as necessary. It should be rich, sweet, slightly acidic, and little mustardy to balance out the spice in the rub.
After your grill is very hot, baste the ribs with the sauce and grill, turning a couple of times, applying a couple of layers of the sauce until it's all used up. Grill until the sauce has glazed well and the ribs have a nice sear on them, then cut and serve.
Now, isn't that inspiring?