Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nigella's Finger-Lickin' Ribs

(To just see the recipe, please scroll to the bottom.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

I have to admit something. In theory, I'm the biggest fan of Valentine's Day on earth, but in reality, it makes me nervous. I blame a lot of this trepidation on advertising - years of seeing cheesy commercials where women get everything from a diamond tennis bracelet to a new dust buster on the 'big day' followed by a night out on the town. Movies are even worse. The whole bedroom covered in rose petals thing? A whirlwind trip to Paris? Expectations are a dangerous thing...

But this year, I've promised to mellow myself and my expectations. I'm just thrilled to have the day off, for one thing. And for the other, I'm making a simple but fun meal. Something that seems humbly un-over the top at first glance, but whose powers I have a feeling, will slowly but surely infiltrate the meal.

I won't go into the descriptive detail that Nigella does for these ribs - I blush too easily. But let's just say that anything you eat with your hands is sexy in my book. I'll also say I've run the gammet of textures here - starting with a creamy, cool hummus with crunchy spiced pita chips, then onto the sticky ribs and a fresh citrus spiked salad with warm goat cheese rounds, and finally the volcanic little dark chocolate cakes. Come to think of it, that's the best Valentine's present I could ask for.

Growing up, I remember my parents being obsessed with ribs. I don't know if this is accurate or not, but it's the image my memory's held onto. I remember countless Saturdays bbq-ing ribs, scouring the back roads of Texas for the best underground ribs, and visiting the backyards and ranches of friends to compare bbq notes over a cold, frosty glass of beer (the parents - not me.)

So while ribs hold a fond place in my heart, I have to admit I've never liked them until recently. And now that I'm into them, I see exactly where the fascination lies. There are any number of ways to prepare them - from dry rubs to marinades to roasting to grilling to any combination there of. Falling in love with ribs is like diving into the rabbit hole, head first. There's no looking back.

This recipe comes from Nigella's book, Feast. And while she describes them as Finger Lickin' - I have to caveat that they're not actually the sticky, sauce-covered ribs that this description conjures in a Texan's mind. They're actually quite clean and sauce-free. It's the flavor that's 'saucy' with these guys - a zesty, sassy kick in the pants from the lime, ginger, and hot pepper. In fact, if you like things really hot, I'd up it to 2 peppers or add a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Finger-Lickin' Ribs
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 3-4.

8 pork spare ribs, separated

1 small onion, peeled, halved, and cut into small wedges
1 star anise, or 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 small cinnamon stick, broken into splinters and shards
1 jalapeno, minced (it's up to you to leave the seeds or not, depending on how hot you like - I leave half of them)
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup pineapple juice (I had to sub apple juice)
1 smashed garlic clove

Chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Add all of the marinade ingredients - the small onion through the garlic clove - to a large Ziploc bag. Seal and squish around until all are well incorporated. Add the ribs and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 10. (These are perfect to put together in the morning, then just cook that evening.)

Remove the ribs from the fridge and let come to room temperature before baking - at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the ribs and the marinade ingredients into a large roasting pan (one that can fit everything comfortably in a shallow pool of the marinade), trying to place the majority of the onions under the ribs to provide a bed and prevent the ribs from burning. Roast for 35 minutes, until the tops of the ribs have begun to bronze. Carefully flip the ribs to the other side, and roast another 30-35 minutes, until the other side has bronzed nicely. (If you haven't let the ribs come to room temperature before roasting, they may need a little longer, so adjust accordingly.)

Remove and let rest for ten minutes before serving, scattering with cilantro or parsley if desired.

Update: The husband wowed me - I got a beautiful pair of pearl earrings!!!

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