There’s been a bag of Porcus pork ribs in my freezer for the last couple of months, hiding under a furze of frost, waiting for the right recipe. Last weekend they received their calling when, leafing through the ‘Ginger Pig Meat Book‘ which I got for Christmas, out leapt an intriguingly simple recipe for spare ribs. Sounded perfect for bits of a ginger pig.
Over the years I’ve had a few goes at making slow-cooked, succulent sticky ribs – the last time was in the autumn, when I cooked them under foil at gas mark 1 overnight, before uncovering and getting a quick blast under the grill. They were good, but not gooey and crisp like proper BBQ ribs should be. Not enough time marinading beforehand, letting the flavours permeate every sinew of the meat. Miss South and I went to Bodeans in Clapham a couple of years ago, and enjoyed massive mounds of BBQ meat, and I’ve had good ribs in the States, but was never able to replicate that kind of taste at home. Until now.
After defrosting the ribs properly, I gave them 30mins in gently simmering water, adding a couple of star anise and bay leaves to give some background flavour. Meanwhile I made up the marinade, following the Ginger Pig recipe but adding a couple of extras. First, a couple of chipotle chillies, rehydrated and chopped along with the stock. Second, a bit of a wild card. I’d picked up a bottle of ‘Ahumadito’ (or Liquid Smoke) last year in Brixton Market. It’s basically as artificial as it can be, but in small doses it does contribute to the kind of rich smoke I associated with the smell after a weekend at a Scout camp when I was a kid. Ideally I’d like to cold smoke ribs before the marinading, but this wasn’t an option at this stage. I used the same quantities of ingredients as the recipe, although for less meat, as it was easier than trying to scale it down. Any spare would find a good home…
After drying and cooling the ribs they got a good basting, trying to cover all the surfaces equally and snapping a few photos before they went into the fridge overnight. Next morning, they got a good turning and recovering. The meat and sauce had changed, becoming stickier and more unctuous, and I painted every rib meticulously: I wanted this marinade to work its magic properly.
Until this point the plan had been for ribs, crusty bread, a big bowl of dipping sauce, and a lot of paper towels. Dead simple, perhaps with some Southern pickles on the side. But then I got the idea of a super sandwich, and my thoughts turned to bánh mì. After all, why not load the pickles and rib meat into a decent sized sarnie, as the Vietnamese do so famously? The fusion of French (baguette, pâté, mayonnaise) and Vietnamese (pickled veg, pork, chilli, coriander) is a stone-cold classic, and pretty much guarantees the eater’s extreme happiness. I checked Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen – one of my favourite references for Asian food inspiration – and realised I had everything I needed to make up my own. Bánh mì pâté thịt, here we come…
So I cooked the ribs, turning and painting them with the sauce, until they crackled and glistened, looking delicious. As they cooled I finished the pickle mixture: a mix of julienned carrot and kohlrabi, mixed with salt, lime, and fish sauce and left for 20mins so I could drain off excess water. Then I added some sliced gherkin batons (I once made a Vietnamese chicken salad with gherkins, which was enlighteningly good) and anyway, we don’t need an excuse to enjoy pickles on this blog. The mix had a good satisfying crunch, and enough zing to make its presence known without being too bold.
Half a baguette each, sliced and started with a good layer of shop-bought pâté, then the pickles added generously. On top of that, most of the meat from the ribs, lovingly pulled off the bones, sticky with rich reduced marinade. A task which does rather encourage nibbling and picking, just to check the taste is consistent. Thankfully it was, and more than fit for the sandwich, finished off with some squeeze real French mayo, a healthy helping of Pennine Fire Hot Sauce, and a handful of torn coriander leaves.
The final serving was so, so good… that beautifully-cooked rich, sweet, spicy pork meat, shot though with crisp bright pickle, hot chilli, cool coriander & mayo and the soft pâté, all in crispy fresh bread. Less finger-licking than the ribs would’ve been on their own, probably more than we should’ve eaten for a single portion, and took a day and a half to make. Terribly suited for a quick sandwich fix, but stunningly good for a mellow ritual in the kitchen. After the quality of the meat, the next most important ingredient must be time… coat these delights in the basting sauce and marinade for at least 24 hours, and don’t overcook them at the end. You’ll have the basis for a helluva sandwich… or you could just skip everything else and grab a few sheets of kitchen paper to denude the ribs simply.
PS Next day I used the rib bones and a bit of skin & scraps from the Porcus hog roast at Todmorden Market to make up a rich stock, then made up a version of Miss South’s superb split-pea soup. Peppered with the last few scraps of meat from a couple of extra ribs, it was perfect fuel to fight the snow outside, and made the most of the ham and marinade flavours.