I started with six St. Louis racks of commodity pork. Time got away from me and I forgot to order Berkshire racks from my supplier. I prefer the St. Louis racks (squared off spareribs) to the back ribs (the so-called baby backs) because the spareribs are larger and meatier. Spareribs are the lower half of the rib cage that wraps around and protects the chest cavity. The back ribs are the upper half that attach to the spine. Anatomy lesson over.
|Peeling the Silverskin|
On Wednesday afternoon, I started prepping the ribs and getting them in a marinade. First thing, I pulled the silverskin off the back side of the ribs. While not necessary, it is what the pros do and as a professional chef, I aim to be professional about my food. Then I trimmed any excess fat and silverskin from the front of the racks.
|Herbs: Anise Hyssop, Cilantro, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, Thai Basil|
From there it was into the marinade which I assembled from a bunch of stuff from the walk-in, mostly from herbs that were on their way out. There's no point in throwing out herbs just because they are unsightly, especially when they still taste good. I made a half gallon of slurry from Thai basil, cilantro stems, lemongrass, some really beat kaffir lime leaves, a huge bunch of blooming anise hyssop, garlic, ginger, star anise, black pepper, cinnamon, fish sauce, brown sugar, oil, and water. The slurry was primarily oil-based on the theory that oil extracts more flavoring compounds from the seasonings than does water. I kept the salt and sugar to a minimum because I wanted the ribs to take on flavor over several days without becoming jerky-like.
|Straining the Marinade over the Racks|
Saturday morning dawny hot, sticky, and rainy. Not a good day to contemplate firing up the smoker outside. Good thing. I don't have a smoker outside. Right off, I headed into the kitchen to concoct my dry rub, a rub that I have been thinking about on and off for a couple of days. I mixed up the rub that I had been working out in my mind, tasted it, and then tweaked the salt. I'm pretty happy with it and I think I have the long, mild white pepper burn just right.
The formula that I arrived at is:
4 parts five-spice mix
4 parts white sugar
2 parts kosher salt
1 part onion powder
1 part garlic powder
1 part ground white pepper
My five-spice mix is a bunch of things and certainly more than five spices, but as its creator, I am allowed, no? The mix is heavy on ground ginger, allspice, and star anise. It contains lesser amounts of cloves, cinnamon, anise seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, and white pepper.
|Initial Dry Rub on top of Marinade|
After taking the ribs out of the marinade, I rubbed them to get a nice even coat of the marinade and then dusted them with dry rub on both sides. They then went on sheet trays in a very slow oven for about 3-1/2 hours. Once out of the oven and while still hot, both sides of the racks got a coat of a wet rub of hoisin sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and cayenne pepper. I then covered them in foil to let them cool slowly in the wet rub.
|Wet Rub on Warm Racks|
|Racks Just out of "Smoker"|
|Hot off the Grill! My Biggest Fan!|
The ribs were pretty good overall. The texture was spot on: not falling off the bone, but tender to the tooth. The amount of smoke was just right. But the final dry rub was too much. Next time I finish with the wet rub and let it caramelize without the final dry rub. Live and learn.