Sometimes inspiration is hard to come by. Sometimes it comes to you unbidden.
I was riding a bicycle built for four. Like the red and white striped canopy kind steered around idyllic lakes by grinning tourists. Except mine was strictly utilitarian – all steel, no frills. I clambered onto it alone, complaining to a friend standing nearby that with all the other bikes parked in this tiny space, it would be difficult for me to get out. But I backed out with ease, made a nifty three-point turn, and was soon on my way. As I pedaled through campus, kids seated at the lunch tables pointed and sneered.
“Hey, where are you from? The 60s? Nice bike!”
Laughter followed me down the halls as I made my way to the office building to pick up a bushel of Fuji apples. It took a while, picking out all those individual apples. But before long I was pedaling down the sidewalk in the late afternoon sun, basket filled with apples, ready to go home.
Then I remembered. I hadn’t brined my ribs. I looked at my watch. 5 PM!!! My ribs wouldn’t be ready before the guests came tonight! I started panicking as I maneuvered my four-wheeler around the pedestrians crowding the sidewalk.
My alarm rang. I jolted awake and turned it off. Then I lay in bed, heart racing, trying to remember what day of the week it was and whether or not I had forgotten to brine my ribs.
I’m not qualified to discuss the validity of psychoanalysis, but if there is anything to be gleaned from this dream of mine, it is that (a) I have a latent fear of being derided as a time traveler from the 60s, and (b) properly brined ribs rank high in my internal valuation system. I’m not sure if either is truly the case but thank you, subconscious, for gifting me with unparalleled inspiration.
To the great fortune of those in my Friday night home meeting, it was not too late to brine my ribs. They turned out quite well, though not as tea-y as I hoped they would be. The taste of the tea is quite subtle. I followed this recipe exactly, except I added an extra glaze at the end to amp up the sweetness of the ribs. Not required, but quite nice if your taste buds are accustomed to the sticky sweetness of Southern-style BBQ ribs.
Jasmine Tea Ribs
From The Woks of Life, one of my favorite food blogs.
6 cups boiling water
2 tbsp dried jasmine tea leaves
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3 lb rack of ribs
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp jasmine tea leaves, ground into powder (I used a mortar and pestle)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp honey, dissolved with 1 tbsp hot water
garnish: sesame seeds, cilantro or green onions
Brine those ribs
- In a large bowl, combine the hot water, jasmine tea leaves, salt, and sugar. Let the brine cool, giving the tea a chance to steep. Your brine should look very dark and smell very fragrant.
- Place the ribs in a sturdy Ziplock bag and pour the brine in. Press out the air from the bag and seal. Brine the ribs in the refrigerator for up to 3 hours.
Roast those ribs
- Preheat the oven to 325˚F and line a heavy-duty pan with foil. You will regret it very much if you don’t line your pan with foil.
- Take the ribs out from the brine and remove any tea leaves. Combine the ground jasmine tea, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Brush the ribs with a thin layer of soy sauce and rub the spice rub all over the ribs.
- Transfer the ribs to the oven along with a small, heatproof dish filled with water to prevent your ribs from drying out.
- Bake for 1 hour, then brush the ribs all over with honey water. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes, then brush again with honey water.
- Raise the heat to 375˚F and bake for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let your ribs rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting, garnishing, and serving. The ribs slice better when they’re cooler.
- Optional: I roasted the ribs in advance, so about 20 minutes before serving, I brushed the ribs with a glaze I made of 2 parts honey to 1 part soy sauce, covered the serving dish with foil, and popped it into a 350˚ oven until the ribs were warmed through. The soy sauce-honey glaze serves to prevent the ribs from drying out while reheating and also adds another layer of sweet, sweet umami. Can’t go wrong with that.