Despite being a low-meat eater, I do enjoy gnawing on a good rib now and then. Pork ribs are typically what I cook when the urge emerges, but this recipe, adapted from Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits cookbook, features lamb ribs. Never had them? You should, especially if you love the gaminess of lamb.
Odd Bits is about trying or revisiting cuts that are often overlooked these days because many consumers gravitate toward tender, boneless meat. If you like rack of lamb, the spare ribs are an extension of it that you may have not tasted. I'm not sure where lamb spare ribs go after the fanciful rack is rendered; they ought to be sold right next to each other. That said, lamb spare ribs are wonderful. They have a decent amount of fat so that during cooking, the fat’s rich flavor permeates the flesh. They are also reasonably priced.
Sometimes that lamb goodness can be too much, which is why McLagan’s Asian-inflected recipe intrigued me. The tart-sweet spiciness of the tamarind glaze cuts the gaminess of the lamb. Fish sauce lends an umami undercurrent. Instead of fresh chile in the glaze, I substituted Sriracha chile sauce because it had tart-sweet heat to match the other ingredients. At the table, we tried adding Indian masala chilli sauce to the leftover glaze and it was superb, if not better than Thai Sriracha. Squirts of lime juice further brighten flavors.
Finally, this is great winter fare. The ribs get baked in the oven until tender and then rebaked with the glaze. (Hint: With the advance cooking, it’s great for holiday entertaining.) You could grill the ribs outdoors, weather permitting.
Where and how to buy lamb ribs? Find a butcher counter that sells lots of lamb (racks, leg, shoulder chops, etc.) They are likely to break down the bones from a carcass so they’ll have access to the ribs. At my local butcher shop, racks of lamb spare ribs are called “lamb riblets” because they look diminutive compared to pork ribs. Look for bright flesh and fat, and well-trimmed racks. Middle Eastern (e.g., Halal) butcher shops are a good source if your regular butcher is not into lamb.
You don’t have lamb ribs? Try the glaze on lamb chops. You won’t need to pre-roast the ribs. Just brush on the glaze as you cook.
Don’t like lamb at all? Try this with pork spare ribs or baby back ribs. Try goat ribs as they’re less gamy than lamb ribs.
Tamarind Glazed Lamb Ribs
For the tamarind liquid, see the recipes in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Asian Dumplings, and the Asian Market Shopper iPhone app. It’s a staple that I make and keep frozen. If you don’t have tamarind liquid on hand, use 1/4 seedless tamarind pulp (sold at Asian markets) plus 1/2 cup boiling water. Break up the tamarind pulp, drop it in a saucepan and add the boiling water, stirring to mix. Let stand for 30 minutes. Then add the other ingredients for the glaze and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a coarse mesh sieve, pressing on the solids.
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course
3 or 4 racks lamb ribs (2 1/4 pounds total)
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
3 tablespoons tamarind liquid
1/2 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Sriracha or Masala chilli sauce, plus more as needed
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325F.
2. Prep each rack. If there’s a papery membrane left on the meaty side, wiggle a knife between it and the fat, then pull it off. Use a cloth or paper towel to give you a good grip. Flip the rack over and use the knife to detach a bit of the membrane covering the bones. Grab the membrane with the cloth or paper towel and pull it off. Do your best to remove most of it.
2. Season both sides with salt, pepper, and five-spice powder. Put them on a rack in a large, shallow roasting pan (it’s okay if they touch or overlap a bit). Add water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover with foil, then bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until you can easily pierce the meat with a knife. The meat will dramatically shrink back from bones. Remove from the oven and cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Or, move right into finishing the ribs with the glaze.
3. To make the glaze, combine the tamarind liquid, sugar, fish sauce, ginger, and chile sauce in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. You should have 1/2 cup.
4. If needed, return the ribs to room temperature. Line a baking sheet with foil and put a rack on top. Reheat the ribs on the rack in a preheated 350F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until hot. Crank up the heat to broil (leave the ribs in the middle of the oven) and brush both sides with the glaze. Set aside any leftover glaze for dipping at the table.
Blast the ribs at the high heat for 10 minutes, turning midway, until crisp. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving with the glaze and lime wedges. Dip a rib in the glaze and squirt lime juice on to cut the gaminess. Add Sriracha or Masala chile sauce for extra punch.
[I'm tinkering with the fonts to change things up a little. Thanks for your patience.]
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