Oven roasted pork ribs, or when less meat is most definitely more.
Pork ribs: spare or back?
Why pork ribs are always labelled as barbecue food is beyond me. It is the least barbequable cut of meat I can think of: it needs to be cooked forever and longer. Pork ribs cooked on a BBQ grill will be half-burnt and awfully tough.
Pork ribs come as spare or back and the latter, also called baby ribs, are the best in my modest opinion. Spare ribs are cut from the belly of a pig and back, as you might have guessed, from around the loin.
Those baby backs usually come in racks and have very little meat on them – it’s what’s left once the bacon has gone away for curing - but that is the whole point. Meaty spare ribs are just like any other cur of pig; racks of back/baby ribs are special.
The scarcity of meat on them made this cut my daughter’s favourite dish when she was a food-averse child. I cooked ribs often enough back then to become a little tired of them, but they should certainly be recommended: beautifully cheap, easy to cook albeit time-consuming and in line with my credo of not wasting any part of the animal. Plus, meat on the bone is the tastiest – especially when there’s not a lot of it.
How to cook perfect baby back ribs
Now, what should the best ribs be like? Sweet, spicy, chewy, crispy, pull away, fall off the bone? This recipe is all of it and more. My ribs (figuratively speaking) are braised, Samin Nosrat’s style, for hours and then given a final blast of heat to give the already unbelievably tender meat a crisp carapace.
A disciple of Samin’s, I salt my meat as early as possible. Salt tenderises it which might seem superfluous compared to the length of cooking time, but salt also infinitely improves the flavour. I like Creole seasoning for pork, which you can easily mix at home, but if your preference lies east, be generous with five spice or a chilli mix.
For aromatics, I picked onion (of course), garlic (naturally) and celeriac instead of celery from the Creole trinity. That’s a thrifty swap because the long-roasted celeriac chunks taste wonderful – and it’s a side dish thus sorted.
Beer, lager, ale or stout serves well as the cooking liquor, but it can be replaced with water or chicken stock. I should not at this stage pour in any sweet liquids, like Coca-Cola or pineapple juice since in the four hours of cooking the sweet liquid will make the baking dish impossible to wash.
The sweet factor, which ribs must have, is provided with a lick of maple syrup over the almost-finished ribs, in the last minutes of roasting.
Although you can stack the racks, I do like cooking them in the largest roasting tray I have, so they all cook evenly. That way also they are never immersed in the liquid but just steam in the flavour. But turning the racks over every half an hour is obligatory – trust me. Trust Samin.
As a result the meat is so tender you don’t need your teeth for it, let alone a knife. Pull apart, fall off the bone, sweet and crisp in places – these pork ribs tick all the boxes.