Sometimes coincidence leads to action. In this case it was my upcoming 16th wedding anniversary, the Crock Pot contest and a sale on ribs. I interpreted all this to mean that I should make slow cooked ribs for my wife and write an instructable at the same time.
This is one of my favorite winter time treats. I don't know if it's the acid from the tomatoes and vinegar, something to do with the beer or just the fact that it's cooked at a reasonably low temperature while completely immersed in liquid, but this recipe makes the most tender ribs I've ever had. It also makes the house smell awesome, so when your SO gets home they will be impressed by your culinary skills. It's pretty simple, so anyone can get good results. It's also a great solution for apartment dwellers who want barbecue but can't grill. This method is good for a variety of sauce styles.
This dish consists of ribs, carrots and corn cooked in a sauce made from stout, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and spices. I've included my recipe for jalapeno cheese grits since this is the perfect side-dish for the ribs.
Step 1: Ingredients
You can feel free to substitute and experiment with these ingredients. This particular example is mostly based on what I had on hand. When making substitutions, keep in mind the effect the new flavor will have on the overall flavor- the key is to balance the bitterness of the beer with the sweetness of the sugar, the acidity of the tomato and the bite of the spices.
-Ribs- I used a slab of pork ribs. I cut them into individual ribs and trimmer the excess fat.
-1 Bottle Stout- I used Guiness but feel free to use your favorite
-2# Plum Tomatoes- I like the sweetness of plum tomatoes in this recipe but use whatever you like.
-1-2 Bell Peppers
-6-8 cloves of garlic
-Vegetables- I used 4 carrots and 3 cut up ears of corn. New potatoes or whole okra are a couple of other awesome choices. Try to use vegetables that are porous to soak up the flavors of the sauce.
-Spices- Go nuts here. I used red pepper, chili powder, cumin, curry, ginger, salt and pepper.
-Hot Sauce- I like Huy Fong's Chili Garlic Sauce, but Sriracha, Tobasco or even Dave's Insanity will also work.
-Sugar- I used brown sugar, but other sugars work also. Syrups and reductions can add interesting flavor profiles.
-Vinegar- I used white balsamic vinegar but feel free to use the vinegar of your choice.
Step 2: Preparing the Tomatoes
The key to making sauces with tomatoes is to remove the skin. To do this bring a few quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot. When the water was boiling strongly add the tomatoes. Boil the tomatoes for a few minutes, checking their skin often.
When the tomatoes are ready the skin will feel loose and start to split. Drain the tomatoes in a colander and cool them off with tap water. Cut the stem end off the tomato and gently peel the skin off. If it doesn't come off easily return them to the boiling water for a few more minutes.
When the tomatoes are peeled puree them in a blender and add the resulting tomato slush to the crock pot and turn it on high. Add the bottle of stout, 2/3 cup of packed brown sugar, salt, pepper and spices to taste. I used curry, red pepper flakes, chili powder, cumin and ginger, but use what you like. Add a dash or two of white balsamic vinegar and some hot sauce to taste and blend well. Let the mixture heat while you go on to the next step.
Step 3: Cutting the Ribs
It's usually cheaper to buy a whole slab of ribs and cut them yourself. Start by separating the individual ribs being careful not to cut the bone. It's much easier to trim the excess fat off of the ribs after they are cut. Don't go crazy- a little fat will make the meat more tender and it tastes awesome so don't trim it all.
Add the trimmed ribs to the sauce and go on to the next step.
Step 4: Preparing and Adding the Vegetables
First we'll deal with the sauce vegetables. These will be cut small enough to mostly stick to the ribs and other vegetables. Chop a bell pepper into small salsa-sized pieces. Cut a medium sized onion to the same size. Mince 6-8 cloves of garlic and add it all to the crock pot.
The carrots and corn will be eaten as a side dish so cut it accordingly. When slicing the carrots keep in mind that the thicker the piece, the longer it will take to cook. If you like softer vegetables cut them thinner. Cut the corn into pieces that will fit between the ribs in the crock pot.
Put the lid on the crock pot and let it cook on high for 2-3 hours.
That's it. Let it cook for 5-6 hours. It will take the meat 2-3 hours to be fully cooked, depending on thickness. If you are unsure test it with a thermometer or just cut a thick piece open to check. When the meat is done taste the sauce and adjust it accordingly. Since the crock pot is simmering added spices and flavors spread well without too much stirring. To add flavor to the sauce, ladle some juice into a separate bowl and add the flavor- spices, vinegar, sugar, etc. Mix it with a whisk and return it to the crock pot. Don't over do it. Adjust flavors gradually, letting them simmer for 45 minutes or so before tasting the sauce again. You can always add more but you can't take it out so be careful.
Step 5: Adjusting the Sauce and Skimming the Fat
That's it. Let it cook for 5-6 hours. It will take the meat 2-3 hours to be fully cooked, depending on thickness. If you are unsure test it with a thermometer or just cut a thick piece open to check. When the meat is done taste the sauce and adjust it accordingly. Since the crock pot is simmering added spices and flavors spread well without too much stirring. To add flavor to the sauce, ladle some juice into a separate bowl and add the flavor- spices, vinegar, sugar, etc. Mix it with a whisk and return it to the crock pot. Use tongs to gently rearrange the contents of the crock pot to help spread the new flavor. Don't over do it. Adjust flavors gradually, letting them simmer for 45 minutes or so before tasting the sauce again. You can always add more but you can't take it out so be careful.
After 4-5 hours there will be an accumulation of fat on the top of the sauce. Use a ladle to skim this fat out and dispose of it. You want the sauce to stick to the food, not the grease.
Don't cook the ribs for more than 6-7 hours maximum. If they cook too long they may get stringy and tough. When they're done lay them on a tray and separate the vegetables. Use your ladle to scoop onions, peppers and garlic from the bottom of the crock pot. Spread this over the ribs on the tray and serve. Enjoy the most tender ribs you've ever eaten.
While you're waiting for the ribs to cook check out the next step for the perfect side dish- jalapeno cheesy grits!
Step 6: Jalapeno Cheesy Grits
Make 4-6 cups of grits (final product- NOT dry grits!)according to the package directions. Instant grits are fine. Since you will be adding butter make the grits a little thicker by leaving out a little bit of water. When the grits are done add salt, pepper and bacon bits and stir. Add 1/2 stick of butter, let it melt and blend it well. Set the pot aside for a half hour or so to cool off.
When the grits have cooled a bit gently mix in a handful of shredded cheese and transfer them to a baking dish. Sprinkle more cheese on top and add jalapeno slices. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Remove the jalapeno cheesy grits from the oven, let them cool a bit and serve them with your ribs.
I was out of real bacon so I used decent quality bacon bits. If I used real bacon for this dish I'd replace some of the butter with bacon drippings for real artery clogging nirvana.
Step 7: Plating It Up and Facing the Critic
OK now for the moment of truth. Belinda came home from work to an aromatic house, but would it taste as good as it smelled?
The grits are dense and they hold heat so I took them out first. I let them sit for about 20 minutes before I served them so they could firm up. I laid the ribs out on the tray and poured the sauce chunks over the top. I let the ribs rest for about 10 minutes. This allows the sauce I poured over them to dry a little and help the chunks to stick.
I plated it up and sent it out. It was awesome! The ribs were savory, with a distinctive stout tone and a spicy bite. The meat was so tender that it came off the bone in one piece on the lower ribs. The corn and the carrots picked up the flavors nicely and complemented the ribs. The Jalapeno cheesy grits were a good starchy counter point to the ribs and veggies. While the temperatures outside were frigid, we enjoyed a cozy anniversary meal for two. Mission accomplished!