I’ve become a big fan of brining (soaking an animal protein in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water before cooking), and this recipe is the result of an experiment in that arena. (You can find an excellent in-depth discussion of the basics of brining in Cook’s Illustrated.)
I have made this recipe with beef short ribs as well as pork ribs – cooking time will vary greatly, so plan on testing at regular intervals; otherwise, this is a great recipe that involves almost no prep time whatsoever. The brine will also work for other proteins – chicken, duck, rabbit, fish…and even tofu! (Count on 1/2 lb of bone-in poultry or 1/4 lb of fish or tofu per person).
Five spice powder is a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.
brine – count on 1 pt (2 c) per lb of ribs
- 1 c water
- 1 c peach nectar
- 1 tsp five spice powder
- 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane
- 2 T kosher salt
- beef shortribs or pork ribs (spareribs, back ribs, or country style) – count on about 1 lb per person
- Combine the brine ingredients in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the ribs in one layer, stirring until the crystals are completely dissolved.
- Add the ribs to the brine – the liquid should just cover the meat.
- Refrigerate for 3-8 h, then remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 275F.
- Place the ribs on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast until very tender. For pork ribs, this can take as little as 1.5 h; for beef ribs, count on at least 2.5-3 h. Test for doneness: the meat should be sliding off the bones and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. If the meat begins to brown too much, cover with foil and reduce the temperature to 250F.