Monday, November 9, 2015

Candied Pork Ribs (B is for Brown Sugar)

Normally, when I think of pork ribs, I think of "secret herb blends" and spicy sauces.  However, when none of those are safe because of allergies, you need to get creative.  When you only have three foods that everyone in the entire house can eat and you're determined to not cook two entrees, you have to get really creative.   Celia and Damien love pork ribs, but there is only so much "plain pork ribs" I can eat before I just can't look at them.

Bacon is another of our food staples around here.  In order to change things up, Neal has made candied bacon by dredging slices of bacon in brown sugar and baking them.  The smoky-salty-sweet combination really is amazing.  Usually I made ribs "plain" so that Celia and Damien could eat them, and the rest of us just added BBQ sauce at the table.  One night, I decided to take a page out of his book and packed on some brown sugar. I was thinking pork + brown sugar = can't go wrong.  The ribs were really good, but they were still bland.  The texture was really good - the meat was falling off the bone and bits of the brown sugar had baked hard to create a crunchy exterior - but the flavor was still really one dimensional.  Pork can have a sweet undertone to it, and slathering it in sugar just exacerbated it.
Other than sugar and pork, our only other two other safe-for-all foods are strawberries and chocolate. We've used strawberries to make Strawberry Daiquiri Pork Chops, but I didn't want strawberry sauce on ribs.  Chocolate works on bacon for a snack, but I really didn't want chocolate ribs with mashed potatoes, either.  I decided to go back to a non-food staple: salt. (Because it's a mineral, not a food, it's safe for nearly all allergies.)

The next time I made ribs, I tried salting the meat, then packing on the sugar, but the sugar just melted and oozed off as the salt drew out the juices from the meat.  We had pork ribs sitting in a puddle of molten sugar, but no sugar on the meat! Sugar first, then salt on top wasn't great either - there were two distinct flavors in the crust, but the meat was still bland.  Finally, I decided to mix the two - I'm not sure if it was a "Eureka" or "DUH!" moment.  But mixing the two allowed the sugar to still pack on well, yet bring out the flavor of the pork without it seeming like the meat was just a polite way to eat molasses.  But best of all, while there were still bits of crunchy sugar, most of the sugar melted into a glaze for the meat and the salt soaked down, seasoning the meat.  Two simple ingredients, but some pretty awesome eats.

Candied Pork Ribs

Per rack of pork spare ribs:
1 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. kosher salt

*note: for baby back ribs, use 2/3 c. sugar and 1 1/2 tbsp salt

Mix together well.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  (I prefer the no-stick kind.)  Place the ribs on the sheet, with the meaty side of the rib up.

Pack about half the sugar/salt mixture onto each rack.  Pat it down so it forms a crust.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the meat registers 150°F.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes, so the sugar can begin to re-set.

Cut into individual ribs and dive in!  Make sure you have lots of napkins.

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