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Today: Tom makes ribs, but not because of football. (Don't miss Tom's 5 rib tips).
My friend Paul was over the other day. It was late afternoon, we were talking, and then, because it was getting near dinner time, I started pulling things from the fridge and prepping dinner.
As is the custom at my house, many sit on the bar stool opposite me while I stand at the cutting board cutting, whisking, or kneading. We were talking about next Sunday's big game. He was surprised when I said I won’t watch the game. I just don’t. Never have, not even when the Colts were in the game did I pay any attention. I don’t know why. Maybe I just have other things to do.
Then, as happens sometimes, my friend started asking me questions about cooking. He was especially interested in the rack of ribs I was pulling out of the brine and patting dry. He smiled, then happened to mention they look like game-day ribs, as if I was lying to him.
I assured him they weren’t and explained how I do however get cravings for game day food, pork ribs specifically. After I patted them dry I peeled off the membrane on the concave side of the ribs. It made me feel like I knew what I was doing, like I was a professional, when it came off all in one big strip, because most other days it doesn’t.
As I rubbed down the ribs with a spice rub he asked me what was in the water. I told him it was a brine and explained how through osmosis it allows the rib meat to retain moisture. After their rub down, I stacked them and wrapped them in plastic wrap and threw them back into the fridge.
I continued prepping tonight's dinner and when I pulled out some chicken thighs, Paul wondered aloud in astonishment that he thought the ribs were for tonight and we were going to have chicken too. So now, after explaining that is not the case, we had a full on discussion about ribs.
I lead him through the maze of different cuts and how I like the baby backs best for this recipe. Then we went through the cooking method and how I cook them twice. Once slow and low then finished with a quick sear on the grill to build the crust.
Most importantly, I told him how rib recipes might be the most personal of recipes. How it is an each-to-his-own kind of thing and that while I can tell him how I cook them, how they may be my thing, they may not be his. He looked at me and said, “I have never eaten a dinner here that wasn’t my thing.” I smiled, and asked if he wanted to call Jen and see if they could come to dinner tomorrow for ribs.
1. Brine your ribs. No matter how you are cooking them, it will help to keep them moist.
2. Make the ribs fit your schedule -- don’t make your schedule around the ribs.
3. I always look for the rack of ribs that were cut in the unskilled hands of the apprentice butcher. They are usually meatier.
4. I really like rib meat -- it’s really tasty and I try not to hide it behind lots of flavors and sauces. Let the pork shine.
5. Don’t be the hog, invite some friends over for dinner.
Caribbean Ribs with Norman Van Aken's Classic Sour Orange Mojo
Serves 6 to 8
For the spice rub:
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the ribs:
2 racks baby back ribs
2 onions, julienned
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup kosher salt, if you use table salt reduce the amount by half
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 gallon ice cold water
1 hot chile, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup equal parts fresh lime and orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1 handful of cilantro leaves
Photos by Tom Hirschfeld