Monday, July 2, 2018

Uyghur-style barbecued beef ribs

The Uyghur people in China’s far west are, to my mind, at least, the country’s master barbecuers. 

Like many of the cuisines from Central Asia (and remember, Xinjiang’s capital of Ürümqi is located in the exact center of the Asian landmass!), the Uyghurs cook on open fires, as well as in tandoor-type ovens.

Not only meats go in those tandoors, but also a lovely variety of breads, like this delicious example

You can see all those cultural webs in little details like that, which is another reason why I love to read and write about food culture. After all, what we eat and why are really nothing less than the most delicious sides of human history.
The rub ingredients in my mortar

Seasonings here are delicious reflections of this crossroads: Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, garlic, and chile peppers. 

Salt is used instead of soy sauce, and in barbecues like this one here, it makes the spices pop even more.

Uyghurs are almost always Muslim, so beef, goat, or lamb work really well here. 

You can make this hotter or milder, depending upon your tastes and whether you’re planning to feed little children. 

Pounded up & ready to go
If you are one of those unfortunate chile heads with kids, consider making a nice chile sauce like this one for the adults and rely on paprika for the dry rub.

Be sure and use plain ground chiles here, not Mexican chile powder. The flavors are—I admit—insanely similar. But you get to adjust the levels a bit more here by using fresh garlic instead of dried.

I love to make this in my heavy granite mortar, a beautiful bit of useful art I picked up at Rancho Gordo in Napa. 

These kind of things make cooking so much fun. They’re low tech and look seriously gorgeous on the counter. (Plus, the beans at Rancho are the best around.)
Peel off the inner membrane

Uyghur-style barbecued beef ribs
Xīnjiāng tànkăo níulègŭ 新疆炭烤牛肋骨
Makes 5 to 6 big ribs

About 2½ pounds | a little over 1 kg beef back ribs (do not cut apart)
2 large or 3 small cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin
1 tablespoon coarsely ground chiles (see headnotes)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
About 2 tablespoons water

Squoosh in the rub
1. Pat the ribs dry and, again, don’t cut them apart, as that would make them dry out too quickly on the barbecue. Flip the ribs over so that you can see the bones. Use a paring knife and a paper towel to lift up one corner of the membrane covering the inside of the rib cage, and then remove it. Stab the meaty parts of the ribs on both sides all over so that the marinade can penetrate the meat.

2. Place the garlic, spices, and salt in a mortar and pound them together until you no longer can see the garlic. Add just enough water to make a thick paste.

3. Set the ribs in a rimmed dish and rub the marinade all over it, paying special attention to getting it into all of those little holes. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and marinate the ribs for at least a couple of hours and up to a day.

Marinate & then roast
4. Prepare your outdoor grill with the heat at about 250°C | 120°C. Spray the grate with oil and set the ribs meaty-side up. Cover and cook for about 2½ hours, flip, and cook for another half hour or so. Rest the meat for about 10 to 15 minutes, then cut between the bones and serve. Either the local pilaf or grilled breads would be great with this, alongside this delectable cilantro salad

Oven directions: Wrap the slab in foil and seal the edges so that the juices can't escape. Place the package in a rimmed pan and roast the ribs in the center of the oven at 250°C | 120°C for 3½ to 4 hours. Place the rack so the top of the ribs will be no closer than 1 inch | 2 cm from the broiling element and set the oven to broil. Open up the foil and then broil the ribs until the fat is golden and the crust crisps up, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the ribs rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting between the bones. 

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