The world has felt out of kilter this week.
The flood of images from Boston; strange encounters at work and after work; a sudden drop in temperature catapulting us from late summer into early winter.
And this morning, one of those torrential, tropical downpours that reminds Sydney siders life is not all about sunburn and beaches. None of those polite drizzles, this was rain with fat, heavy raindrops far heavier than any water saving showerhead can produce. The kind of rain that floods footpaths and cafes, gets under your umbrella and splashes up to knee height, and has us talking about carpentry skills for building Noah’s Ark.
It didn’t feel like a baking day, as I had planned. It was a day for a hot toddy, lemon ginger apple juice, or mulled wine, or congee or chicken soup. Something that says comfort blanket. A day for warm fireplaces, long slow braises, and slooooow roasted ribs and whole garlic.
The roasted garlic is simple to make, but yields such complex flavours. Whole heads of garlic are cut in half horizontally, then placed, cut face down, in a puddle of olive oil and baked for almost an hour and a half. After an hour, a gorgeous, warm smell, laced with caramel sweetness and with none of that raw garlic bite, fills the kitchen. The garlic bulbs shrink as they caramelise, so the outer layers of the garlic either lift off, or holds the garlic bulbs so loosely they are easily dug out with a small fork.
The garlic bulbs can be spread on toasted crusty bread, added to a dish of roasted sliced potato, or made into a thick garlic soup (soup coming soon), or mashed into almost anything, really.
The slow roasted oven ribs are also lovely, fall-apart-with-thick-sauce lovely. This (I think southern) recipe seemed so simple yet produces such beautiful looking results, it was only a matter of time before I gave it a go. Ribs are coated in a dry rub, wrapped in foil (I use two layers to be sure), and roasted on a slow oven for up to 4 hours, or an extremely slow oven for about 6 hours. The dry rub becomes a barbecue sauce of sorts. The meat can be further browned under the grill (broiler), but I find I prefer it without.
Since we don’t have a balcony, this is the next best thing to a real barbecue. The ribs become tender at the end of slow baking. Moist, gelatinous in the right places, tender in the other right places.
After the first time making these ribs, I began to have questions like “I wonder what would happen if…”, so I have begun to play around with the dry rub, length of roasting time, and even other cuts of meat. For the record, a char siu-style rub also works; 4 hours of roasting produces ribs that cry out to b eaten with fingers, while 6 hours makes the meat so fall-apart tender that a fork is required; this cooking method suits ribs best, though other cuts with a lot of bone can also work.
Towards the afternoon, the rain miraculously stopped. The little rivers on our footpaths disappeared, and the sun bathed our unit in a warm golden light. We took the chance to dash out to a (no longer flooded) cafe, and I noticed I could hear the sound of traffic again rather than the sound of all those fat, heavy raindrops. Fingers crossed for good weather tomorrow.
Here are the recipes.
Roasted whole head of garlic
(from the initial steps of FXcuisine’s French garlic soup recipe, which in turn came from Larousse de la cuisine des familles)
Two or more whole heads of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tbsps per head of garlic
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 350F. Cut the heads of garlic in half, horizontally, so the pattern of garlic bulbs are exposed.
2. Pour olive oil into an oven-proof vessel, such as ramekins or pyrex. Try to choose one that snugly fits all the garlic in one layer. Place the heads of garlic, cut face down, in the baking vessel. Make sure the cut face of the garlic are coated in the oil. Add more oil if necessary to ensure there is a thin layer of oil in the baking vessel, this is important as the olive oil keeps the garlic bulbs moist and stops them from burning.
3. Bake for somewhere between one hour and one and half hours, depending on the size of your heads of garlic, until a heavenly smell fills the kitchen.
Oven slow-roasted ribs
Two racks of spare ribs
2 tsp garlic powder or 4 tsp finely minced garlic
2 tsp cumin (or 0.5 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp cumin)
2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp oregano
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 tsp salt
* I have also slightly adapted the char siu seasoning from Food Canon with good results:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp dark (Thick) Chinese soy sauce
1 tsp white Pepper powder
2 tbsp maltose or Honey
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Oyster Sauce
a splash (maybe 25 ml or just over 1.5 tbsp) Chinese wine
1. If you plan to cook the ribs for 4 hours, preheat the oven to 120C / 250F. If you plan to cook the ribs for 6 hours (a la Smitten Kitchen), preheat the oven to 93C / 200F. Combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Place a rack of ribs on a large piece of foil (or two pieces of foil, to make sure they won’t tear and leak). Place a quarter of the dry rub over each side of the ribs and rub in well with your fingers. Treat this as a finger painting and make sure you get all crevices and sides. Repeat for the other side of the ribs and the second rack of ribs.
3. Place ribs on the foil, meat side down, and fold the foil over the ribs to make a packet. Fold the edges down to seal the packet. Place in oven and bake for 4 or 6 hours.
4. That’s it! Some recipes suggest basting after 2 hours, but I have skipped this step with no obvious disasters, as long as I put enough seasoning on the ribs before cooking (and if in doubt, add more seasoning to the top of the ribs, since any sauce will puddle on the bottom).