SPARE RIBS palm syrup, lime, cold beer
Nothing says summer like a weekend bbq with friends, cold beer, the inevitable sunburn and some ribs…sweet, sticky glorious ribs. In my mind a good rib should be supremely tender, but still have some pull and a bit of bite to it (sorry, I’m not a fall off the bone guy). The flavors should be balanced but forward; a mix of salty, smokey, sweet, hot and acidic all working together to set off the rich flavor of rendered pork fat.
This recipe exemplifies all of my cooking influences in one…the simplicity and sensibility of traditional Italian cooking, the savory and fermented flavors of Southeast Asia and lastly the techniques and mindset of southern bbq. A “traditional” rib recipe this is not. A delicious (and drunk) one, however, it certainly is.
4 racks pork spare ribs
½ oz Indonesian long pepper, ground
¼ oz Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1 oz kosher salt
1 bunch scallions, thinnly sliced
1 case cold beer
For the Palm Syrup3 c palm sugar
1 c fish sauce (i like squid brand)
¼ c water
1 c shallots, thinly sliced
1 2" knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
½ c brown rice vinegar
Juice of 4 limes
Night Before / Early Morning
Put the case of cold beer in the fridge. Unwrap the ribs and place on a cutting board.
Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs if the butcher has not done so already. Do this by making a small, delicate incision with a boning knife along the length of one of the rib bones. Using the tip of the knife carefully loosen the membrane by inserting the knife parallel to the rack, perpendicular to the incision and just under the membrane but above the meat. Once a grippable sized portion of the membrane has been loosened grab with your thumb and forefinger and begin carefully pulling away, using the boning knife to continue loosening when necessary. The membrane should tear away relatively easily…kind of like pulling up a real sticky bandage. If necessary, make another incision and repeat the process until all the membrane is removed.
Combine the kosher salt with the ground long pepper and ground sichuan peppercorns. Mix thoroughly. Season the racks liberally with the salt and ground peppers and rub it into the meat. Put the ribs on a half sheet tray or in a container large enough to fit the racks with a little room spare. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and no more than a full day.
Put a heavy bottomed sauce pot over medium heat and add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and the ginger and stir until coated in the hot oil. Cover the sauce pan and reduce the heat to low. Sweat, stirring occasionally until the ginger is soft and the shallots are cooked through. About 25 minutes.
Remove the lid and add the palm sugar, water and fish sauce to the pot and bring to a simmer. Stir, breaking up the palm sugar discs until it is dissolved into the mixture. Pour the contents into a vita-mix/blender and blend until the shallots and ginger are liquified and the syrup is smooth. Stir in the brown rice vinegar and fresh lime juice. The syrup should be sweet, salty, sour and funky all at once. Adjust acidity to taste with more vinegar or limes or adjust sweetness with more sugar. The fishy flavor mellows significantly once applied to the cooking meat. Let cool completely and transfer to a quart container. The syrup can be stored in the fridge if making in advance.
Pull the Ribs from the fridge and let temper. Ideally, the meat should temper for at least 45 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Meanwhile, crack the first beer and get a fire going in the smoker. Work to get the temperature holding comfortably in the 200° to 225° range. For this application Pecan wood is ideal if available, but fruitwoods work perfectly well also. Apple and or cherry woods are fantastic and are generally readily available in Michigan.
Put the ribs in the smoker and keep the palm sugar syrup nearby with a pastry brush or bbq mop. Cook the ribs, basting them with the syrup between each additional beer(or about once every 45 minutes or so), until tender and the meat starts to pull away from the bone, about 4 hours total. During the smoke, work to keep your smoker between 200° and 225° with the smoke stream at a subtle wisp, avoiding prolonged periods of heavy plumes.
Remove the ribs from the smoker and brush them one final time with the syrup. Let the racks rest for about 10 to 15 minutes. While resting sprinkle them with the Nanami Togarashi followed by the sliced scallions. After the rest, cut the ribs between the bones and serve on a platter with a drizzle of the extra syrup, fresh lime wedges and plenty of cold beer.