Long Process, Short Ribs
At a recent outing with friends, I made the mistake of shooting my mouth off about a new technique I had tried in the kitchen. It was pretty complicated, but it had (mostly) good results, and I may have been bragging a little. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jennifer Adams emailed me and expressed interest in my posting about it. As you regular readers know, I love cooking, but I’m terrible at documenting. I’m going to try to approximate what I did here for you, because I think this is a pretty cool thing, but I apologize in advance for the terrible photos and spotty narrative.
The first thing I should say is that I got this recipe/technique out of Cuisine at Home. I really think this magazine is worth the subscription, and I hate to contribute to the demise of another food magazine, so I’m not going to steal their recipe and reprint it here, I’m going to report my experience and give them the credit.
The technique is called “tea smoking” and it infuses meat with intense smoky flavors. Just like regular smoking on your grill or outdoor smoker, it brings that extra level to slow cooked meats. Cuisine at Home used pork ribs, but I used bone-in beef short ribs I had from my meat CSA with pretty delicious results.
First I rubbed down the ribs with a combination of brown sugar, five spice powder, salt, ground ginger, ground coriander, and a few red pepper flakes and let them sit while I assembled my apparatus.
Setting up your smoker is the most difficult part of this process. Besides using beef instead of pork, this is the only place I diverged from the prescribed program, and it was a big mistake. They recommend you criss cross two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil in a roasting pan, put in your tea mixture, put a rack over it, put your ribs on that, then seal the whole thing up. In one section of this tutorial/recipe, they tell you the smoke is sealed in the foil, which makes sense, but in another section they tell you to turn on your hood fan. Well like everything else in my ancient house, my hood fan doesn’t work. At all. I have zero ventilation, and since it was literally below freezing the day I did this, I couldn’t exactly open a window. So I did it exactly like they recommend, except instead of a roasting pan I become obsessed with the idea of doing this in a dutch oven with a heavy lid to seal in the smoke. Big mistake. There is no moisture in this setup, so when I put it on the burner to smoke, it burned the interior bottom of the pot. On the other hand, the heavy top kept the smoke in, and it worked great, but I don’t think it was worth the discoloration in my most expensive cooking vessel.
Also, I don’t own a rack that would fit inside my dutch oven, so I used a pair of wire cutters to fashion one out of a cookie sheet. This was a huge PITA and even with my husband helping me, it took me forever and someone could have easily lost an eye. And then I had to stick tinfoil all around the edges so it wouldn’t punch though the other tinfoil and/or scratch the enamel on the Le Creuset. Seriously, don’t try this at home. Just use a roasting pan and a normal rack like they suggest. Don’t be a hero.
Once I got it all together, I added my tea mixture. I used 1/2 cup of oolong leaves, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 szechuan peppercorns, a few anise stars, a piece of ginger sliced up and a 1/2 of uncooked rice. The important things here are the rice, the tea and sugar. The tea does the actual smoking, the rice is the fuel source and the sugar colors and sweetens the food after it is carmelized. You can use whatever aromatics and spices you want. Then I sealed up the foil, put the lid on, and set it on a burner over medium heat for a half hour.
This part is pretty unnerving, because if your smoker is working right, you aren’t going to really know it. The smoke will stay trapped inside the foil and there is no liquid, so you can’t hear anything cooking. You just have to trust the magic of smoking. After a half hour, I took it off the burner and let it continue to smoke off heat for 30 more minutes.
After they were fully smoked, I carefully opened the foil, poured in a cup of apple juice, resealed the foil, stuck the lid back on and put them in a 300°F oven for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, I made a BBQ sauce from ketchup, soy sauce, orange juice, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, black bean sauce, molasses and ginger. I simmered it for the last 30 minutes of the ribs roasting to thicken it. I took the ribs out, cut them into individual riblets, dipped each one into the sauce and set them under the broiler until they were carmelized and charred, about five minutes. The photo does not do them justice. Layering flavors can be a a time suck, but I like to think each layer has some culinary love wedged between it and the next one, and sometimes it becomes more than the sum of its parts. This was one of those times.