Braised Pork Baby Back Ribs
Slow Cooked in Tangy Tomato Sauce
- Servings: 4.
Baby back ribs are usually associated with serious barbecue. The kind of barbecue that needs a patented pungent sauce and an outdoor smoker or slow roaster -- not exactly city-friendly cooking. But city cooks also want to enjoy the concentrated flavors of pork slowly cooked on the bone with a tangy sauce that contrasts with the meat's sweetness -- and without having to leave their own kitchen to get it.
This recipe, which is cooked entirely on top of the stove, is best made in a large French oven or other deep-sided pan that has a cover. You should choose a pan in which you can first brown the ribs and then add the other ingredients for the braising.
I serve the ribs with a short hollowed pasta like rigatoni or ziti which can capture and hold the sauce, passing a dish of extra sauce on the side. A simple green salad is the perfect finish to this rich, meaty dish.
This recipe was inspired by a recipe by Lynne Rossetto Kasper in The Splendid Table.
- 4 to 5 pounds lean baby back pork ribs (have the butcher trim any excess fat and also crack the bones so that you can lay the ribs somewhat flat)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, minced (about 1/4-inch pieces)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- Tiny pinches each of ground allspice, cinnamon and cloves (these are very flavorful so use only really tiny amounts)
- Large pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 28 oz. can peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes with their juice; crush the whole tomatoes with your hands before adding (remove and discard the basil that may be in the can with the tomatoes; don't add this to the recipe)
- If the butcher hasn't removed all the excess fat, do that first. The more fat you take off now, the less you'll have to skim when the dish is done.
- If the strip of ribs is in one or two large pieces, cut them into portion sizes (probably two ribs per portion depending on their size and the amount of meat on the bones). You can do this by holding the rack almost vertical with one hand and with the other hand, slicing in between the rib bones -- once you find the right spot your knife will cut right through.
- Heat the oil in your French oven or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pieces of meat in a single layer so that you can brown it slowly on all sides. This can easily take about 10 minutes. Depending on the size of your pan and the volume of ribs, you may need to do this in a couple of batches. Your goal is to get a rich brown crust on both sides of all the meat (the curve of the rib bones may mean that some of the surface won't get brown -- don't worry about this).
- When the meat is all browned, remove the pieces from the pan and hold on a side dish.
- Keeping the fat in the pan and the heat at medium, add the minced onion. Cook until golden brown. The moisture the onion will throw off will let you scrape up some of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the minced garlic and stir. As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant, before it browns, add the bay leaves, spices and red pepper flakes plus a generous pinch of salt. Stir to combine.
- Add the red wine. When you do, it will begin to boil. Using a wooden spoon, let the wine gently boil as you continue to scrape the pan and deglaze the bottom. Keep the heat on the pan at medium to medium-low and let the wine, now combined with the onion, garlic and spices, cook down. Your goal is to reduce the wine to about one-third of a cup. It will resemble a deep purple, almost syrupy concentration.
- Return the meat to the pan and move the pieces around so that this wine-onion-spice mixture coats the meat.
- Add the tomatoes, which you've crushed with your hands, along with their liquid to the pan. Move the ribs around so that the liquid covers most of the meat. It probably will not fully cover the meat but don't worry about this. It should come up about half-way, which is fine.
- Bring the pan and its contents to a boil and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer. Cover tightly and cook in total for about 1 hour. Set your timer for 20 minute increments and check the pan that the simmer isn't too high and while you're there, move the pieces of meat around so that they take their turn fully or partially submerged in the braising liquid.
- The meat will be done when it's tender and falling off the bone. Depending on the amount of meat on the bone total cooking time can vary from 1 hour to an hour and a half.
When done, check to see if there is fat on the surface of the sauce and if there is, use a large spoon to skim off what you can. Taste the sauce for salt. If when the meat is done the braising liquid seems too thin and you'd prefer it to be thicker, simply remove the ribs to a platter (tent them to keep warm), and turn up the heat on the pan (cover off) and with a gentle boiling, reduce the liquid. If you do this, don't start it boiling and walk away. Stay within sight of the stove and keep checking the pace at which it's reducing.
Tip: If you plan to reduce and thicken the sauce, don't add any extra salt before you do. Instead check for flavor after you've reduced it, and then add any extra salt. Otherwise you may risk over-salting it.
Just before you're ready to serve dinner, prepare your favorite pasta al dente. Toss with some of the sauce, reserving extra sauce to be served at the table.
Bring a heaped platter of ribs to the table along with the pasta and sauce. Serve a simple green salad afterwards. Goes well with a robust red wine and a light dessert such as grapes and some simple cookies.
If you're serving this to guests, encourage eating with your hands.