Who can resist a finger-lickin’, sticky and sweet bite of classic Southern ribs? Tender, melt in your mouth pork seasoned to perfection and layered with all the right flavors: savory, sour and sweet.
This recipe isn’t cooked over an open fire like traditional barbecue ribs, instead it combines low and slow cooking in the oven and braising on the stove top, so that those of us who aren’t pit masters can still enjoy fall off the bone barbecue ribs.
Thanks to Eric Werner of Hartwood, in Tulum, Mexico, for his ingenious slow cooking method, I paired his technique with my own vinegary and sweet barbecue sauce to make some of the best ribs this side of the Mississippi.
Cooking meat low and slow is essential for tougher cuts like ribs, because it allows time for the heat to move to the center, resulting in the meat being cooked evenly throughout. This low and slow method is also where the magic happens, fats melt and the tough connective tissues soften up like butter, rewarding you with that fall off the bone texture. Also, when you cook in this manner, salt is given time to make it’s way towards the center, flavoring the cut of meat throughout. If you want perfectly cooked meat, especially when it comes to tougher cuts, give it time and cook it low and slow.
The other secret to excellent ribs is NOT to compromise on the quality of the pork. Source the best pork you possibly can as it does take center stage. Here in Toronto, I purchased a beautiful rack of local Ontario pork from Greengate Farms, at The Stop Farmers Market.
If you live in Toronto and haven’t been to The Stop Farmers Market, it’s a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. Local Ontario farmers, fishers, bakers and beekeepers come to sell their wares and you can find anything from sea buckthorn and chaga mushrooms from Forbes Wild Foods, cinnamon caps and lion’s mane mushrooms from Fresh and Tasty Mushrooms, and stone ground red fife flour from Red Fife by Rowe. Don’t miss out on the fresh kefir, sheep milk and yogurt from Secret Lands Farm, or the water buffalo cheese from Ontario Water Buffalo Co. Sweeten up with honey, beeswax candles, soaps and mead from places like Honey Pie Hives and Herbals. Check out the catch of the day from Fisherfolk, and don’t miss all of the veggie and meat famers. Oftentimes, live music makes merry and when the craving hits you can fill your belly with momos from TC’s Tibetan Momos, crackers or specialty toasts from Evelyn’s Crackers, try Zimbawean hand pies from Mnandi, or sweeten up with stone ground chocolate from ChocoSol Traders.
On with the recipe!
Hartwood’s Costillas (Ribs)
Recipe adapted from Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán by Eric Werner and Mya Henry
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrot, roughly chopped
2 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 cup pineapple, roughly chopped
3 pounds bone-in pork ribs
One 12-oz bottle Cervez Ceiba or other medium-dark beer, such as Negro Modelo
3/4 cup dark honey
2 tablespoons star anise pods
2 tablespoons kosher salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 banana leaf (optional)
2 bird’s eye child peppers (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300F
Scatter the onion, carrot, celery, pineapple and chili peppers (if using) over the bottom of a large baking pan. Place the ribs on top. Add the beer and honey, then add enough water to reach halfway up the side of the ribs. Add the star anise, salt, and pepper. Lay the banana leaf or a sheet of parchment paper on top of the ribs, then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Cook the ribs for 7 hours, or until a knife easily pierces through the meat.
Remove the foil and banana leaf and put the pan back in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the ribs are nicely browned. Remove from the oven, transfer the ribs to a cutting board, and allow to cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid into a saucepan and let cool, so you can skim off the fat. Set the braising liquid over medium-heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer until reduced by half.
Portion the ribs for serving (Make sure they’re not too hot, or the meat will fall apart). Working in batches (if necessary), place as many ribs as you can fit into a large cast-iron skillet, set over medium heat on the stove, and add the barbecue sauce (recipe below). Cook, basting the ribs every minute or so, until the sauce reduces to a caramel-like glaze, about 10-15 minutes. Stop once the sauce is thick and coats the ribs.
Table Without Borders Barbecue Sauce
If you like vinegar, this is THE barbecue sauce for you! This sauce blends the pork rib braising liquid which is sweetened with fresh pineapple and honey with spicy and tongue teasing Filipino vinegar (I found at my local Asian Market) along with a barbecue tradition, good ol’ ketchup.
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Datu Puti Suka Pinakurat, spiced natural coconut vinegar
1/4 Datu Puti Pinoy Spice, spiced tuba (coconut) vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Dash of liquid smoke
Dash of Worcestshire sauce
Braising liquid from ribs, about 1- 1 1/2 cups
In a small bowl mix together all of the ingredients. When ready to use, add the barbecue sauce to the cast iron skillet with the ribs. Cook, basting the ribs every minute or so, until the sauce reduces to a caramel-like glaze, about 10 minutes. Stop once the sauce is thick and coats the ribs.