cider glazed spare ribs with fresh sage and cumin

I thought I’d get in one more round of grilling before it snows; or more accurately, I had this gorgeous rack of ribs from our Stillman’s Meat Share which pleaded, nay demanded, I fire up the grill.  Sticky, deeply caramelized ribs: a silence producing meal.  Everyone gnawing away appreciatively, too focused on eating (and limiting the mess on one’s face) to make conversation.  I recommend a stack of napkins, and maybe some bibs too.

Silence at the dinner table.  I’d never given it much thought, until that wedding last month:  people loaded up their plates, tucked in, and the room went eerily quiet, save for the occasional mmmm.  We took it as a good sign.  I think silence can go either way though; a delicious musing sometimes, and sometimes just oh god what do I say.  I remember a lemon pie my mom and dad made once from Martha Stewart; thinly sliced whole lemons cooked with ample sugar and wrapped in a buttery crust.  It sounded great, but when presented at the table the sugar proved not ample enough, and the puckering pie had everyone completely silent.  How do you take silence at the dinner table?  A good sign or bad?

The recipe here is my own creation, not that cider-glazed ribs is virgin territory or anything.  Apples and pork have a long-standing relationship, especially this time of year.  What’s different here is I kept things quite savory – I wanted my ribs to taste like pork, without an over-powering sweet glaze.  The glaze here is an accent flavor along with fresh sage, toasted cumin seeds, and a little garlic.  The recipe may seem complicated, though none of the steps are hard.  Essentially, you make an infused cider reduction and divide it in two parts: one part gets transformed into a savory marinade for the pork, and the other into a sweet-sticky glaze.  The whole thing comes together in under an hour, with extra time needed for marinating the pork.

I served the ribs alongside roasted Delicata Squash* rings and some stewed lentils, but really you could go in many directions here – classic coleslaw or baked beans would be perfect.  Ribs I think, like other finger foods, essentially have to stand alone.  I like to think of whatever goes along with them as a coarse all its own, though I must say the squash rings dribbled with a little of the cider-y meat juice went down quite well.  Serves 2-4 depending on the size and meatiness of your rack of ribs. 

*A note about Delicata Squash:  the skin on this tiny squash is completely edible and quite tender.  I often see folks struggling to peel Delicata Squash, an almost impossible task given their scalloped shape.  Plus, by peeling the squash you miss out on those adorable flower shaped rings. 

 For the Cider Reduction

  • ½ tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole pepper corns
  • 2 sprigs sage
  • 1 small onion or shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, and roughly chopped
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup white wine

Set a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds.  Cook 2-3 minutes until the seeds are toasted and fragrant, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until reduced by half. 

Strain and divide into 2 parts. 

For the Marinade and the Ribs

  • 1 part cider reduction (above), well cooled
  • ½ tbsp chopped sage leaves
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • A good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • Generous salt and pepper
  • 1 medium rack pork spare ribs, trimmed

Combine all the ingredients except the ribs in a medium bowl and whisk well.  Set the ribs on a sheet pan and pour over the marinade.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-4 hours, rotating the ribs every hour or so. 

For the Cider Glaze

  • 1 part cider reduction (above)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Combine the cider reduction and the sugar in a small pan.  Cook over medium heat until reduced by half – the mixture should be thick and syrupy.  Set aside. 

Cooking the Ribs and Assembling

Preheat a grill to medium-high.  Remove the ribs from the marinade and sprinkle with a little salt on both sides.  I like to save a little marinade and brush it over the ribs as they cook.  Grill 4-7 minutes per side until deeply caramelized and cooked through.  My ribs were on the thin side and took only about 9 minutes total.  (I find no shame in cutting open a rib to check for doneness.  You can also use the touch test – you want the ribs cooked through, so they will feel quite firm.)

Once cooked, remove from the grill and transfer to a cutting board.  Generously spoon over the cider glaze and cut the rack into individual ribs.  Serve at once.