Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oven-baked sweet and spicy spare ribs

As I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day, she said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. D (my brother) decided to become a vegetarian”. The phone almost fell from my hand and I began laughing. She had to repeat that statement at least six times before I finally believed her. D a vegetarian? Whaaat?? D who when we were growing up used to steal the pork chops from my plate? D whose portion of kokkinisto (Greek veal stew cooked in tomato sauce) was at least half a kilo?? I never saw that coming, to say the least.

So, to get on his nerves, as a proper sister should do, and tempt him, even though I doubt he will be tempted, he’s a strong-willed person, I’m posting these spare ribs in his honor.

But besides my brother, there’s you, and since the holidays are upon us, I’d like to share this recipe for spare ribs with you as well as my view on holiday dinners. When you reach the point where you have been cooking Christmas and New Year’s dinners for family, friends and loved ones for some years, you get bored with the same kinds of dishes. Sure, turkey is great, a big ham is excellent, but there are so many meat dishes you can choose to cook apart from those that are, well, boring.

Spare ribs. They may be messy to eat, you may need to use your hands (who am I kidding, you’ll most definitely need to use your hands), and you may have to steal the last piece from your fellow diners, but you will be rewarded with happy people enjoying a fulfilling meal that’s absolutely delicious and holiday-worthy. And, you will not be too tired after preparing it, cause it is so very easy. It only needs fifteen minutes of your time.

You prepare the spice and sugar rub, you rub it all over the ribs, wrap them in foil and bake them in the oven for three and a half hours. When they’re ready, you pour the juices in a small pan, add some vinegar and reduce a bit to create a thick-ish sauce that you pour over the caramelized, sweet and spicy, smoky and hot spare ribs. They are pure sin, with the tender, juicy, falling off the bone meat that melts in the mouth, and the spicy and slightly acidic sauce that balances the sweetness.

They are ideal for those occasions, holidays or not, that you want to share with your closest friends and family, those who don’t mind eating with their hands, those who won’t look you the wrong way when you reach for the beer bottle with greasy hands. In a nutshell, the people we all should be spending our holidays with.

PS 1: Thank you to everyone for your kind wishes on my last post. Your support means a lot!

PS 2: I have nothing against vegetarians. I hope they have nothing against me either.

Oven-baked sweet and spicy spare ribs
Slightly adapted from The New York Times

Serve them with thinly-cut (matchstick) fried potatoes (like the ones in the photos), or roast potatoes, a big green salad or slaw to give freshness to the meal and to balance the sweetness, spiciness and richness of the pork.
We love heat in our ribs but if you can’t stand the heat of chilli, add a little less.

Yield: more than enough for 4

1.7 – 2 kg spare ribs

for the rub
200 g (about 1 cup) soft dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp chilli powder (add 1 Tbsp if you can’t handle very spicy flavors)
2 tsp pimentón de la Vera, dulce (Spanish sweet smoked paprika), (add regular sweet paprika if you can’t find pimentón)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

for the sauce
the juices from the cooked spare ribs
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Special equipment: large baking pan, aluminum foil, baking paper

Rinse the spare ribs and pat them dry with kitchen paper. They should fit in one large baking pan in one layer. I buy two long slabs and they fit in my somewhat small oven in one layer perfectly. If yours don’t, cut them into two slabs.

Preheat your oven to 150°C.

In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients for the rub and mix with a fork or whisk to blend.

Take two large pieces of aluminum foil (large enough to fold around the spare ribs) and lay each one on your kitchen counter. Sprinkle some of the rub mixture along the center of each piece of foil and place a slab of spare ribs (meat-side down) on each aluminum foil piece, on top of the rub. Sprinkle each slab with the rest of the rub and rub it well on all sides with your hands.

Keeping the ribs meat-side down, fold the foil to create two tightly sealed packets. Be careful not to tear the foil or make any small holes.

Line your baking pan with baking paper and place the packets on the baking pan, one next to the other, making sure the seal of the foil faces upwards otherwise juices may run out. The reason you add baking paper to the baking pan is because sometimes juices may run out, causing the aluminum foil to stick to the pan thus making it hard to remove the packet from the pan without tearing the foil and losing the juices.

Place on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake the ribs for 3½ hours, turning the pan front to back halfway through.
They are ready when a fork easily penetrates the meat.

Remove the pan from the oven. Unfold carefully each packet and pour the accumulated juices into a small saucepan. Fold the foil again to keep spare ribs warm.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir in vinegar. Simmer the sauce until it reduces by a third, being careful not to over-reduce it to the point that it becomes syrupy and too sticky.

Serve the spare ribs on a large platter, whole or portioned, with the sauce on the side so that everyone can add as much or as little as they want on top.



  1. Our Xmas food is surely different. Here the very traditional Xmas dinner is boiled salty cod with boiled veggies (potatoes, portuguese cabbage) and boiled eggs. All drizzled with great evoo and sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and minced garlic (i always skip the garlic part, lol). And dinner never changes... boring? Not really, cos it's the only time of the year we eat this (even though we eat a lot of salty cod, but in many other ways than just simply boiled). On Xmas day, lunch is always, since I can remember, blood chicken rice (with loads of vinegar) and it's one of my favorite foods ever! We only innovate Xmas meals when it comes to starters and desserts (even though some of the traditional desserts are always present!)
    Are you flying over to Greece for Xmas?

    1. Salty cod sounds delicious. We usually have that at another holiday. On Christmas we usually have turkey or pork or lamb in Greece. With roast potatoes, traditional pies (tyropita, spanakopita etc) and salads. To me , this dish of spare ribs is a nice change of pace as I never ate it in Greece, I only discovered it here in the Netherlands. No, I won't be going home for Christmas :( Will make the best of it here! Happy holidays!

  2. Can I just say WOW? They look deliciously sticky and amazingly tender!!

  3. This recipe made me cook ribs for the first time in my life =) and I thank you so so much! They are delicious, and I can manage even with thermometer and my really faulty gas oven. Keep it coming, you're awesome! Cheers from Moscow =)

  4. I've made this three times and comes out better and better. Going to do it again, I'm hooked !

    1. So glad you like it Mariam, we love it too! :)