Thursday, April 7, 2011

Braised Pork Ribs?

admiring the smoker we put together
The New York Times has an article about a possible trend in chefs doing more braising instead of smoking of pork ribs. Heresy? Probably... the author decribes the historical problems with ribs not made in a smoker thusly:
Until recently, barbecue connoisseurs in places like Kansas City would have considered ribs cooked in the oven little short of blasphemy. In barbecue country and elsewhere, the technique had a miserable reputation that, in truth, was often deserved. Some restaurants baked ribs with overly sweet commercial barbecue sauce. Others, to avoid drying them out, would cook ribs in boiling water. As with braising, the idea behind boiling ribs is to tenderize them before tossing them on the grill or under the broiler to caramelize and crisp the exterior.

The problem with boiling is that it’s a flavor-removing, not flavor-enhancing, cooking method. (When you make stock, you boil bones with the express purpose of transferring the flavor from the meat to the water.) By contrast, braising in the oven adds flavor, because you’re cooking the ribs in a small quantity of flavorful liquid in a sealed environment.

Many restaurants made matters worse when they slathered boiled or baked ribs with barbecue sauces pumped up with artificial smoke to compensate for lackluster flavor. The result? Ersatz barbecue and a lost generation of rib eaters, especially in traditionally non-barbecue regions like the Frost Belt and the Northeast, which came to confuse liquid-smoke-flavored oven-cooked ribs for true pit barbecue.

The chefs who are now rescuing oven ribs from their lowly reputation take a profoundly different approach. “We’re not trying to fake true barbecue,” said Mr. Shook of Animal. Instead, he and some of his colleagues around the country are deploying the braising technique, which he said builds layers of flavor utterly different from those that can be achieved in a smoker.
From a restaurant perspective, if you're not a barbecue joint it makes total sense to eschew the smoker... which requirer expensive equipment and can engender neighborhood complaints. For a home chef, I guess it depends on whether you have a backyard and how many months of the year you can use it... for me the answers are "no" and "not many", so certainly a backyard smoker isn't attractive. Though they do have indoor ones that seem to get good reviews... but I am still a little afraid of accidentally summoning the fire department (nor do I really need another cooking device). Regardless, I think the last paragraph of the quoted section is probably the most import... not trying to replicate barbecue in the oven, but also not being afraid to cook pork ribs simply because it's not the real way to do it. Anyway, I think I'll give one of these two recipes a shot in the coming weeks: Milk and Honey Ribs or Sweet-Sour Balsamic-Glazed Ribs. I think the milk and honey ones sound the most interesting along the "not trying to be barbecue" lines.