Here’s the thing about ribs. There an absolutist feast. You either love them (usually with with a fire burning passion) or you hate them. If you hate the there’s every chance that the sight of people tearing at sticky, stringy bone-tethered meat with their bare hands makes you hide corner and hum ‘ooh ooh child’ to yourself until the world is safe again.
The Hungry One is a rib lover. Along with black forest cakes, they’re his Peter Pan Happy place. His love is pure and comes straight from childhood. One of the better places to source ribs in Sydney used to be Hurricanes. It’s also one of the better places to eat boerewors- the lightly spiced South African beef sausages that were a favourite of his Mauritian-born Mum.
The first time he took me to Hurricanes on a date, I was shocked.
I was shocked by the bibs that fully developed adults were willingly wearing while they ate. I was shocked by the hulking mass of meat that was delivered (a full rack of ribs does have the tendency to look like a dinosaur carcass). And thirdly, I was shocked by the level of interactivity involved.
To commit to a meal of ribs you really have to get your hands into it. Firstly, if they come in a rack you have to cut them, seeking out the soft and gelatinous bits of flesh that join the bones. There is no way to do this without getting sauce streaked all down your fingers. Then you have to pluck the meat off bones until they’re bare. You can do it with your fingers, transferring strings of flesh and sauce to your mouth bit by bit but it’s easier to do it with your teeth.
When it’s good it’s about a hint of bone and voluptuous flesh that’s smoky, sweet and has a bit of a kinky kick of heat. Essentially it’s Spice Girls, circa 1996 in a meal.
Ribs are not conducive to romance, or conversation. Particularly if your dining companion comes from a gender that doesn’t endorse multitasking.
‘Can’t talk, eating’ is generally the mood that storms the table when the platters descend.
Whenever I need to make a day a bit brighter for The Hungry One, ribs are where I turn.
To really please him the meat needs to be soft and threadlike and to pull off the bone easily. To do that, they needs to be slow cooked. He also likes them to be charred and crispy. To do that, at the very end they take a twirl on the barbecue. I’ve also learned that if I take them out of the roasting pot and let them rest for an hour under foil before grilling it helps the meat rest and also stops them falling apart.
And finally, a good serving of ribs is all about the sauce. A balance between acid, sweetness, heat and smoke is key. Some people are all about dry rubs, but for The Hungry One, the stickier they are, the sweeter.
What is below is not a ‘classic’ rib marinade. There’s marmalade and orange juice for a bit of citrus tang- though on occasion I’ve supplemented the orange juice for orange and mango if it’s in the fridge, and even once thrown in some Innocent passionfruit and mango smoothie- because that’s what I had on hand. It was a bit of a winner.
There’s fresh ginger and hot mustard as well as cayenne pepper for heat- you can choose how much heat you want. And the smoke, ideally would come from spending hours and hours being slowly roasted in a wood smoked bbq. But since we don’t have that, here on our balcony in London, we cheat a little and I use a smoky bbq sauce.
I may not adore them or the fat they throw while they cook (and the smell that leaches around the flat while they spend all day cooking just about drives me mad) but the smile they bring to his face- well that makes it all worthwhile.
At home slow roasted ribs
Serves 2- or 1 very, very hungry one
1 large casserole dish or slow cooker. 1 bbq. 1 brush for basting.
1.8 kg of pork ribs (you can either buy them in a rack or separately- I find the separate ones easier to handle in the casserole dish and to grill. It also means you don’t need to cut them before your eat them).
200 ml orange juice
300 ml of smoked BBQ sauce
100 ml tomato sauce
1 tablespoon of hot English mustard
1 tablespoon of grated raw ginger
1 tablespoon of garlic, grated or sliced
1 tablespoon of Cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how spicy you like them)
2 tablespoons of marmalade, melted with 1 tablespoon of boiling water.
Here’s how we roll
1. The night before serving mix together the marinade in a big Tupperware. Mx in everything in except for 100ml of the smoked bbq sauce. Then tumble all of the ribs in it, snap the lid on and leave it in the fridge overnight to marinate.
2. Preheat the oven to 120 C or 250 F and put all of the ribs and the marinade in a big casserole pot to cook for 7 hours with the lid on. If I had a slow cooker, I’d put them in that and let them slowly cook all day.
3. Every two hours or so move the ribs around in the liquid to make sure they’re all covered. If you’re scared by the amount of fat that’s leaching out, you can ladle off some of the cooking liquid and put it in a jar in the fridge for two hours to chill. Then scoop off the fat that’s solidified on the top and return the liquid to the pot. There’s plenty of liquid to cook in, so they should be fine.
4. An hour before serving pluck the ribs out of the cooking liquid and transfer them to a platter and cover it with foil so they don’t dry out.
5. Let the bbq heat up. Before grilling baste the ribs with the extra bbq sauce, thinned with and a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
6. Cook the ribs on the bbq until the outside have crisped and charred a little.
7. I serve with rhubarb pickle (recipe coming soon) and a big green salad. And wet cloths to wipe sticky hands on.