Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ribs However You Like 'Em


In the process of trying out Marcella Hazan's (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) broiled pork rib recipe, I did some looking around at other people's methods of choice in roasting pork ribs (there are infinite variations and opinions, of course) and was reminded of this basic truth in cooking:

People will say that this or that way of cooking a dish is the right way to do it, but when it comes down to it, the best way to prepare a dish for you is the way that tastes best to you.

Some people wrap their ribs in foil and go for low and slow. Others say you must parboil the ribs before you roast or grill. Some say the silverskin must be removed from the backs of the ribs while others cut slits, and yet others prefer to leave them intact. (I happen to like gristle, and there are nutrients there not present in the meat, too.)

I'd kinda fallen into the assumption that low and slow was superior since, well, "proper" barbecue must be done low and slow over many hours, large roasts need to be cooked low and slow over several hours to break down, and braises of tough cuts also need to be gently simmered over long cooking times for the collagen to break down into rich deliciousness. But sometimes you like more body to your meat. One internet commentator's description of foil-wrapped roasts as resulting in "mushy" meats reminded me that it's all really very individual and subjective. De gustibus non est disputandum. Case in point, my brothers prefer cooking noodles to a very soft consistency rather than the ever-hyped al dente. (I happen not to prefer mushy noodles.)

What brought all this about was that Hazan's recipe called for broiling the rack of ribs for a mere 25 minutes, turning it several times. It seemed like rather a short time to cook a cut of bone-in meat. (Pork short-ribs need to braise for longer if you want the meat to almost fall off the bones.) So that's why I did a lot of looking at other people's approaches. In the end, I decided that I already knew how wrapping in foil and going low and slow would turn out, so this time I'd trust Hazan and see what her approach yielded. And Hazan's approach yielded utter deliciousness in a relatively short time. The loin-back ribs I had really did only need 25 minutes to be done. The meat wasn't falling off the bone, but was tender and juicy, and had a little crispness at the edges thanks to not wrapping in foil and cooking under a broiler. (Though, I wonder how things would have turned out with spareribs, as Hazan's recipe called for, rather than the loin-backs I had. Loin-back ribs are less fatty and more tender, meaning they'll cook through more quickly...)

At the end of the day, you should cook things how you think they taste best. Of course, it's good to listen to other perspectives; maybe you'll like them, too. But if your preferences don't link up with the generally accepted "best practice", whatever. This is where new ideas and developments come from. And where family and personal recipes come from.

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