Monday, February 23, 2015

Korean Baby Back Ribs

Believe it or not, I think baby back ribs are one of the easiest and tastiest things to prepare for a weekend dinner. Note that I did not use the words "fastest" or "quickest"--the process is rather time-consuming. However, the actual work is pretty simple. Normally I'll put together a dry rub (or get Mr Minx to do it) and apply it to the ribs the night before. The next day, the ribs get a dose of moisture in the form of juice or even soda and spend several hours lounging in a slow oven. Once the meat is fork tender, it gets slathered in sauce for a trip under the broiler.

I find slightly charred barbecue sauce to be a delightful scent. Someone needs to make a candle. But not Yankee Candle.

Oven braised bbq ribs are a perfect lazy weekend dish. As long as I don't make a lot of sides, it affords me free time to catch up on my reading or knitting or whatever. (Napping, too.) And two giant racks of ribs for two people means a week's worth of leftovers. Or two dinners for us plus enough left over to bribe my brother into watching the dog while we head off to a media event in Frederick.

I was feeling in a Korean food mood (as often happens) so I designed the dry rub and sauce with that in mind. To my palate, Korean food is all about sweet, garlic, and heat. The dry rub includes all three elements in the form of brown sugar, garlic powder, and kochukaru, or Korean red pepper flakes. The sauce also incorporates those flavors, plus the tang of rice vinegar and the toasty mustiness of sesame oil.

I put some jarred kimchi into the sauce because we had it. (It's available in the refrigerated produce section of Giant and other supermarkets, believe it or not.) If you don't want to invest in a jar, then just add another garlic clove and some chopped scallions to the sauce.

I make ribs fairly often, and I think this is my favorite version to date.

Oven-Baked Baby Backs with Korean Flavors

For rub:
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons kochukaru (Korean pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

For sauce:
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 cup kimchi, chopped (or 1 clove of garlic and 3 whole scallions)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon grated fresh ginger
6 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
2 heaping tablespoons gochujang
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For ribs:
2 racks baby back ribs, 6-7 lbs total weight
1/2 cup apple juice

To make the rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Reserve three tablespoons for glaze.

Remove the thin membrane that covers the concave side of each rack of ribs. You can do this by grasping one end with a paper towel and pulling. If you're lucky, it'll come off in one sheet. (Like this.)

Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a large rimmed baking sheet and set close by.

Tear two large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, each large enough to hold one of the racks, with several inches of overhang on all four sides. Place the foil sheets, one on top of the other, on the counter in front of you, horizontally. Place one rack of ribs on the top sheet; coat the top and bottom of the ribs with half of the rub, pressing it into the meat. Take the top and bottom edges of the foil and bring them together over the ribs like a tent. Fold the edges together and roll them down towards the meat to make a package. Roll the open sides of the package up toward the center to seal all sides. Your package should look like this. Repeat with other rack of ribs. Place both wrapped packages on the prepared baking sheet.

Refrigerate ribs for 6 hours or overnight.

To make the sauce: Cook the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil and pinch of salt for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the kimchi, garlic, and ginger. Stir to combine and let cook for an additional couple of minutes. Add the brown sugar, gochujang, soy, and rice vinegar. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Let sauce thicken a bit, then remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Use an immersion blender to make a mostly smooth sauce. Place sauce into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

To cook the ribs: Preheat oven to 250°F.

Remove ribs from the fridge. Gently unroll one short end on each foil package. Pour a quarter cup of apple juice into each, and re-roll the ends. Keeping the packets on the rimmed baking sheet, put the whole thing into the oven.

Cook 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until meat is fork tender.

Remove tray from oven and turn on the broiler. Gently unroll one end of each package and pour out the liquid. (Carefully - it will be very hot!) Place the ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush the top side liberally with the glaze. Broil for 5-8 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and charred in spots. Remove meat from broiler, brush with more glaze, and repeat broiling.

Serves 6-8

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