The joys of city living are many: quick access to great shops and restaurants, being able to live car-free, being 15 minutes away from a major airport, and having a cute and cozy condo within a recently remodeled brownstone. But truth be told, we sometimes long for those things that only life in suburbia can offer: big box stores, malls, running and biking trails, and fresh air. Our kitchen set-up also reflects this city/country divide. We have a fantastic, well-equipped kitchen, but there is really only so much space. We also lack all ability to grill (minus our very handy cast iron grill pan), which is particularly sad in the summer. I sometimes feel as if I "miss out" on creating some excellent meals just from the lack of a grill; I despise recipes that begin with instructions to "Pre-heat your grill." For some time, into this category of "no-can-do's," I mentally stored ribs.
Then, a casual comment from J to her boyfriend resulted in an eye-opening discovery. You CAN make ribs in the comfort of your own home, withOUT slaving over them for hours (and sometimes days, as it seems like all those cooks on TV do). I quickly did my research online and then headed to Whole Foods (a special weekend treat). There, I was faced with the option of baby back ribs or St. Louis ribs. I asked the meat man what the difference was, and he informed me that St. Louis ribs are from the front or side of the animal while baby backs are from the.. well, back. This results in St. Louis ribs (also known as spareribs) to be meatier, but perhaps not as tender. I like meat, and the St. Louis ribs were practically half the price, so I brought home a full rack- surprisingly only about $8.
I first examined the rack of ribs for any extra fat or membranes to remove-- apparently on the back (or bone) side of the ribs there is a membrane that can cause for some extra chewy bites. I didn't see any pleura that looked removable, so I forged ahead. First, sprinkle both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper and place on a sheet of aluminum foil (the non-shiny side). Next, cover both sides of the ribs with a dry rub- basically, a mixture of lots of different spices. You can buy these pre-made at the grocery store, but I was lucky enough to have been given a homemade rub leftover from a meal that J's boyfriend had made us (hey, two props to him!). The recipe, found here, is as follows:
Emeril's Southwest Dry Rub Recipe
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. granulated onion
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper
This gives you enough rub for many meals. Don't be sparing. And also, don't be shy. Rub it in. Then, wrap your ribs in the aluminum foil and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour. Seeing as I'm impatient, I went with the minimum, and it turned out just fine!
After your long wait is over, preheat your OVEN (!) to 425. Remove the ribs from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a baking sheet with a lip (a flat cookie sheet will not work!), bone side down. Mix together 3/4 cup chicken broth, a few splashes of white vinegar, and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce (it's not science people), and then pour around your ribs (I avoided pouring directly on top to prevent disturbing the rub). Cover the entire thing with aluminum foil and carefully place into the oven.
If you are making multiple racks on multiple sheets, some recipes suggest switching the sheets from the top rack to the bottom rack halfway through your cooking time, so I figured one sheet = middle rack. Again, it worked out just fine. After about an hour and a half to two hours later, your ribs should be done and almost ready to eat. If you wanted to slow cook them, I would recommend a lower temperature (about 250) for four to six hours, but ninety minutes works just as well.
Carefully remove the pan, peel off the foil and drain the liquid (without losing your ribs). At this point I noticed my ribs had shrunk-- the bones were now sticking out (providing perfect handles). I also noticed the pan juice was a bit shiny- the fat and grease from the ribs had literally melted off, leaving a leaner, meatier rack of ribs. From here, turn your oven from bake to broil. Smother those ribs in barbecue sauce (the meat side), and place under the broiler for five to ten minutes. This allows the sauce coating to brown up a bit and form a more solid covering-- less mess when you eat.
Remove from the oven and cut each rib loose. Serve with whatever Southern-style sides you desire-- and you may just forget that you live right downtown in a Mid-Atlantic metropolis.