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Honey-Glazed Five-Spice Baby Back Ribs

Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre
  • Braising Time: 1 1/2 hours
Mysteriously spicy, sweet, addictive, and a real crowd pleaser. Even with the glaze, these ribs are nowhere near as messy to eat as most ribs, which makes them ideal as an unexpected hors d’oeuvre at the most chichi cocktail party. I confess that I also like to serve these at big rowdy gatherings (a Super Bowl party, for instance) right along with pretzels and chips. Fortunately, the recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. And, best of all, the ribs can be braised several hours ahead and then quickly glazed before serving—something that always simplifies the life of a host.

Beer and Wine Notes
Medium-weight ale, such as Anchor Steam’s Liberty Ale, or deeply fruity red wine, like old-vine Zinfandel or a rich Australian Shiraz.
Published in Gourmet Live 01.25.12

INGREDIENTS:

The Spice Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons five-spice powder (see “Five-Spice Powder,” below)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 slab baby back ribs (1 3/4 to 2 pounds)

The Braise:

  • 1 cup lager beer
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (dark or light)

The Glaze:

  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (soy sauce may be substituted)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • The spice rub—12 to 24 hours in advance: A day before (or early the morning before) you plan to serve the ribs, combine the five-spice powder, salt, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Rub this mixture over the entire surface of the ribs, turning and rubbing until it adheres; this may take a few turns. Place the ribs on a tray or baking dish, cover loosely, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
  • The braise: Place the ribs bone side down in a deep roasting pan or baking dish large enough to accommodate the slab (9-by-13-inch works well). Measure the beer in a large glass measuring cup and stir in the molasses. Pour this mixture around, not over, the pork. Cover tightly with foil and braise, basting every 30 minutes or so, until the ribs are tender enough that you can easily slide a knife between the meat and bone, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven. (The ribs may be made ahead to this point and held at room temperature for a few hours.)
  • The glaze: Heat the broiler on high. Whisk together the honey, ketchup, and fish sauce. Separate the ribs by cutting down between the bones with a sharp knife. Discard the braising liquid. Place the ribs on a broiling pan or baking sheet and paint them on all sides with the glaze. Broil about 4 inches from the heating element, turning once, until glazed and blackened in spots, about 7 minutes total. Serve hot or warm.
Five-Spice Powder
  • Five-spice powder, often referred to as Chinese five-spice powder, is a combination of warm and fragrant spices used widely in the Chinese kitchen. Sold both whole and ground, five-spice typically contains star anise, cassia (a cinnamon-like spice), fennel seed, and Sichuan peppercorns. Some blends include cloves and/or dried ginger. Five-spice powder adds a warm-sweet-spicy character to marinades and braises. It can also be combined with salt for a dipping condiment. As with any ground spice, five-spice powder will lose its potency in a matter of months. Buy it in small quantities and store it in a tightly closed jar or container in a cool, dry place.
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