Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chinese Sticky Ribs

During my self-appointed day of cooking on Whidbey Island, I asked if anyone had a dinner request. Without missing a beat Minh-Hai piped up, “Chinese Sticky Ribs!” I like a challenge.

I’d never made sticky ribs before so I had to defer to the experts. But some of the more traditional recipes called for the likes of Chinese rose water, plum sauce and dried oysters, ingredients that the nearby Casey’s Red Apple probably didn’t carry. Luckily Cook’s Country came to the rescue.

Their recipe requires braising the ribs for a few hours in a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, sugar, fresh ginger, garlic, hoisin sauce, sherry and cilantro sprigs. After the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, it gets brushed with a sticky, sweet glaze followed by a few flips under the broiler until deep mahogany in color.

We were on island time so it didn’t matter that the ribs reached the table well after 9pm. Despite the crappy lighting not doing them justice in this photo, you can trust me when I say this recipe is legit. The outside of the meat had those lovely sticky charred bits while the tender inside barely required chewing. They were so addictively delicious that I found myself gnawing on the bones well after the meat was gone.

As we were eating, fingers and faces covered in sticky glaze, Minh-Hai said, “I just dreamt this up and here it is!” That’s exactly what cooking is all about.

Chinese Sticky Ribs
If you don’t have dry sherry on hand, use one part apple cider vinegar and one part water. I wasn’t able to find hot pepper jelly but apple jelly worked beautifully. Since some of the heat was missing, I also upped the spice by adding a tablespoon or two of Sriracha sauce. Next time I’ll add even more! Slightly tweaked from a Cook’s Country recipe.

2 racks St. Louis style or baby back ribs (2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lbs each)

1 cup hoisin sauce

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup dry sherry (or a mix of 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water)

1 6-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

30 sprigs fresh cilantro stems (reserve leaves for glaze), chopped

8 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve green parts for garnish)
Optional: extra Sriracha or chili sauce (I added 2 tablespoons)


1 10-oz jar hot red pepper jelly or apple jelly

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Reserved scallion greens, thinly sliced
Extra Sriracha or chili sauce to taste

Adjust the oven rack to the middle and heat to 350°F. 

Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs. Combine the rib marinade in a large roasting pan. Add the spareribs and coat well. Cover with heavy foil and cook, meat side down, 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until just tender. Remove ribs to a plate.

Strain the cooking liquid and put 3 cups into a large nonstick skillet. Skim the fat. Add the jelly and vinegar. Simmer over medium high heat until reduced to 2 cups. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro and cayenne (and Sriracha or chili sauce, if using).

Heat the broiler (don't raise the oven rack!). Pour enough water into the roasting pan to cover the bottom. Fit pan with roasting rack, arrange ribs on rack and brush with glaze. Broil until the ribs begin to brown, flip over, and brush with more glaze. Continue flipping, glazing and broiling every few minutes until the ribs are deep mahogany (I only needed to do this 3 times). Move to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. Slice, glaze again if desired, and garnished with scallion greens. Serve with sticky rice and lots of napkins!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Greens, Soft-boiled Eggs and Crispy Prosciutto

About five months ago we attended a fundraiser for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, an incredible organization with a mission to help the developing world walk again. Our good friend Jared sits on the board and we were excited to show our support.

In classic auction style, we perused the items, set our sights on one particular package, agreed on our maximum amount, and then went (well) over in the heat of bidding. But it was worth it. Last weekend we redeemed our splurge and ducked away to Whidbey Island with our friends Minh-Hai and Ben. 

There is something to be said for having zero obligations. For three straight days we sat reading, snacking and sipping cocktails on the deck of a beautiful cabin overlooking the water. Our momentum was only broken to take naps or go out to dinner. Now that’s a vacation.

Saturday morning, however, I was rearing to go. I had just seen an episode of Chuck’s Day Off on the Cooking Channel where he prepared a lavish brunch for friends which included three of my favorite things -- creamy polenta, greens and eggs -- and couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Polenta is somewhat of a stodgy Italian comfort food. But its first forms were nothing like the creamy, smooth starch we know today. In pre-Roman times it was made with ancient wheat, faro, chickpeas, millet and water and resembled a coarse mush or porridge. It wasn’t until the introduction of corn around the 15th century in Italy that the face of polenta was forever changed.

Nowadays you can find plastic, sausage-shaped tubes of cooked polenta on grocery store shelves, but I recommend walking in the opposite direction. Fresh polenta only takes 20 minutes to make and tastes so much…well…fresher. Plus, just like anything made from scratch, you have the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going into your food (in this case, milk, chicken stock, cheese and butter).

The combination of creamy polenta with the runny yolks, bright greens and salty, crisp prosciutto was well received by the vacationers. Even though we didn't deserve a hearty breakfast, it gave us the necessary energy to continue relaxing like no one's business. 

Creamy Polenta with Greens, Soft-boiled Eggs and Prosciutto
Two very interesting techniques are used in the preparation of this dish. First, instead of poaching the eggs, soft-boil them in their shells in order to retain their shape. Secondly, instead of dealing with the hassles of pan-frying, bake the prosciutto between two cookie sheets - a simple way to get crispy, evenly cooked, flat shards of cured meat. Adapted from Chuck's Day Off.


8 slices Prosciutto

2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk (I like using whole milk)
1 cup polenta cornmeal 

1/2 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
Knob of butter

4 eggs

2 bunches kale, washed, dried and leaves stripped from their stems
1 tablespoon butter, olive oil or a mix of both
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange the prosciutto slices on a parchment-lined baking tray. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and another baking tray so that the prosciutto is tightly sandwiched between the sheets. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the prosciutto is crispy. Remove from oven and set aside on a paper towel.

Combine the stock and milk in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and cook over low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 15-20 minutes or until the grains are soft and creamy. Fold in the cheese and a bit of butter (about a tablespoon). Taste and season with salt if necessary. Cover and keep warm.

Bring at least three inches of water to boil in a large saucepan. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the eggs into the water and boil for exactly six minutes. Remove the eggs and place them in a bowl of cold water; set aside. Before serving, roll the eggs on the countertop to loosen the shells and peel.

In the same pot of boiling water, cook the kale leaves for 1-2 minutes. Drain and plunge the greens immediately into an ice bath to halt the cooking process.

In a skillet heat the butter/olive oil over medium heat. Remove the kale from the ice bath and squeeze to remove as much water as possible; chop it into bite-sized pieces. Saute the kale in the skillet along with the lemon juice for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Check the polenta before assembling. If it’s too thick, stir in a splash of stock or water to loosen things up. Divide the polenta among four plates. Top each with greens, an egg and two strips of crispy prosciutto. Garnish with a grind or two of freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Eat immediately then take a nap.