Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Baby Back Pork Ribs

Rubbed and Slow-Cooked in the Oven

The latest TV ad for McDonald's McRib sandwich has me longing for the taste of juicy pork ribs, not the disappointing fast food sandwich but meaty, saucy, fall-off-the-bone tender spareribs. How do you like your racks of pork ribs? BBQ'd? Oven baked? Stovetop braised? Cooked all day in a crock pot/slow cooker? Whatever the method, I am convinced that really good ribs require an abundance of time and patience. They just won't be rushed. Some cooks might argue for the 20-minute pressure cooker approach to save time, but I'm not going there with my spareribs. Okay, maybe I'll experiment with a fast batch of sweet and sour appetizer riblets... maybe... someday... but not soon.

This time I coated two racks of Baby Back Pork Ribs with a spicy, homemade dry rub, tucked the serving-sized chunks away in the fridge for hours to absorb some flavor, s-l-o-w I mean really s--l--o--w cooked them in a warm-not-hot oven wrapped in foil for hours, then lightly brushed the meaty side with a sprightly sauce to finish, uncovered, in a moderate oven. They would finish well on the grill, but no one (not mentioning any names here) wanted to man the barbecue for a few minutes just to finish the ribs. No problem, they were delicious  from the oven. Two baby back rib racks were more than enough for five healthy appetites, with a piece or two left for a next-day lunch.

The really big deal was finding a shortcut method to remove the tough silverskin membrane on the bony side of the rack. Why remove it? If you leave it on (1) the rub seasonings won't penetrate the meat and (2) it cooks into an unpleasant, inedible leathery skin on the ribs. Here's the secret. Insert a butter knife or other dull implement under the membrane along one edge and slip it gently toward the opposite edge. Twist and rotate the knife a bit as you move sideways along the length of the rib rack. Presto, that silverskin lifts up and peels away. The internet is packed with posts, even videos, that explain or demonstrate the process, so why didn't I discover this years ago? Sigh.

My dry rub mixes vary depending on whim and what's available in the pantry, but the blends typically include black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, smoky paprika, oregano, thyme, dry mustard and some heat from ground ancho or chipotle chile powder. Cut the rib rack(s) into smaller 2 to 3-rib portions and lightly coat both sides of each chunk with a tablespoon of the rub. Pack the rib pieces into ziploc bags and hold in the refrigerator for at least 4 or 5 hours or even overnight.

Line a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil. (You will thank me later for that suggestion.) Place the rib pieces on the foil meaty sides up and not overlapping. Slice a lemon or two into rings and scatter on top of the ribs. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, maybe half a cup. Use another piece of foil to tent a cover over the top of the meat, sealing the edges to the foil on the bottom. Bake for about 4 hours at 225 degrees F. Uncover and check for tenderness. Lightly coat the meaty top side of each piece with your favorite homemade or bottled sauce and bake at 375 degrees F until the sauce develops a rich mahogany color. This week I used a bottled Hawaiian BBQ sauce and added some lime juice, molasses and a little brown sugar for an almost-tamarind flavor. Serve the extra sauce, warmed, in a pitcher along with the ribs.

How good was that? GOOD, really, really good.. better than good... so good that we enjoyed a second batch of ribs on Sunday with another set of friends. Served with potatoes and a pair of hearty salads, the ribs were still the rock stars of the menu. We barely had room for ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

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