Sunday, January 21, 2007

Vietnamese Spare Ribs with Caramel Sauce

Vegetarians may want to avert their eyes. I’m back in the barnyard, and boy, is my butcher psyched.

Why? When? Because of Thing One, a picky eater who hates fish and orders burgers in restaurants every chance she gets. It occurred to me as the tears streamed down her cheeks, a lump of pecan crusted catfish turning to ashes in her mouth, that she’s barreling toward that age where young girls can become very psychotic about food.

It occurred to me that maybe if I was eating the red stuff too, I’d be more inventive in my preparations, and perhaps that would limber up her stubborn palate.

It occurred to me that Greg had encountered plenty of responsible, humane farmers while researching Pig Farm, people who treat their animals well. I swore off of meat and poultry because an interview with the artist Sue Coe convinced me it was immoral to support the industry known as “factory farming”. Click that link and the creators of the Mootrix might have themselves another convert. While you do that, I’ll march my drumsticks on over to Staubitz, Los Paisanos, Perelandra, or the farmer’s market, all reliable sources of responsibly raised meat.

Oh Christ, these ribs are good!!!! But you know, I bet this caramel marinade wouldn’t be half bad on tofu, for those wiggly vegetarians who have no moral qualms about overlooking a quarter cup of fish sauce.

Vietnamese Spare Ribs with Caramel Sauce

Put on your coat, open the windows, and dig the fan out of storage. I don’t want to scare you, but neither would I want you to stink up the joint and set off the fire alarm. This caramel sauce has a tendency to smoke. So do doctors. Just take a look under the awning of your local medical professionals building, if you don’t believe me.

Still with me? Okay, then, Tough Monkey, let’s see you caramelize some sugar!
Put 1/3 cup of white sugar in a thick-bottomed little saucepan over low heat, stirring and shaking all the while so it doesn’t burn. Look alive when it starts to brown up. Turn your back for a second and you’ll have Pompeii in a pan.

When your white sugar could pass for brown sugar, remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of fish sauce. It’ll bubble and spit like evil incarnate, but that’s okay. Don’t feel like a failure if it starts solidifying into chunks of fish flavored rock candy. They’ll dissolve when you throw that pan back on the burner. Try one. They’re compellingly addictive, in an obscure corner of Chinatown kind of way. Better fire that pan back up, lest you’re tempted to eat them all. Three minutes over low heat should return things to a sticky sauce-like consistency.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 4 thinly sliced shallots and a few grinds of black pepper. Voila. Caramel Sauce. Invite a child who annoys you over for sundaes!

Moving on to the red blood cells, tell your butcher man to put his knife to good use by carving that two pound slab of lean pork spareribs into individual ribs. Wait until all the other customers have cleared out before asking him if any of his providers are known for raising and dispatching their stock humanely. The big mook at Paisanos patronized me in the nicest way, and Mr. Staubitz revealed that one of his daughters is a vegetarian!

Treat those ribs like the sacrifice they are by anointing them with a perfumed elixir. There’s no way of telling how such good-smelling anoinment affected the innumerable virgins who’ve gone down the hatches of the world’s volcanoes over the years, but as far as spareribs go, we’re looking at a real finger licker:

The finely chopped lower halves of 2 stalks of lemongrass
4 roughly chopped shallots
4 roughly chopped garlic cloves
2 small, roughly chopped, seeded jalapenos
Grind them into a rough paste in the grinding mechanism of your choice (a pig-shaped mocajete works good).

Stir the spice paste into the cooled caramel sauce and pour it over those pampered ribs, who can spend anywhere from an hour to an entire, romantic night basking in it in an appropriately refrigerated chamber.

As the dinner hour approaches, line your broiler pan with foil and preheat the oven to 350˚. If I was at the summer palace, I’d fire up the grill and skip down the hill to pick mint for mojitos, but actually, the broiler, though less picturesque, is also less hassle.

Scrape the marinade off the ribs, but don’t throw it away, as you’ll be painting that sizzling flesh with it several times before you start gnawing at them bones like Fred Flinstone working his way through a family-sized rack of extra-lean brontosaurus.

Line the ribs up on the broiler pan, but don’t stick it in the broiler right away. Instead, give ‘em 30 to 35 minutes in the oven, basting with the reserved marinade every ten minutes or so.

Then, ten minutes before serving, transfer the pan to the broiler and crank the heat as high as it will go. Flip the ribs at the five minute mark, to give both sides that mouth-watering , fresh-from-the-barbeque-pit glaze.

Too damn good to waste time taking pictures. Just imagine me smiling as I gnaw on a big ol' bone, heedless of a mounting need for napkins and a half dozen toothpicks.


Blogger tut-tut said...

This sounds like something we'll be doing this week . . .

4:42 PM  
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Blogger Laura-Marie said...

I overlook fish sauce regularly.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've done this recipe a few times and I love the sauce.

I typically don't do the paste part. I slice up some garlic and add it to caramel sauce when I add the shallots and it comes out awesome each time.

I now also toss in some baby bok choy towards the end of the cooking to steam them real quick and get the sauce on them.

11:08 AM  

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