So ribs. Can you say vegetarian challenge! But Don was not going to let the Green Gal spotlight on pork go out without a starring role for ribs. Be brave, right? And here’s what I came up with… Brined baby back ribs that are slow-roasted in the oven and slathered with a sticky sweet and spicy glaze. Not bragging or anything, but not bad for a vegetarian.
One of the biggest hurdles I see to creating moist and juicy ribs is how easily they can dry out and become tough while they cook. I decided on brining the ribs after consulting several expert blogs and websites. Scott Thomas of The Grillin’ Fools convinced me it was worth the time and effort to brine before roasting. And then came the creativity when he pointed out that brine doesn’t have to be just water and salt…. What about beer and spices?!
The next big decision was how to cook them—in the oven or on the grill. Everything I read said it was going to be easier and I was going to have more control roasting in the oven rather than trying to slow grill out on the porch. I chose the oven, and given that I don’t eat meat and can feel very insecure making meat dishes, this was the right decision. Brave but not reckless. If you would like to be braver than I… go for it and let us know how things grill out!
- One quart hard cider beer (I used Anger Orchard’s Crisp Apple—three bottles.)
- One quart unfiltered organic unsweetened apple juice
- Two quarts cold water
- One cup fine sea salt
- A two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
- One tablespoon whole mustard seed, crushed
- One tablespoon whole tri-color peppercorns, crushed (combo of red, green and white available at Penzey’s)
- One three-pound rack of ribs, cut in three-to-four-rib sections with any top tough skin removed
- One cup Ginger Sauce (From the Anne Somerville cookbook Fields of Greens, easy-peasy recipe at the end of the post)
- Two tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used a dark chocolate variety from a local culinary store, Olive Oils & More.)
- One small minced hot pepper (We were still experimenting with the Black Congo but choice is up to you.)
- The zest and juice of one large orange
- One-quarter cup brown sugar
- Two tablespoons Miso paste (light or dark, your choice)
- Combine all the brine ingredients in a large stock pot. Immerse the rib sections, making sure they stay below the surface of the liquid. A plate that fits inside the stock pot will work fine if there is an issue. Cover with the pot lid and refrigerate for six to eight hours.
- About an hour before roasting the ribs, make your glaze by combining all the ingredients except the miso in a small sauce pan. Bring up to nearly a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, just to marry the flavors. Remove from the heat and stir in the miso.
- To roast the ribs, I used my largest roasting pan with the rack. If you want to avoid the labor-intensive clean up I faced (hard-crusted lesson learned), line your roasting pan with aluminum foil and totally coat the roasting rack with oil or a heavy dose of cooking spray.
- After preparing the pan and rack, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the ribs out of the brine and place on the rack beginning fat/bone side up. Do not crowd them. Coat generously with glaze. Cover the entire rack and roaster with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Continue basting the ribs with your glaze every 20 minutes or so for about two and a half hours, turning the ribs over meat-side up halfway through.
- The ribs will be done when the meat begins to pull away from the bone. It’s worth it to keep a close eye on the ribs during their roasting time. First, this glaze is full of sugar and it can burn, even though the oven temperature is fairly low. Second, you really don’t want to overcook your baby backs. I had Don take a tiny taste when I felt they were done (a little past two hours), and that was the right decision. They were ready.
- Remove the ribs to a platter, cover and allow them to rest for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
The prep time refers only to the time it takes to prepare the glaze and roaster and get the ribs in the oven, Note that brining takes 6 to 8 hours.
As with a lot of my recipes, one of the ingredients in my sauce was “made” not just plucked off the pantry shelf. It’s a super-simple ginger sauce that comes from my Anne Somerville Fields of Greens cookbook. This is one of my go-to favorites to keep in my frig for whenever I need to add a sweet-salty Asian twist to something…anything from salad dressings to meat marinades to soups.
To be honest, I used to get upset with the great chefs on my bookshelves for creating dishes that forced me to make an extra “dish” in order to complete the one I had originally intended to make. But not anymore—fresh and homemade takes time, but well worth it. And isn’t it great to reach in your frig and pull out something extra special for that meal you’ve got to make in a hurry? Somerville’s versatile, long-lasting ginger sauce is a perfect example of why I’m OK with a little more work in the kitchen. Here is her recipe:
Anne Somerville’s Ginger Dipping Sauce
- Three-quarters cup soy sauce (I’m hooked on San J low-sodium, gluten-free organic Tamari.)
- Three-quarters cup water
- One-quarter cup sugar (I like to use honey here.)
- Six thin coins of fresh ginger
- One tablespoon dark pure sesame oil
- Two teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in one-quarter cup of cold water
Combine everything except the cornstarch and quarter-cup cold water in a small sauce pan; simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water and whisk the mixture into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a quick boil for one minute, whisking constantly. The cornstarch will bind to the sauce ever so slightly and give it a silky texture (This is so true!!). Remove from heat and cool, allowing the ginger to steep in the sauce until you are ready to store it. Strain out the ginger and store the sauce in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. It keeps for several weeks.
Just like my Apple Jack Pulled Pork, the Ginger and Beer Baby Backs were a big hit. I took both dishes to my weekly CSA dinner out at Biver Farm and watched them rapidly disappear. I felt incredibly good about my offering, not just because I felt I’d done a good job in the kitchen but more importantly because Blaine Bilyeu, the owner of Papa’s Pasture who raised the meat, had done an outstanding job. I am totally convinced that the nutritional value of the meat and its obviously delicious taste are intricately tied to how her hogs are raised, with humane care, sustainable practices and pride for her family farm. You can order Blaine’s pork online with a couple of options for pickup or find her at the Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville, which has added a once-a-month winter market beginning November 18. Blaine and I will see you there!