Masala Chai Pork Ribs

February 17, 2013
Author Notes

I have a weak spot for Assam tea. My mornings start with three cups of Assam with excessive amounts of milk and sugar. Late afternoons call for a strong Assam with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, and anise -- a Masala Chai experience to replenish, invigorate, and help survive a long day in the office. I love the blend so much that I began thinking how to use it in cooking more often. The sweetness of my mixture, the scent of it, and all the complex aromas seem to be a perfect match for slow cooked pork ribs. The tea blend penetrates the meat as the ribs simmer slowly in the oven, and then, after hours of cooking, culminate in a beautiful black syrupy glaze. I like to serve the ribs with mashed sweet potatoes and Fennel Slaw with Vanilla Vinaigrette. A day that starts with Assam and ends with Assam – it cannot get better than that.

Make sure you are using meaty spare ribs, not the leaner and pricier baby back ribs. —QueenSashy

Test Kitchen Notes

I knew the blend of spices and tea would be delicious and was excited for this dish. I swooned at the aroma filling my house while the ribs were in the oven, and the falling-apart meat had a wonderful flavor. I reduced the liquid to more of a syrup than a glaze for fear of having nothing left. I basted four times, every 30 seconds; I was left with just a spoonful of sauce, which I ate right from the spoon. Next time I might add a touch of orange juice for acid; other than that, this dish was magical. —savorthis

  • Serves 4 to 6
  • For the rub
  • 2 tablespoons (or content of 4 tea bags) Assam tea, or any similar strong malty black tea, such as Irish breakfast or Scottish breakfast
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • For the ribs
  • 2 pounds pork spare ribs
  • 2 tablespoons Assam tea (or 4 tea bags)
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 12 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 to 2 ounces ginger, shaved or cut into small pieces
  • 16 cloves
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
In This Recipe
  1. Prepare the rub. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. Rub the ribs all over with the spice rub. Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and put them into the fridge to sit overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250F. Steep the tea in 4 cups of boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes, until very dark and strong. Discard the tea leaves (or bags) and stir in the brown sugar. Add all other ingredients. Pour the mixture around the ribs in the pan. Cover with lid and roast until tender, about 4 hours.
  3. Remove the ribs from the oven and preheat the broiler.
  4. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and skim off all the fat. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until reduced to thick syrup.
  5. Arrange the ribs on a rack. Glaze the upper side of the ribs with the syrup, and place under the broiler for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the glaze starts to bubble. (Because of the rub, the ribs will already be almost black, and with the glaze they will become like black lacquer, so keep an eye on them while under the broiler; there will be a fine line between black lacquer and burnt syrup.)
  6. Remove the ribs from the oven, let them rest for a couple of minutes, and then serve.

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Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.