Yesterday, my mom and I went for a stroll down memory lane. About 20 years ago, when I was just about seven years old, we rented a house way up in the mountains in Woodstock, New York. They were the best summers of my life. I was nothing like I am now: scrawny, strong, fearless, and tan, swimming in the rivers, running through the forests, picking wild flowers, and riding horses. It is the first summer I remember food, a kind of knot around my finger to remind me of where I had been.
As I was telling my mom about those hot lazy months, I could recount every meal I ate there. The warm watermelon juice with the seeds still in it from the farm stand. The fresh basil pestos my mom would put on cheese ravioli we brought up from Fairway in the city. The potatoes dauphinois at La Duchesse Anne. The bacon cheeseburgers at Joshua's. The pancakes at Sweet Sues, the hot chocolate at Misty's, and the black raspberry ice cream in town. The Chinese spareribs at The Bear, and the fried calamari at that Italian place whose name I can't remember. But I do remember the bees buzzing around the pizza parlor, and the super summer sweet corn we grilled. It was a summer of sensation--the first time I know I started to link my memories with my meals. Some people have photographic memories; I have a photographic mouth.
The recipes for the next two weeks are inspired by those Woodstock summers. This week, a quatre épices-rubbed baby back rib, dripping in honey, inspired by those Chinese spareribs, and the bees that were everywhere that summer. Quatre épices is a traditional French spice blend, like we would consider Chinese Five Spice Powder, make from black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. I dry rub the ribs in the mixture, and then roast them with honey, until the ribs are sticky, pungent, and surprisingly savory. The meat falls off the bone with one tug of a tooth, and memory lane has never had it so good. These are finger-licking food, low and slow like summer days in Woodstock.
Quatre Epices Honey Roast Ribs
serves 2 to 4
½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ tablespoon ground nutmeg
½ tablespoon ground clove
1 pound baby back ribs, cut into individual ribs
5 tablespoons honey, divided
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon canola oil
Fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large Ziploc bag, shake together the pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Add the ribs to the bag, and shake to coat. Marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, to overnight.
In a small pot, heat 3 tablespoons honey with the vinegar and oil, until the consistency is runny. Line a rimmed baking sheet well with foil. In a large bowl, toss the ribs with salt, and the honey mixture. Arrange the ribs in a single layer on the baking sheet, and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 2 hours, turning twice during cooking. After 2 hours, take off the foil, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons honey in a small pot until runny. Brush the finished ribs with the hot honey, and serve immediately.