There is a reason why humans invented the preservation methods of drying, candying, smoking, freezing, and keeping foods in airtight jars. Of course, we all know it was to extend the life of foods a little beyond the growing season and to prevent starvation during the dormant months. The other motivation was to keep foods so they could be transported from an entirely foreign climate which would allow people to enjoy pineapples, and cloves, and even herring when they had no way of harvesting those foods themselves.
When I travel, I am always picking up interesting dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, potted meats, and fruit preserves. It is a luxurious feeling to know I have exotic hard spices or a glistening jar of preserves in the pantry, but sometimes, those “special” items get passed over when I am cooking because they require a little bit of imagination or preparation such as toasting and grinding. Also, it is true that people just don’t eat so many jams and jellies as they used to even though we still love the idea of them. Rather than waiting for the odd piece of receptive toast, this type of recipe is a great way to use those gems.
My intent today was to use a good quantity of my pantry items with pork ribs as the vehicle. The recipe is then easily adaptable to your own pantry. If you think of your basic barbecue sauce you usually take a base like tomatoes, contrast it with mustard and vinegar, and then add a few spices for flavor. With that formula in mind, I made ribs that were akin to the sticky Chinese style, without replicating that icon.
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced or 1 tbsp. dried
Artisinal salt to taste
Grind the following in a spice grinder:
½ tsp. each of cardamom, cloves, dried peppers, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, yellow mustard seeds, black mustard seeds, and star anise (I also added a Tunisian specialty of dried bitter orange blossoms. If you want the extra orange essence, you can add some orange zest.)
Mix all spice ingredients together.
½ cup black sesame paste
½ cup orange or lemon marmelade
1/3 cup tomato vinegar or ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
Stir spice mix into marinade ingredients.
Dice 1 large onion. In a deep baking dish, layer chopped onions and rib sections that have been covered on both sides with the marinade mixture. Intersperse so the onions touch all sides of the pork. Pour 1 cup water around the side of the meat. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for two to three hours or until the meat is completely tender. Uncover for the last 30 minutes to reduce the liquid and caramelize the meat. If the cooking liquid is still watery, remove the meat and reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stovetop until it thickens.
In a small foil pan or open topped foil packet (approx.. 6” square), combine ½ cup black or green tea, ½ cup dry rice, and ¼ cup brown sugar. Place in the bottom of a barbecue with a lid. Heat barbecue to medium heat. When tea mixture begins to smoke, add ribs for approximately 15 minutes or until they have taken on a subtle smoky flavor. Remove ribs to a platter. When cool, discard tea packet.
Spicy, bright, sweet, smoky. Very nice for a winter Sunday supper. What’s in your pantry?