When W was still a baby, just starting to pull himself up to toddle around the coffee table, he skipped directly from fruit and veggie purees to grown-up food, going straight for a platter of ribs at one Sunday barbecue and never going back. I have photos of him sitting out in the grass in his swimmers, happily knawing on a pork rib in the sun, sauced from ear to ear. This is how I feel when I get to eat ribs – carefree and happy, loving the opportunity to eat with my fingers, and usually covered with sauce.
W will still choose ribs if he has any say in dinner. It’s on the top of all our lists, but best eaten when it’s warm enough to sit in shorts and flip flops, leaning in over the rib in hand, letting any drips land on the grass, then washing up in the sprinkler afterward. Ribs are the ultimate summer food, best served in the great outdoors, or in our case, the disastrous back yard. Like summer itself, there’s little concern for proper etiquette – you’re eating with your fingers, after all – the only requirements are plenty of napkins, and something fizzy and/or lemony with loads of ice to wash them down.
I was getting into a bit of a rib rut when a really exciting opportunity came my way – I’m so excited to announce that I have partnered with the Almond Board of California to develop a summertime inspired recipe booklet using one of my favourite ingredients – almonds! The Sticky Almond Ribs below are just one of the many delicious recipes in the free booklet you can download (for free!) here. You’ll want to print the whole thing (I hope!) – it’s full of tips and recipes to inspire your summertime entertaining, whether it be a backyard barbecue or sunny, grassy picnic. I’ve managed to cover everything from breakfast to gooey desserts and frozen treats on a stick.
Almond butter, something I almost always have a jar of on my shelf, is the secret to these sticky, sweet and savoury ribs. I’ve already made them no fewer than five times – I’m pretty sure they have ruined us all for any other kind of ribs ever. “Well you know we can never have ribs any other way now,” Mike said last time I brought a stack of them to the table, right on the wooden cutting board. I secretly love any kind of meal you can serve directly from a board – it looks rustic in a hip urban farmhouse resto-kind of way, and yet really what it does is minimize work and dishes.
And in summer, when there are plenty of extra people around, ribs are great for feeding a crowd – it’s just as easy to roast and finish a pile of racks of ribs as it is to make enough for a few, and you can cook them ahead of time and finish them off when you’re ready for them to be served up en masse. And of course there’s the benefit of not requiring utensils – you don’t have to worry about having enough to go around. Napkins beat out plates and forks any day of the week. (Ditto sandals and shoes.) And even though it’s totally low-maintenance, there are few more tempting sights than a stack of ribs, maybe some slaw or corn on the cob (while we’re getting our fingers sticky) and a tub of ice, nestled with jars of lemonade and cider and beer. Who says dinner parties have to be complicated?
The trick to a tender, fall-off-the-bone rib is precooking them. When making ribs at home, most people seem to pre-boil them; a long cooking time breaks down tough connective tissues so that you don’t have to coax the meat off the bone with your teeth. (If you toss a rack of ribs straight on the grill, you’ll wind up with something like jerky on a stick.)
Boiling, however, is messy and awkward, you have to cut the raw ribs apart in order to fit them into the pot, and then you wind up boiling out much of the flavour of the meat.
I like to roast mine whole – throw a rack or two onto a rimmed baking sheet, cover with foil and bake for 2-3 hours in a low (275-325F) oven. Your ribs can be made ahead to this point, cooled and refrigerated to finish on the ‘cue – super easy if you have friends coming over and don’t want to be in the kitchen. It also gets the cooking part out of the way before you slather on that sticky sauce, which if it’s sweet, can burn if left in the oven or on the barbecue too long.
These will appeal to those who like their ribs sticky and saucy, savoury yet sweet; they wind up coated with a caramelized almond glaze similar to peanut sauce. If you want extra points for presentation, shower them with a flourish of fresh cilantro before bringing them to the (picnic) table.
Sticky Almond Ribs
2 racks pork side or back ribs
salt and pepper
1/2 cup almond butter, smooth or chunky
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 325F. Place the racks of ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cover tightly with foil. Bake for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes. Uncover the ribs and preheat the grill to high, or turn the oven up to 400F.
Brush the ribs generously with sauce and grill for 10 minutes or bake for 20 minutes, brushing again with sauce halfway through the cooking time, until the ribs are well-coated, dark and sticky. Cut into individual ribs and serve immediately.