It’s hard to be formal when faced with a big platter of ribs; they demand that you pick them up with your fingers to gnaw all the tasty meat from the bones. These ribs make great picnic fare, or can be one of several main dishes for a casual feast with friends. Be sure to have plenty of paper napkins and moist towelettes on hand, or, if you want to be fancy, give everyone individual finger bowls filled with warm, lightly scented water.
Slow-cooked Thai pork ribs
There are several ways to cook these ribs, depending on the equipment you have. If you’re lucky enough to own a wood-burning outdoor barbecue that’s capable of long, slow cooking (and are willing to watch it closely for several hours, to feed the fire and maintain the temperature), then use that. If you have an immersion circulator for sous-vide cooking, then, after marinating the ribs for several hours, put them in a clean ziplock bag (without the excess marinade), remove air by the water displacement method (look it up on YouTube; this technique is much easier to do than to describe), then slow-cook them. I used my oven, set to 80 degrees Celsius.
I like the ribs to be tender, but not so soft that you can pull them apart. At 80 degrees, this takes five hours for a small rack that weighs 500 grams. If the rib rack is larger, or if you like the meat to be very tender, cook it longer.
2-3 racks of pork ribs, 500 grams each
2-3 large garlic cloves
The roots and thick stalks of 2-4 sprigs of fresh coriander (about 10 grams)
20 grams palm sugar
1/3 tsp finely ground white pepper
50ml soy sauce
25ml fish sauce
25ml oyster sauce
10ml sesame oil
For the dipping sauce:
30 grams palm sugar
40ml fish sauce
40ml fresh lime juice
2 tsp roasted glutinous rice powder
1-2 tsp Thai dried chilli powder
2 large shallots
1-2 spring onions
1-2 sprigs fresh coriander
Coriander sprigs, fresh chillies, fresh limes and sesame seeds, for garnishing
Roughly chop the garlic cloves and coriander roots and stems, then put them in a mortar with the palm sugar and pound to a rough paste. Put the paste in a bowl and mix in the white pepper, the soy, fish and oyster sauces and the sesame oil. Put the rib racks in a bowl and add the marinade. Mix well so the marinade coats the meat, then refrigerate for two to eight hours. Occasionally mix the ingredients so the meat is marinated evenly.
Take the rib racks out of the fridge and leave them at room temperature for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 80 degrees.
Remove the rib racks from the marinade (reserve the marinade for later). Lay each rack on a separate sheet of aluminium foil. Bring up the four sides of the foil to loosely but securely wrap the ribs. Place the ribs side-by-side on a baking tray and cook at 80 degrees for five hours, or until tender. (Or lay the ribs on a rack and cook them at 80 degrees in a covered wood-burning barbecue; or in a bag, with all the air removed, in a water bath with the immersion circulator set to 80 degrees.)
About an hour before the ribs are ready, prepare the sauce. Thinly slice the shallots, finely chop the spring onions and roughly chop the fresh coriander. Put the palm sugar in a bowl, add the fish sauce and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in the lime juice, glutinous rice powder, chilli powder, shallot, spring onion and coriander. Pour the mixture into a serving bowl.
With all three cooking methods, brown the ribs. If you cooked the ribs in the oven, remove the foil; if you used an immersion circulator, take them out of the bag. Lay the rib racks on a tray, bony-side up. Preheat the grill element of your oven, setting it to maximum heat. Brush the reserved marinade over the bony side of the rib racks. Slide the tray under the grill so it’s about 3cm away from the heat. Grill until the marinade is crusty and sizzling. Flip the rib racks over so the meaty side is up. Brush the marinade over the racks and grill again until it’s crusty and sizzling.
Cut the racks between the ribs into pieces and pile them on a plate. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the ribs then garnish with coriander sprigs, lime wedges and chillies. Serve with the bowl of sauce.