Friday, July 23, 2010

Ribs Extraordinaire

I am going to call this recipe "Cheating the Cheat".  I got the original concept from Sam Sifton who among other things (like being the chief restaurant reviewer for the Times) does a column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine called The Cheat. It has long been one of my favorite things. He goes to a restaurant and deconstructs the food that he thinks is most delicious. Sometimes he gets a little help in the way of hints from the chefs, more recently this is true. I have a dog eared copy of a recipe he did for brined pork chops with glazed apples that is at least 6 years old. This is literally how I learned to cook. I would go to a restaurant and taste... then I was most often able to replicate flavors and textures. All of this intuition was of course backed up by technique and skills that I learned along the way, but the ability to figure out the things that really make a dish unique are somewhere in my DNA. Of course Mr. Sifton takes it to a whole new level... because he is none other than Sam Sifton whom I humbly revere.

In a recent "Cheat" article he explored ribs... really wonderful ribs, Malaysian style and perfectly cooked. The restaurant he reviewed earlier and had a lust for the ribs from was "Fatty Cue" in Brooklyn. The Chef/Owner there, Zachary Pleaccio had recently made a trip to Malaysia in search of inspiration for his food. His theme is: "The appeal of “strong cocktails, chili, palm sugar and smoky fat.” All of those elements appeal very much to me. You can read Mr. Sifton's review of Fatty Cue here. Warning, unless you are a vegetarian, this is going to make you salivate incessantly and inspire you to buy a ticket on the next plane to New York. 

Here is what I have learned about really great ribs: 

#1 You do NOT want fall off the bone ribs, those are ribs smothered and cooked in a way that loses much of the flavor and all of the bite of a good rib.
#2 When smoking (my favorite way to do ribs) you need to take time, do it slowly and in the end, you must have a smoke ring when you bite into it.
#3 My favorite ribs are those cooked with Malaysian/Asian elements.
#4 Sauce is good, but it is not the key element and I usually do not sauce my ribs, but serve sauce on the side, though these ribs end up being lacquered with a glaze at the end of the cooking process.

Mr. Sifton's recipe included all of those elements ~ and so I knew I would love these ribs. He did not use a smoker, but a grill. I have and love my Digitally controlled Bradley Smoker, so I used it, but this can also be done using the indirect method on a grill and with a smoke box in the grill. I did finish my ribs off on the grill, just to get a nice char on the exterior.
And, so here is the recipe. There is some wiggle room if you want to personalize it, but one thing you cannot remove or change is the element of the Fish Sauce. Three Crabs being the preferred brand. This takes an entire day to do. I added the star anise, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves,. chiles and increased a few things like the amount of garlic. This makes a lot of brine, I halved the recipe because I was using just one rack of ribs, this formula would work for two racks, maybe even three if you cut them up into sections as I did.
Recipe: Fatty 'Cue Spare Ribs (slightly altered)
2 cups fish sauce (preferably Three Crabs brand; see note)
10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole star anise
4 kaffir lime leaves
1-2 fresh hot chiles cut in half (seeds intact)
2 stalks of lemon grass, bruised and tied in a knot
1/2 cup sugar
2 racks pork spare ribs (I used meaty back ribs)
2 tablespoons toasted and ground Indonesian long pepper, or to taste (see note)
6 ounces palm sugar (see note)
1. Combine 1 1/2 cups fish sauce with the garlic, shallot, lemon grass, kaffir lime, star anise, chile, black pepper and sugar in a large pot. Add at least a gallon of water, then cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, place in a nonreactive container and chill. Place the ribs in the brine for at least 6 hours and no longer than 12.
2. Remove the ribs from the brine and dust lightly with ground Indonesian long pepper.
* Steps 3 & 4 were replaced by me using my digital smoker. I just set it on 220 degrees, put the Jim Beam Whiskey Barrel Wood disks in and let it go. If you do not have a smoker that you can control the heat with , use steps 3 & 4. I did char the ribs on the grill. 
3. In a grill with a cover, build a small fire to one side, making sure all the wood or charcoal becomes engulfed in flame. When the flames begin to die down, leaving flickering coals, place the ribs on the grill on the side without fire. Do not let the flames touch the meat at any time.
4. Cover the grill, vent slightly and cook, checking the fire every 30 minutes or so and adding a bit more fuel as necessary, for about 5 hours at around 220 degrees, until the meat recedes from the bone and its internal temperature is at least 170 degrees but no more than 180.
5. Meanwhile, make a glaze. Combine the palm sugar and 3/4 cup water in a small pot over a medium flame, and heat until the sugar melts. Combine that simple syrup with the remaining 1/2 cup fish sauce.
6. When the ribs are ready, glaze lightly and sear on the grill for about 5 mintues, then heavily glaze them again and serve. I served them with grilled corn on the cob, grilled smashed potatoes and parsley carrots. Salad on the side. Asian Slaw would be great with them too. 
Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Robbie Richter and Zakary Pelaccio.
Note: Three Crabs fish sauce, long pepper and palm sugar can be found at most Asian Markets or at or


Magic of Spice said...

These ribs a perfect! Wonderful tips:) The entire plate looks like a perfect outdoor feast...

Carolyn Jung said...

I remember drooling over this recipe when I saw it in the NY Times. Now, I'm totally swooning after seeing your rendition. ;)

Devany said...

You must try it... the flavors are extraordinary!

Anonymous said...

I made these yesterday, pretty much straight from the recipe. Excellent ribs. Although the fish sauce starts out with a strong smell, it blends perfectly. And the glaze is outstanding. By the end, my kids and I were dunking the ribs in the glaze practically before each bite. I smoked in a big green egg and used hickory and apple. I think on a further go round I would go with pecan or oak and not the hickory. Great stuff!