Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baked dry-rubbed spareribs

I think I had my first pork ribs on the banks of the Danube in Vienna some 15 years ago. I was touring Austria with my parents and my sister, in one of the very rare organized trips we ever took. We had hotel reservations for two weeks all around the country, but our days were unplanned and we visited whatever interested us on our own. No guided tours. But as we crossed the same travelers every evening at the hotel, and sometimes randomly during the day if we happened to be visiting the same attractions, we started building bonds. That evening in Vienna was one of our last before the end of the trip, and we decided to all have dinner together. The 12-or-so of us sat at a long and narrow rectangular table, the kind you see in movies where an idealized Italian family has lunch al fresco on the patio of a beautiful country house in Tuscany. Except that the table was on a river bank, a few yards from water on the majestic Danube. Not bad either. It was a really festive and joyful, warm summer evening. The kind of evenings you remember with nostalgia, I guess, and that brings back so many other memories of stunning Tyrolian landscapes, sumptuous castles and gardens (those of the famous Empress Sisi), beautiful streets and hidden plazas in Vienna, cute villages, music, old stones... Can you tell I miss Europe?

I can't think of ribs without going back to Vienna in thoughts. The power of food on my little mind... If I remember correctly the ribs were served as a whole rack, and must have been barbecued or grilled. The recipe I'm about to give you is more of Southern US inspiration, but if you know how Austrians prepare pork ribs, please share!

This dry rub is an adaptation of Joy of Cooking's Southern Barbecue Dry-Rub recipe. I didn't have all the spices at hand when I tried it the first time, but it turned out really well. I made a few changes the second time around and the ribs tasted even better. So here's my version:

Serves 3–4 people
Preparation: 10 minutes, 12–24 hours in advance
Baking: 1 hour

  • 1 rack spareribs (around 3–3.5 lbs)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1–1 1/2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp white peppercorn, crushed in a mortar
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seed, also crushed
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground Cayenne pepper

The night before (or in the morning):

  1. Pour all the ingredients of the dry rub in a 1-gallon freezing bag. Shake well to mix the spices.
  2. Insert the sparerib rack in the bag, close, and shake well to cover with spices evenly. Rub the spices into the meat through the plastic bag.
  3. Place in the refrigerator overnight (or from morning to evening).

1 hour before dinner:

  1. Take the sparerib rack out of the bag and place in a large enough oven-safe dish. Pour the juices and spices left in the bag onto the ribs.
  2. Bake for 1 hour at 375ºF (about 190ºC).
  3. Cut the rack into individual ribs and serve immediately.

Practical note: the sugary juices that fall on the dish around the ribs will likely burn... This doesn't affect the taste of the meat, which doesn't burn, but it makes it harder to clean the dish. Soaking the dish overnight seems to help a lot in cleaning out the burnt juices.