Times Food Editor

Maybe it's age-old instinct. Or maybe it's just because they taste so good. Whatever. Gnawing on meaty bones is one of the real pleasures of any carnivore, including humans. There's something especially tasty about the bits of tender meat surrounding ribs bones in particular; something that keeps enticing us to buy these less meaty portions at the meat counter.

In many parts of the world there is an almost cult devotion to ribs of one sort or another prepared however local custom deems the ultimate in flavor perfection. The Chinese prepare pork ribs with sweet-sour sauces; Basque sheepherders do wonderful things with lamb riblets; Middle Europeans braise beef short ribs with vegetables and herbs, and the American South and West vie for honors in preparing pork ribs with sweet-hot or vinegary barbecue sauces that add to their succulence.

What's the best way to prepare ribs? Who knows? And who really cares? Meaty, well-flavored ribs--however they are seasoned and cooked--are meant to be savored, not fought over. But it does help to know exactly what you're getting when you shop. It also helps if you understand which ribs need a tad of extra tender, loving care before being barbecued or roasted.

Beef ribs, for instance, whether they're marked flat ribs, short ribs, riblets, finger ribs or flanken come from the chuck, rib or short plate cuts and all are better when tenderized by braising or cooking in liquid.

Pork ribs, on the other hand, can be barbecued or roasted or braised with equal success. Country-style ribs and back ribs come from the loin section of the hog, while those long slabs of spareribs are from the lower rib section of the animal. The country-style ribs are the meatiest of the group and generally are cut into separate single bone portions. The back ribs, which come in slabs, are generally easier to cut apart to serve than the more uneven spareribs. They also usually are more expensive.

Some cooks who like to barbecue spareribs and back ribs prefer to parboil them briefly before tossing them on the grill. This eliminates much of the fat that flares up when it drips on the charcoal and it also tenderizes the meat.

Lamb ribs, most commonly found as "riblets," come from the breast portion of the animal. Occasionally they can be found in slabs as lamb spareribs, but usually they are separated into tiny individual rib portions. Braising is generally the preferred method of preparation for lamb riblets, but they can be broiled or roasted with good results. Again, parboiling before barbecuing eliminates fat and helps tenderize the meat. That, however, is purely a matter of choice. Some devotees think the parboiling destroys some of the delicate flavor. The only way to find out which is the better method for you is to try both before making up your mind.

Pork, lamb and beef ribs are the most readily available, although you may at times have to ask the butcher for the exact cut you want. Other possible sources of good rib dishes are veal and game such as venison. These latter two tend to be somewhat expensive when available. Veal is so delicate it deserves careful treatment and seasonings, and game can be tough or tender, depending on where one has acquired it.

One other small--but pertinent--point about ribs. Unless they are cooked in a way that makes the meat fall from the bone, they definitely are finger food. It would be a crime to miss all those wonderful crispy nibbles that cling so valiantly to the bone. This is one case where it's better to provide lots of napkins and ignore some of the finer points of dining etiquette. Ribs are to enjoy, not regret.

To show the versatility of these boney portions, we assembled a batch of recipes that display them at their best. Thick country-style pork ribs cooked with sauerkraut sweetened lightly with brown sugar, apples and carrots make a great one-pot meal. Or give lamb riblets some zing with lemon grass and lemon peel. Other seasonings that flattered various types of ribs well were an orange-flavored barbecue sauce and a spicy peanut sauce for pork ribs. COUNTRY RIBS AND SAUERKRAUT

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 pounds country ribs

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

2 (2-pound) jars sauerkraut, drained and rinsed

1 red pepper, julienned

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can clear chicken broth

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 cups diced or sliced apples

1 cup shredded carrots

Heat oil and butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown ribs. Add garlic and cook with ribs just until golden. Remove ribs. Saute red onion in drippings until tender. Add caraway seeds, sauerkraut, sweet red pepper, broth, salt and pepper to taste and brown sugar. Bring to boil. Remove from stove and top with apples and ribs. Cover and bake at 350 degrees 2 to 3 hours or until pork is tender. Stir in carrots during last 10 minutes of baking. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes about 6 servings.


1 1/2 pounds lamb riblets

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chopped onions

1 medium onion, diced


1 stalk lemon grass (use lower 6 inches and cut in 4 pieces)

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons water

4 thin carrots, diagonally sliced

1 potato, peeled and cubed

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon fine strips lemon zest

Brown lamb riblets in oil heated in Dutch oven. Remove lamb riblets. Saute garlic, onion in meat drippings. Add 3 cups water and lemon grass. Bring to boil. Return lamb. Cover and bake at 350 degrees 1 hour. Combine flour with 2 tablespoons water. Blend into lamb broth in Dutch oven. Add carrots and potato and simmer on top of stove until vegetables are tender. To serve sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest. Garnish with lemon peel, if desired. Makes 4 servings.


4 to 5 pounds spareribs

Salt, pepper

Minced garlic

1 onion, sliced

Orange Barbecue Sauce

Orange slices

Parsley sprigs

Season ribs to taste with salt, pepper and garlic. Place on rack in roasting pan. Sprinkle with onion. Bake at 450 degrees 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cover ribs and continue baking 1 hour. Uncover and brush with Orange Barbecue Sauce. Bake additional 30 minutes or until ribs are tender. Garnish with orange slices and parsley. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Orange Barbecue Sauce

1/2 cup catsup

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced ginger root

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon Cointreau

Combine catsup, soy sauce, orange juice, orange peel, garlic, ginger, sugar and Cointreau. Stir well to mix.


2 1/2 pounds pork back ribs

1/4 cup oil

1 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, finely crushed

Chili oil

Salt, pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 (6 1/2-ounce) can roasted shelled peanuts

1 eggplant, cubed

2 teaspoons paprika

Steamed green beans and carrots

Broil ribs to brown. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add chicken broth, coriander seeds, salt and pepper and chili oil to taste. Bring to boil. Add ribs, then simmer, covered, 1 hour, or until ribs are tender.

Place peanuts in blender with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Blend until finely ground. Add to ribs with eggplant, lemon juice and paprika. Simmer until eggplant is tender, stirring occasionally. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add green beans and carrots before serving or serve vegetables alongside stew. Makes about 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Instead of roasted peanuts, stir in 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter to sauce after eggplant is cooked.


2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons oil

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup red wine

1 (14 1/2-ounce) clear beef broth

1 teaspoon bouquet garni

8 short ribs

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons water

Sour cream

Steamed and buttered baby red potatoes

Heat butter and oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute mushrooms, onion and garlic until tender. Add red wine, broth and bouquet garni. Bring to boil. Add ribs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake covered at 325 degrees 2 hours or until tender. Combine flour and water until smooth. Stir into rib mixture. Simmer on top of stove few minutes just until thickened. Serve ribs with sour cream and potatoes. Makes 4 servings.


3 pounds pork back ribs


4 tart apples

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 cup apple jelly

1/3 cup lemon juice

Cut ribs into serving pieces, allowing about 3 ribs per person. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place ribs on rack in roasting pan, bone side down. Cover with tight fitting lid or foil and bake at 350 degrees 1 1/2 hours. Pour off pan drippings.

Meanwhile, core and cut apples into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange apple slices around meat. Combine cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apple jelly and lemon juice in saucepan. Cook over low heat until jelly is melted and mixture is slightly thickened. Brush warm jelly sauce over meat and apples. Bake, uncovered, 30 to 40 minutes, brushing every 10 minutes with remaining sauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


2 cups soy sauce

1 cup sugar, about

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup minced green onions

2 to 3 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons sesame oil

3 pounds flanken-style beef short ribs

Combine soy sauce, sugar, garlic, green onions, chiles and sesame oil in shallow rectangular casserole. Marinate beef pieces in mixture at least 45 minutes. Broil about 5 to 6 inches from heat, 5 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


5 pounds country-style pork spareribs

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 onion, thinly sliced

Barbara's Barbecue Sauce

Place ribs, meaty side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Bake at 450 degrees 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and remove ribs from oven. Drain off fat. Top ribs with lemon and onion slices. Pour 3 cups Barbara's Barbecue Sauce over ribs. Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees 1 1/2 hours or until tender, basting every 20 minutes and adding remaining sauce as needed. Makes 6 servings.

Barbara's Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 1/4 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

6 tablespoons lemon juice

6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 1/4 cups catsup

3 3/4 cups water

Combine sugar, salt, pepper, chili and curry powders, garlic salt, lemon peel and juice, Worcestershire, catsup and water in saucepan and simmer, uncovered, over medium heat 20 minutes or until reduced to about 4 cups.


4 pounds lamb riblets

1 pint yogurt

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons catusup

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Trim any excess fat from lamb and place in large shallow dish. Combine yogurt, milk, catsup, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cumin and salt. Pour over lamb. Turn meat to coat all sides well and chill about 2 hours, turning once. Remove riblets from marinade, reserving marinade and place meat on rack in shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees 1 hour. Turn and brush generously with marinade. Bake 1 1/2 hours longer or until meat is tender and browned. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


3 1/2 to 4 pounds lamb breast or meaty riblets

1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 medium onion, sliced

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can clear beef broth

Trim any excess fat from meat. Place breast in large open roasting pan, bone side down. Sprinkle with garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Bake at 450 degrees 40 minutes. Add onion and cook until ribs are browned. Reduce heat to 300 or 325 degrees and add broth to bottom of pan. Let meat cook, uncovered, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cover tightly and let steam about 1 hour longer. Add more broth if needed. Makes about 6 servings.

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