Dear SOS: Will the Urban Tavern Restaurant in the Hilton Union Square, San Francisco share with you and all of us? We had "braised baby back ribs" served over a large-grain type of couscous. The ribs have interesting spices, like allspice, and were so tender we were able to eat them with a fork! I would love to know more about the grain they used too. It was tasty, and just the right accompaniment for the ribs.
Dear Lucia: We loved these tender, braised ribs, richly flavored yet bright with notes of fennel, coriander, ginger and nutmeg and slow-cooked over a bed of diced apple and celery hearts. The restaurant uses St. Louis-style pork ribs, spare ribs that have been trimmed to give them a clean, mock baby back look. We tested the recipe using whole spare ribs and St. Louis-style racks and loved it both ways (be aware that you will need a very large roasting pan to fit two whole racks of spare ribs).
The restaurant serves their ribs with fregola, a large couscous-type pasta from Sardinia, and seasonal vegetables. Fregola is available at select gourmet and cooking stores; it is readily available online.
Urban Tavern's spice-braised pork ribs
Total time: 4 1/2 hours, plus overnight refrigeration and cooling times
Servings: 6 to 8
Note: Adapted from Urban Tavern. For St. Louis-style (or mock baby back) ribs, take a rack of spare ribs and trim the skirt meat along the underside of the rack, then remove the rib tips at the joint before removing the silverskin from the underside of the rack and trimming the edges to clean. Alternatively, ask your butcher to prepare the racks for you. The restaurant serves the ribs with fregola and seasonal vegetables.
1/2 cup fennel seeds
1/2 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons ginger powder
2 tablespoons ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1. In a medium sauté pan heated over medium heat, toast the fennel and coriander seeds until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
2. Grind the fennel and coriander seeds to a fine powder using a spice mill or coffee grinder, then combine with the ginger, nutmeg, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne powder to form a rub.
3. This makes a generous 1 cup rub, and you may not use all of it for the final recipe. Store the rub in an airtight jar or sealable plastic bag in a cool, dark place up to 4 to 6 weeks.
Braised pork ribs
2 racks pork ribs, preferably St. Louis-style, silverskin removed
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups diced apples, about 2 apples
2 1/4 cups diced onion, about 1 onion,
Scant 1 cup diced carrots, about 2 carrots
1 1/2 cups diced celery hearts, from about 1 bunch
1. Coat the rib racks generously on each side with the spice rub. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to season.
2. The next day, in a large saucepan, bring the cider, chicken and beef broths and bay leaves to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Heat the oven to the broiler setting. Place the rib racks on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Broil the racks until browned on each side, about 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the heat of the broiler.
4. Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine the diced apples, onion, carrots and celery heart, and place the seared ribs on top (pour any drippings from the rimmed baking sheet over the ribs). Pour over the hot broth.
5. Cover the pan tightly, first with parchment paper, then a layer of plastic wrap, then with a layer of foil, creating as tight a seal as possible. Place the covered pan in the oven and braise the ribs for 3 hours.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and cool the ribs completely. Skim the fat from the pan and set the ribs aside. Strain the braising liquid (we had about 1 quart) into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the sauce by half.
7. To reheat the ribs, place the ribs in a roasting pan and pour the sauce over. Place the ribs in a 325-degree oven and heat until the ribs are warmed through before serving.
Each of 8 servings: 725 calories; 49 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 50 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 191 mg. cholesterol; 10 grams sugar; 893 mg. sodium.