A sticky situation: how to make Union’s finger-licking ribs
Chef Teo Paul describes his 20-year quest for the perfect ribs
“Back in the ’80s, there was this place by our house, near Dupont and Davenport, called Mickey’s Ribs. The kitchen just did ribs to go. It took them an hour to make them, and they were expensive as hell—my dad would only get them as a special treat. They were unbelievably awesome. So for the past 20-odd years, I’ve been trying to recreate them. When I opened Union last year, I put side ribs on the menu and called them sticky ribs, because that’s want I wanted—that amazingly saucy, meaty, sticky goodness. But they weren’t sticky. For three months, the three other chefs and I talked about them every night. We played with the liquid ratios and tried different cooking times. Then, one night, because the oven was full, I put them on the bottom rack. That was the ticket. They worked perfectly. Here’s what you do.”
2 racks pork side ribs (about 4 lb)
3 tbsp paprika
2 tsp curry powder (find the spice lady at the Brick Works—she gets it right from India)
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
⅓ cup white vinegar
⅓ cup soy sauce (Yummy House brand is the cleanest tasting, and it’s cheap, too)
1. Remove membrane from bony side of ribs by lifting one corner with a small, sharp knife. Grasp with a piece of paper towel and peel off. Cut each rack crosswise into three pieces.
2. Stir ingredients for spice rub and smear over ribs. Heat a lightly oiled, large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Sear ribs in batches for about 2 minutes, turning once, until golden on both sides. As each batch browns, place ribs, meaty side down and more or less in a single layer, in a large roasting pan.
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3. Scatter onion, jalapeño, ginger and garlic over ribs. Stir together remaining sauce ingredients and pour over ribs. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake on lowest shelf of oven at 325° F for about 1 ½ hours or until ribs are tender but not yet falling off the bone.
4. Preheat barbecue to medium. Remove ribs to a large bowl. Strain sauce through a sieve and pour over ribs. Toss well.
5. Grill ribs for 6 to 8 minutes, turning often and basting generously with some of the sauce remaining in bowl, until browned. Remove ribs.
6. Pour remaining sauce into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes until reduced, thickened and sticky. Pour over ribs and toss gently. Arrange ribs on platter and serve at once.
Makes 4 servings