I'm not normally a huge fan of slow-cookers. Often as not, things I've had that were made in one were over-cooked. Chicken, particularly, tends to fare poorly in a slow-cooker, or so my experience has been. Still, it never hurts to branch out, so I decided to try out something completely different.
I've seen some recipes that involve various cuts of pork and beef ribs prepared in a slow cooker. I haven't had ribs for a few months now (one can grill in the winter, but I generally prefer to not do so), so I figured I'd
try slow-cooker ribs. I like fruit flavors with pork, and I like Indian spice mixes, so I decided I'd cook the ribs in an apricot sauce with Indian spices, since apricots are used in some Indian recipes.
Having made that decision, I looked up some slow-cooker rib recipes in the various resources available to me, to get a sense what slow-cooker techniques worked well with ribs, how long they would take to cook and so forth. I saw some recipes in which racks of ribs were divided into individual portions of 4-5 ribs each, but in many more the racks were separated into one-rib segments, so I kept that in mind as I went shopping. I was considering some bone-in country ribs, but then I saw some great-looking, unusually meaty racks of back ribs in the butcher counter. Some of those were a bit long for easy stirring in a slow-cooker, so I had the butcher saw through the rack lengthwise. That way all I had to do was slice the individual rib segments apart.
A lot of slow-cooked rib recipes didn't call for pre-cooking of any sort, but that didn't sound right to me. Stewed meats of all sorts taste better if they are browned before you stew them, and since this carries over to all the best slow-cooker stew recipes I'd seen, I figured the riblets would benefit from doing the same. Besides, browning the ribs would give me an opportunity to cook some of the curry flavor directly into the riblets, rather than having the curry just blend in with all the other sauce ingredients.
Once the ribs were browned, I fried up some onions and spices, which gave the sauce more of an Indian flavor than if I'd simply dumped some spices and chopped onions in with the other ingredients. That done, I just had to mix all the ingredients into the slow cooker and let the riblets cook for a few hours. That gave me plenty of time to work on other things, including the other parts of the meal.
These riblets turned out great! The meat was moist and tender, and completely covered in a delicious, tangy sauce. The curry and fruit flavors complemented each other nicely, neither dominating the other. The savory ingredients balanced out the preserves, preventing the sauce from being cloyingly sweet, while the chilis, cardamom and other seasonings added some complexity to the flavor, and just a hint of heat. Sure, the riblets were a bit messy to eat - tender though the meat was, these were still riblets you'd want to pick up and chew, not pick at with a knife and fork - but flavor this good is worth sticky fingers. Just keep lots of napkins handy.
I still can't say I'm a big slow cooker fan, but that will change if I keep getting results like this. These riblets are really, really good.
Slow-Cooked Pork Riblets with Apricots and Indian Spices
yield = 4 servings
1 rack (3 pounds) pork back ribs
3 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil + 1 tablespoon
1 cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 ounces dried apricots, chopped
2 black cardamom pods, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon garam masala
Cut each half rack of ribs into single-rib portions (riblets). Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with curry powder and kosher salt and stir to coat the ribs evenly.
Heat two tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the riblets in batches. Cook the riblets until they have browned on all sides, then transfer to the slow cooker.
|A new purchase, the Milmour Adjustable Measuring Cup, is |
great for measuring out sticky things that tend
to stick in a cup, such as honey, peanut butter or,
as in this case, apricot preserves.
While the riblets are browning, combine apricot preserves, grated ginger, cider vinegar and coriander powder in a small bowl. Stir to mix, then set aside.
After the riblets are browned, add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and chili and stir-fry until the onions have started to brown (about 6 minutes). Stir in the garlic, cumin and powdered ginger. Cook until fragrant (30-60 seconds), then transfer onion mixture to slow cooker, atop the riblets.
Add the chopped, dried apricots, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and bay leaf to the slow cooker, then spread the apricot preserves mixture atop the contents of the slow cooker. Cover slow cooker and cook riblets, stirring occasionally, 4-5 hours on low heat setting.
Right before serving, stir in the garam masala.