March 22, 2011

Thai-Seasoned Baby Back Ribs: The Best Ribs You'll Ever Have!

I've long thought that as far as ribs went, nothing could possibly beat a barbecued rack.   It turns out I was wrong, but this is one time I don't mind being wrong, since in proving myself wrong, I ended up with the best ribs I've ever made, or had.

I saw a recipe for Thai Spareribs in the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit.  That recipe looked okay, but there were clearly some things missing - like, something to provide heat! - so I redesigned the ingredient list to my taste, though I ended up more or less following the techniques suggested in that recipe.  I braised the ribs in the oven, then soaked them overnight in a flavorful marinade, then I roasted them on a baking sheet, basting them frequently with the marinade, and cooked down the remaining marinade and some pan drippings to make a sauce. 

I'm not often at a loss for words, but I'm not sure I can adequately express how darn good these ribs were.  For starters, they were fall-off-the-bone tender, incredibly moist, and not the least bit fatty or greasy.  And then there's the flavor.... sweet, savory and nutty, with just the slightest bit of heat.  After finishing off an extra-large helping, it was hard to not keep going.   These ribs were that good.  

Juli here.  I suggested that this post should be titled "Best Ribs Ever, world without end, AMEN!" ... but Jeffrey thought not.  They really are the best ribs I've ever eaten, though- easy to get off the bone (important if I'm to be able to eat the leftovers at work without getting hopelessly messy) and wonderfully full of flavor.  They're quite a production to make, but worth every minute.  I highly recommend!

All winter long, I've been waiting for spring so I could get out the grill and barbecue some ribs.   I'm certainly not going to give up on the wonder that is a perfect rack of ribs hot off the grill, but since these ribs spend a lot of time in the oven - first for the braising, then baking them - now I'll also be eagerly awaiting cooler weather so I can make up another batch of these, and experiment further with the core techniques to try some other flavor combinations.

Thai-Seasoned Baby Back Ribs

yield = 6 servings

2             racks of meaty baby back spareribs (about 6 pounds total)
5             stalks lemongrass
2             Thai chili peppers or 1 large jalapeno, seeded
                 and chopped
1/2          cup + 5 tablespoons tamari
1/2          cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2          cup mirin (rice wine) or dry sherry
3             tablespoons Thai peanut sauce
2             tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
4             large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1             2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
1             cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove membrane from the back of the rib racks, if it was not removed by the butcher.   Slice each rack of ribs into segments of 2 ribs apiece.  Trim away any excessive fat. 

Arrange ribs in a single layer in a large roasting pan and add just enough water to cover the ribs.  Cover the pan with foil and place it in the oven to braise for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool, still covered, 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the marinade.  Cut the woody, root-end from the bottom of each lemongrass stalk and cut off the top part of each stalk about 4 inches from the bottom.  Discard the upper and root portions, then peel away the loose, outer layers of each stalk.  Slice each stalk into thin rounds, then transfer to food processor.   Add Thai chilis (or jalapeno), 1/2 cup tamari, brown sugar, mirin (or sherry), peanut sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger and process until almost smooth.  Add coconut milk and remaining 6 tablespoons tamari and process together.

After the pan with the ribs has cooled, remove the foil, transfer the rib segments to a large zipper-lock bag and discard the cooking liquid.  Add marinade to the bag with the ribs, seal the bag and shake to coat the ribs thoroughly with the marinade.   Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Use tongs to arrange the rib segments in a single layer on a large, foil-lined baking sheet.  Transfer marinade to a medium bowl.  Brush rib segments with marinade and roast uncovered, basting the ribs with the marinade every 15 minutes or so, until the ribs are very tender (about 1 1/2 hours).

Use tongs to transfer ribs to a serving platter, then cover with foil.   Pour remaining marinade into a small saucepan.  Using a spatula, scoop up any marinade that isn't burnt black from the baking sheet and stir it into the saucepan.    Bring to a boil and cook until thickened (3-5 minutes), then pour atop the rib segments and serve.

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