I love pork. I don't think that's any kind of secret. Bacon, sausage, ribs--I even like pork chops, though I think people often overcook them, and they end up a little dry (the pork chops, not the people). Since last year I've been trying to modify the slightly Asian-influenced braised beef ribs and think I've finally got a solid recipe that works well for pork. I like to imagine this is how real cooks evolve recipes, but really what matters is that it tastes fantastic and is an amazing value--just make sure you've got an afternoon set aside, because it's not the quickest way to get food on the table.
Braised Pork Ribs
- 1 slab of pork ribs (the real deal, not baby back ribs)
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 5 cloves garlic
- approx. 32 ounces of dark ale (I use Newcastle Brown Ale and haven't been disappointed)
- 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (any neutral-flavor cooking oil will do here)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 cup bbq sauce (check your ingredients!)
- 1/2 an apple, cut into wedges (optional--you can use more if you want to, but you'll want to modify the amount of fluids you're working with) ground pepper, to taste
Sweet Potato Polenta
- 1 large sweet potato
- 1 cup coarse corn meal
- 3 cups water
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- Half-and-half (you can make vegetarian polenta by substituting additional water or vegetable stock for the half-and-half. It will still taste great, but the texture won't be quite as creamy)
- ground pepper, to taste
Trim the fat and silverskin from the pork ribs and separate them into individual rib pieces. Crush a clove of garlic, rub the meat and then sprinkle each rib liberally with salt. Crush the remaining garlic cloves and add the cloves and oil to a pan. Turn the pan up to medium-high. When the garlic begins to sizzle, begin adding the ribs in batches, and brown each one on each side (two - three minutes per side). You want to achieve a good sear, with all the requisite caramelization. And if it burns a little, that's ok. The long-term braising will soften them up just fine. As the ribs finish browning, transfer them to a good stock pot.
When you're done searing the ribs, use about 1/2 cup of the ale to deglaze the skillet, and pour the resulting liquid into the stock pot. Add enough ale to cover the ribs, and then add the vinegar, molasses and sugar. Stir together well. Bring the pot up to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and let it cook for an hour.
Note: while the ribs cook, go ahead and boil, bake, or microwave the sweet potato. Cut the skin and scoop the insides into a bowl. It should yield about 1 cup.
As the ribs finish simmering, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 177C). When the ribs have cooked for an hour, add the bbq sauce and apple chunks (optional). Put the pot into the oven to heat for another 30 minutes. When the ribs finish cooking, remove them from the stock pot and place the stock pot back on the stovetop. Bring to a boil and then let simmer while you make the polenta. This will reduce the sauce and concentrate its flavors.
Add three cups of water to a large sauce pan. Add two teaspoons of salt and bring the water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the corn meal, stirring constantly. When the corn meal has been incorporated, reduce the heat to low, cover the sauce pan, and let the corn meal cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While it's cooking, mash the sweet potato with a fork, and when the cornmeal is done cooking, add the sweet potato to the cornmeal, whisking constantly. Note: the cornmeal should take on an orange, pumpkin-like color and thicken significantly. Once you've fully incorporated the sweet potato, begin adding the half-and-half, whisking constantly, until the polenta achieves the consistency you like most.
To serve, spread the polenta on a plate and dip one or two ribs into the still-simmering sauce and rest the ribs on the polenta. The wonderful combination of the sweet potato and tangy bbq sauce is just out of this world.