There’s a lot of weird food in The Book. That’s almost the point, really. After the strawberry marinara ordeal, Rachel announced that she was done with experimental cooking for a while, and anyway it was my turn. The writing having thus been firmly written on the wall, I decided to go with something a little more conventional.
Our local supermarket sticks most of their cuts of meat on a sort of “wall o’ meat” at the back of the store. For the more frugal, they also have the “bucket o’ meat,” a standalone floor fridge where, as long as you’re willing to buy your meat in three pound chunks, you can pay less per pound. And that’s why a large pack of pork ribs has been waiting, frigidly, for their day to come.
Pork ribs are a fairly tough cut—the meat tastes good, but it can be really tough and chewy because of all the collagen fibers. The usual way to fix this is to cook it for a long time, often several hours, so that the fat and collagen can melt.
In the past, we’ve usually stuck it in the oven for a couple of hours at about 300 degrees. By the time it’s done cooking, the collagen will have melted, the internal temperature is about 190, and the meat is tender, if a bit dry. The modernist method is more gentle—it cooks at 140 degrees, which keeps the meat from shrinking and squeezing out all the juices. Collagen melts slowly at this temperature, so you have to cook it for a patience-testing forty-eight hours.
The usual weakness of sous-vide cooking still applies: wrapping your meat in plastic and then dunking it in water isn’t going to brown it at all. So just before eating it, you have to apply high heat to get some browning on the outside. Since you really don’t want to cook the inside any further (you’ll just dry it out!), it’s helpful to use very high heat. And this is where it’s handy to get out the blow torch:
We’re using a blow torch from the hardware store. I don’t recommend those cheesy kitchen-supply-store crème brulée torches: regular propane torch from the hardware store are cheaper, the fuel is cheaper and lasts longer, and they’re big enough to hold comfortably. The main reason to use the tiny ones is if you don’t have enough room to store a blow torch. It’s important that the torch’s flame burn blue, so that you don’t get food that tastes like fuel; so far, that hasn’t been a problem for us.
Despite the similarities, blow torching isn’t rocket science. There are, however, a few things that make the results better. It helps if the blow-torched surface is oily—it spreads the heat out, giving you more even browning and fewer black specks. Flame-torched oil is also what makes grilling smell so good, so this makes your kitchen smell amazing. You don’t want too much liquid on the surface of the meat, although the blow torch tends to take care of that pretty quickly.
The ribs were amazing. My brother nobly assisted in helping us eat the results, and it was definitely something we’ll do again. For sides, we had mashed potatoes, mint-balsamic beetroot (which might be worth doing a post on some other day), and sweet corn.
Page 228 of the Book