Coat the Ribs in a Fragrant Dry Rub for Deep Flavor
Ribs. Pork ribs. I love them. And while I will never turn down great smoked barbecued ribs, more often than not, I opt to cook them in the following manner. St. Louis-Style spare ribs are baked with a dry rub of minced fresh sage, orange zest, garlic, muscovado sugar, salt, pepper, and an interesting spice called cubeb.
Cubeb is sometimes called Java pepper and has a flavor reminiscent of allspice, black pepper, and a little of the tingling aspect of Szechuan peppercorns. The dark dried berries are easily recognized by the little attached tail as you can see in my photo. I grind them in my spice grinder and add them to a variety of dishes. While they’re not essential to this recipe, they add a warm undertone of spice to the flavor profile. I order them online from La Boîte.
If you should taste this rub before it’s cooked, it will have a bitter and slightly astringent flavor, but it miraculously changes once it’s baked on the ribs. The fresh sage mellows and blends with the orange zest and other ingredients to achieve a beautifully fragrant and fully seasoned slab of ribs that I guarantee you’ll find memorable. My family is sold on this recipe.
A few years ago, I started using a technique for cooking these kinds of ribs, which is recommended by Milk Street and other sources. You’re instructed to place the slab of ribs on a rack inside a sheet pan and to add water to the pan which will provide steam and aids in keeping the ribs moist and tender. I’ve been cooking my ribs this way ever since trying it for the first time, and think it’s a great technique, but I have an issue.
I found that any rack I use for this purpose is essentially ruined. The browned dried-on crusty bits get embedded deep into all the cracks and crevices of the rack and no matter how much scrubbing and soaking I try, it never comes completely clean. I’ve tried putting it in the dishwasher, etc., and finally ended up throwing it away. So, here’s how I now do it. I first line my sheet pan with foil. Then I make 5 or 6 logs out of foil, line them up in the sheet pan and lay the ribs on top. This way, the ribs stay out of the water, and when I’m done, I toss out the foil and there’s no other cleanup involved.
While it does take a couple of hours to cook these ribs, there’s no tending involved. In fact, I recommend you don’t open the oven while they’re cooking so that the steam doesn’t escape. These ribs end up being well browned, tender, yet chewy, juicy, and deeply flavored. But the essential flavor of the pork remains intact. I think that’s why these are so good. And it’s why I return to this recipe over and over again.