Caramel Pork Ribs

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Caramel Pork Ribs

French recipes were on my mind for an upcoming party for friends who got engaged in Paris. Danny and I daydreamed a bit while flipping through cookbooks: Cassoulet with a shortcut duck confit from David Lebovitz‘s My Paris Kitchen? Julia Child’s Moules à la Marinière? Onion Tart or Gãteau Basque from My Kitchen in France? The winner, as you can tell, was the recipe for ribs. I mean, David calls them CARAMEL pork ribs, and there was no resisting that. Also, the recipe calls for beer and bourbon. Both! Though by that point I was already all in.

Caramel Pork Ribs

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David took inspiration for these ribs from both Texas and Paris — apparently the French love barbecue, too! Cafés in Paris often serve these caramel ribs for lunch with rice, but his recommendation for mashed potatoes and slaw sounds better to me because, hey, I’m très américain.

Danny took charge on putting this one together, which impressed me because he made a caramel like it was no big deal. I think that speaks to David’s clear guidance for making caramel. I royally messed up caramel the first time I tried to make it. When I recovered from that kitchen fail, I turned to DL and his instructions for easily making caramel sans  candy thermometer. It was liberating and, as it turns out, easy. Trust your eyes and your nose.

After making the caramel, the ribs come together easily as the oven does most of the work. The resulting ribs are fork-tender, and all those good ingredients thrown in with the ribs bubble down to a deeply brown and concentrated sauce. The ribs have a sweetness that keeps you going back for just a little more. I can’t wait to bring these to a party this summer (though I’m still looking for a more French recipe for that party, oops).

These ribs also come together in one pot, and for this recipe, as with most these days, we used my favorite one. When I was 16, I dreamed of driving an iridescent orange Lamborghini Diablo. (And when I told Danny that he said I’d never sounded so Miami.) That Lambo dream never came true (duh), but I’m now the proud owner of a Le Creuset dutch oven in a similar shade of tangerine. And at 26, this bright and beautiful kitchen workhorse (soup! ribs! ragu! make anything in this thing!) parked on my stove top is better than a dreamy fast car in my driveway.

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Caramel Pork Ribs

caramel pork ribs

David Lebovitz makes ribs such an easy and delicious task with this recipe. Make a caramel, add a few more delicious ingredients, including beer AND bourbon, and then let the ribs do their thing in the oven for a couple hours. The resulting ribs are luscious and incredibly tender. My husband added instant espresso powder for a little something more in the sauce, but this is of course optional. I think we might add a bit more mustard next time, too. It’s an impressive one-pot meal. We can’t wait to bring these ribs to a summer party.


3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
3/4 cup beer (we used Leffe blonde; you use whatever you like!)
1/4 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/2-inch piece peeled ginger root, minced
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons harissa, Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds pork ribs, cut into 3- or 4-rib portions

Heat oven to 350°F.

To make the caramel, spread the granulated sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large pot with a cover, such as a roasting pan or a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, undisturbed, until the sugar starts to melt around the edges.

Once the liquefied sugar starts to darken to a pale copper color, gently stir the sugar to the center of the pot and continue to cook, stirring until the sugar is completely moistened. Cook, stirring infrequently, until all of it is a deep copper-colored liquid, similar in color to dark maple syrup, and smoking but not burnt. Turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar, then carefully add the beer; it will bubble up and steam. The mixture will seize and harden, but don’t freak out, this is okay.

Let the mixture cool for a minute or so, then stir in the bourbon, cider vinegar, ketchup, ginger, soy sauce, harissa or Sriracha, mustard, instant espresso (if using) and pepper. Put the ribs in the pot and turn on the heat until the sauce boils and bubbles up. Turn the ribs a few times in the liquid to coat evenly. Cover and transfer to the oven; roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone. Two or three times during roasting, remove the pot from the oven and turn the ribs over.

Uncover and continue to roast, turning the ribs a few times, for 30 minutes or until the juices have thickened a bit and the sauce has created a glaze on the ribs.

Skim any visible fat from the surface of the sauce. Transfer ribs to a platter and serve hot or at room temperature with some of the sauce drizzled over them.

Serves 4 to 6.

Recipe adapted ever-so-slightly from My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz.

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