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Eric Akis: Pork back ribs, with a Carolina twist

I cook pork ribs in all sorts of ways, but one of my recent go-to methods starts by me setting out some sheets of aluminum foil.
Pork Back Ribs are slathered with Carolina-style Mustard Barbecue Sauce. ERIC AKIS

I cook pork ribs in all sorts of ways, but one of my recent go-to methods starts by me setting out some sheets of aluminum foil.

If I’m making ribs for just me and my wife, the next step is to cut a large, full rack of pork back ribs in half, creating two nice, half-rack portions.

Step three is to season the ribs, wrap each half rack up in a sheet of that foil, set them on a baking sheet and cook them in the oven for 90 minutes or so. As the ribs cook in the foil, their natural juices release, steam builds and, by the end of cooking, they are very tender and have a rich pork flavour.

I used this technique in today’s recipe. When you read it you’ll see the final steps in the preparation of the ribs are to remove them from the foil, grill and char them a few minutes to enhance their colour, and then brush them with barbecue sauce.

The sauce I made was Carolina-style mustard barbecue sauce. As you can tell by its name, mustard is the key ingredient, unlike the tomato-based ones you see used in many barbecue recipes. It’s an appealing, palate-awakening, sweet and tangy concoction that further enhances the taste of ribs. Not surprising, since pork and mustard always work well together.

When buying the back ribs, choose a rack that does have a bit fat, as it will melt and baste the ribs as they cook, making the meaty parts moist and even more flavourful.

I served the ribs with baked potatoes and today’s second recipe for broccoli slaw. The latter combines grated and chop bits of broccoli with grated carrots, pecans, currants and a simple dressing. Like the mustard barbecue sauce, it alsoworked really well with the ribs.

Pork Back Ribs with Carolina-style Mustard Barbecue Sauce

Tender pork back ribs are wrapped in foil, baked and then charred on a grill and brushed with a sweet and tangy, mustard-based barbecue sauce.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 100 to 110 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 large full rack pork back ribs (about 750 grams)

• vegetable oil

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ancho chili powder (see Note)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp yellow mustard

2 Tbsp rice or cider vinegar

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp ketchup

3/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1/8 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325 F. Tear two, 18-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and set on a work surface. Cut the ribs widthwise in half, into two, half-rack portions. Pat the ribs dry with paper towel.

Lightly oil the centre of the top of the foil on which you will set the ribs. Now set a half-rack of ribs, meaty-side-up, in the centre of each piece of foil. Sprinkle and rub the ribs with the paprika, chili powder and cumin. Season ribs with salt and pepper.

Seal ribs in the foil. (If the foil tears during this process, wrap ribs in a second piece of foil.) Set ribs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake ribs 90 to 100 minutes, or until very tender.

While ribs bake, make barbecue sauce by combining, in a bowl, the mustard, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire, Tabasco and garlic powder. Cover sauce and set aside until needed.

When ribs have done baking, preheat a barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high (see Eric’s options). Remove ribs from the foil and grill them three to five minutes on either side, until nicely charred. Lower the heat to medium-low. Turn ribs meaty side up. Brush the top of the ribs with some of the mustard barbecue sauce and cook one minute more. Plate the ribs and serve remaining mustard barbecue sauce alongside, for drizzling on the ribs.

Note: Ancho chili powder is made from mildly spicy, sweet- and fruity-tasting, dried ancho chilies. You’ll find it for sale at many grocery stores. If you don’t want to use it, replace it with regular chili powder.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, once baked, remove ribs from the foil and set on a parchment paper-lined or non-stick baking sheet. Brush ribs with some the mustard barbecue sauce. Put ribs back in the oven and bake, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes more, or until nicely glazed. Plate the ribs and serve with remaining mustard barbecue sauce.

Broccoli Slaw with Carrots, Pecans and Currants

This colourful and appealing slaw is a great side dish for ribs. In it, grated and chopped broccoli replaces the cabbage often used in this type of salad.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: two generous servings

3 Tbsp mayonnaise, or to taste

2 tsp rice or cider vinegar

1 tsp honey

• splashes Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup coarsely chopped broccoli florets (see Note)

1/3 cup peeled and grated broccoli stem

1/3 cup grated carrot

2 Tbsp pecan pieces

2 Tbsp currants

1 small green onion, thinly sliced

Combine mayonnaise, vinegar , honey, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate slaw until ready to serve. It can be made a few hours before needed.

Note: A piece of broccoli with a long stem and nice sized floret should yield the amount of grated and coarsely chopped broccoli needed here. You need to peel off the tough outer layer on the stem, or it won’t grate very well.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.