Slow cooked ribs, where the meat is soft and falling off the bone, is one of life’s ultimate culinary treasures. Who can resist a mound of sweet sticky ribs?
In the past I’ve always baked marinated ribs in the oven (covered with foil) – low and slow til the meat becomes tender, then covered them with barbecue sauce and whacked them on the barbecue, or in a hot oven to caramelise. It works, of course, and tastes fabulous, but it’s not a spontaneous feast by any means; it takes a bit of forethought and, ideally, a day spent at home 😉
Last Sunday was our local Farmers Market day and, as we only have one a month, we try never to miss it. Lots of summer berries were on offer as well as beans, courgettes and other summer squash, plus all the usual suspects (fresh bread, fish, meat, cakes and the like)…all wonderful, but I was delighted to find something completely new to me: Birch Syrup.
It’s sweet – as you’d expect – but with a definite savoury edge: ever so slightly bitter and a bit metallic – like molasses – I’m not exactly selling it, but it is lovely. The vendor told us that his product comes from Estonia but birch syrup is also made in Scandinavia, Russia and other East European countries. It’s great as a dressing for salads (think balsamic vinegar) but when I tasted it my mind went straight to ribs. For me, it adds a very specific flavour profile and is more of an ingredient for sauces, gravies, stews etc. than to have on its own. I wouldn’t pour it over pancakes 😉
And so ribs is where my thoughts remained – only to be exorcised by the cooking and eating of them…ahh a girl’s gotta do what girl’s gotta do.
I didn’t follow a recipe, but instead threw all my favourite flavours at it, with the addition of my intriguing new syrupy friend. The revelation, however, was the employment of my beloved pressure cooker; I can’t believe I’d not thought of it before! Not only does this method of cooking produce the succulent soft flesh that literally falls away from the bones, but the lack of evaporation keeps in every ounce of flavour and leaves a delicious stock that you can then use to cook your couscous (or rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa – whichever grain takes your fancy). All this, PLUS it takes a fraction of the time! Never again will I have to set aside hours of my day in order to make the most sensational Sticky Ribs (all modesty aside) – they can be whipped up at a moment’s notice – hurrah! All Hail The Sticky Fig and read ahead to make The Best Sticky Fig Ribs ever! (Er, if you like.)
I’ve made these twice this week – first time with pork ribs and the second time with both pork and beef short ribs. It works equally well with both, but if you can get hold of beef short ribs (your local butchers are your best bet) then use these. The meat is amazing, with a real gelatinous quality so close to the bone. Mmm mmmm.
The idea is to marinate the ribs for as long as possible with a dry spice/herb rub, then pressure cook them quickly and finish them off in a hot oven, or barbecue, with the Sticky Fig Barbecue Sauce. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, then buy one. Failing that, you can pop the marinated ribs in a baking dish, cover with foil and cook in a low temperature oven for 3-4 hours. I know which way I prefer though.
For the dry rub marinade feel free to use whatever spices and herbs you like, or have to hand. I would definitely always use the smoked paprika – for the essential smoky barbecue element – as well as fennel seeds and bay leaves. The rest is up to you.
8-10 Pork ribs, or 6-8 Beef short ribs
- Coriander seeds, 2 tbsp
- Sichuan peppercorns, 1 tbsp
- Fennel seeds, 3 tbsp
- Chilli flakes, 2-3 tsp according to taste
- Sumac (ground), 2 tsp
- Smoked sweet paprika, 2 tbsp
- Chinese Five Spice, 1 tbsp
- Dried garlic powder, 1 tbsp
- Cayenne pepper, 1 tsp
- Ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp
- Soft brown sugar, 2 tbsp
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 smashed garlic cloves
- 4 bay leaves
- Fresh oregano and fresh rosemary – a couple of sprigs of each
Sticky Fig Barbecue Sauce
- 6 Soft Dried Figs
- 6 Dried Dates
- ½ red onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp Birch Syrup
- Flavourless vegetable oil (sunflower or rapeseed is fine), 1 tbsp
- Water, 1 cup
- Tomato paste, 3 tbsp
- Sherry vinegar, 1 ½ tbsp
- Dark Soy Sauce, 2 tbsp
- Smoked Paprika, 1 tsp
- Chilli flakes, 1 tsp
- Chinese Five Spice, 1 tsp
- Redcurrant Jelly, 2 tbsp
- Soft brown sugar, 2 tbsp
- Honey, a drizzle
- Pomegranate molasses, 1 tbsp
- 250g Couscous
- 400ml rib stock
- Dried mint, 2 tsp
- Dried oregano, 1 tsp
- Olive Oil, 70ml
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt & Pepper
- Dried cherries, 40g
- Soft apricots, 45g
- Currants, 25g
- Spring onions, 3-4 finely chopped
- Half a small cucumber, cut into small cubes
- Tomatoes, 8 cherry or 3 large, deseeded and chopped
- Plenty of fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used coriander, parsley and mint).
- Seeds from half a pomegranate
- Pistachios, 20g, sliced
To make the dry rub marinade, dry fry the coriander seeds and Sichuan peppercorns for a couple of minutes until you start to smell them. Immediately remove from the pan and grind them in a pestle and mortar or mini processor with the fennel seeds, chilli flakes and a small pinch of sea salt (for abrasion).
Stir with all the remaining ingredients except for the garlic and fresh herbs.
Pat dry the ribs and place them in a non-reactive dish (pyrex or ceramic is fine) then rub with the marinade making sure to coat each side.
Rip up the bay leaves and rosemary/oregano and tuck in and around the ribs. Smash the garlic cloves and do the same.
Cover with greaseproof paper and tuck around the sides of the ribs to keep all the flavour in. Refrigerate overnight or until you want to cook the ribs.
To make the Sticky Fig Barbecue Sauce add the onion and garlic to a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Add the sliced figs and dates then blitz again with the Birch Syrup.
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan on a gentle heat then add the figgy-onion mixture and water, give it a good stir and increase the heat and cook for a minute or two. Next stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook until it’s well combined.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and continue to cook on a low heat for ten minutes, until it’s a thick sweet, smoky, spiky barbecue sauce. Leave to one side until you cook your ribs.
When you’re ready to cook your ribs add them, along with the garlic and herbs, to your pressure cooker and pour in 200ml water, or as little as you can get away with as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Cook for for 35 minutes. When the pressure has come down remove the – now soft and tender – ribs and transfer to a baking dish. Scrape off any herbs or bits of garlic and cover with plenty of the Sticky Fig Barbecue Sauce.
Preheat your oven to 200 Deg/180 FAN.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes until sticky and bubbling.
Meanwhile, strain the rib juice from the pressure cooker through a sieve, measure out 400ml and warm it in a saucepan, or microwave, until it’s pretty hot. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and add the dried mint and oregano, along with the chopped dried fruits. Stir well.
Cover the couscous with the hot stock, stir briefly then cover immediately with cling film and a tea towel. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the cling film then stir through with a fork to separate the grains.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir again.
Serve alongside the Sticky Fig Ribs with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and plenty of fresh herbs (and maybe a cheeky fresh fig, or two).
Devour at will.
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