Pomegranate Braised Baby-Back Ribs

It's no secret that food writers are regularly contacted by PR reps interested in offering us free products in the hopes that we'll write about them on our blogs. While of these pitches can be pretty lame, occasionally something will come through the wire that actually sounds pretty good. I particularly like when I get offers to try out products that I can actually use in my own recipes, as was the case recently when a company offered to send me a box of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I am not a juice drinker. Regardless of the reported health and antioxidant benefits of certain juices, I'd much rather chew my calories than drink them. But when the odd bottle of something ends up in my refrigerator, I'm usually quick to find savory uses for it. This is how I've learned that pure fruit juices (not "juice cocktails") make incredible braising or poaching liquids. Orange juice is perfect with poultry and seafood. Cranberry juice is brilliant on brisket. And pomegranate juice makes a to-die-for base for a slab of sticky, sweet, savory baby-back ribs. Actually, pomegranate juice is wonderful on a lot of things. I've used it to braise pork shoulder, tenderloin, and brisket. It's a great non-alcoholic way to deglaze a pan after searing a steak for a quick, tangy pan sauce. It's also lovely reduced with some honey or sugar and drizzled over various desserts. Apparently, you can also drink it.

These pomegranate-braised baby-back ribs are my favorite, though. They're easy to make since they cook in the oven for a few hours while you can be off doing other things. No need to worry about cleaning the grill or burning the glaze! They are also a great party dish since everything can be prepared a day ahead and then just reheated in the braising liquid over medium heat for about 20 minutes before serving. Or make them on Sunday afternoon to serve later on in the week. I honestly think they taste even better this way!

As a tip, I suggest doubling or tripling the dry rub recipe and keeping it in a plastic baggie or jar. It's also great on steak, shrimp, or even mixed into ground beef for burgers. The ribs cook slow and low in the oven until they're practically falling off the bone. Then the pot is brought back up on the stove and reduced until it's a nice thick glaze. If you find yourself with leftover sauce after the ribs are served, quickly steam up a batch of frozen or fresh green beans, and toss them in the warm sauce. Add a little chili oil and you've got yourself a nice sweet & spicy side dish.

Oh, and while I used the POM Wonderful juice that I was sent (the kind that comes in those adorable little round bottles), this recipe would work just as well with other tangy and strong-flavored juices such as 100% blueberry or cranberry juice. (No cocktails!)

Pomegranate Braised Baby-Back Ribs

(serves 4)

1 large slab baby-back ribs (about 10 ribs)

Ingredients for the dry rub:

1 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons coarse sea or kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet, depending on your taste)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1 teaspoon dry crushed bay leaves

Ingredients for the braising liquid:

2 cups 100% pomegranate juice (with no added sugars, such as POM Wonderful)
1/2 cup whiskey
2 tablespoons jam of a sweet, non-berry fruit (such as apricot, guava, peach)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire or steak sauce (such as A1)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed


Cut the slab of ribs in half. Combine all the dry ingredients for the rub and sift well. Rub a generous handful of the mix (you'll have quite a bit left over) onto each side of the slabs. Place the ribs in the base of a dutch oven or heavy duty baking pan, cover, and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 1/2 hour (or overnight). Note that it's OK if they overlap a little as they'll shrink down during cooking.

When you are ready to cook the ribs.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.

Pull the ribs out of the refrigerator and let them reach room temperature.(Do not rinse off rub.) Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients of the braising liquid in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just warm and the jam has dissolved into the liquid. Pour this over the ribs in the dutch oven, making sure to evenly distribute. Cover with the top (or foil if using a pan).

Braise in 250 degree oven for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven and place the dutch oven over medium heat on the stovetop. Without removing the ribs, heat the sauce and let it simmer until it reduces to a thick glaze (about 10 minutes).

Serve the ribs with the sauce drizzled over (about 2-3 ribs per person) and a side of wilted greens or mashed potatoes. Any leftovers can be placed back in the sauce and refrigerated, then reheated over medium heat right on the stove.

How to Eat Soufflé

I used to make something I called Sugar Soufflé. I didn't really make it so much as I collected handfuls of sparkly mica-flecked rocks from under the back porch, placed them all into a pile, and imagined that they were a delicious airy concoction that tasted of vanilla, marshmallows, and melted butterscotch ice cream. I served this odd, tasteless dish to my brother and the neighbor girl who was forced to play with my 6-year-old weirdness. Though the reality of Sugar Soufflé was disappointing and, well, rock-like, the fantasy was acutely delicious. I can still just about picture how good it tasted in my head, and I suspect I've spent the proceeding two decades searching for a flavor that would match that which I'd imagined so long ago.

My first soufflé certainly ignored many of the basic principles of souffle-making. Outside of the imagination, rocks are typically too heavy to keep aloft among the delicate peaks of a stiffly beaten meringue. Puree, however, works perfectly. A few months ago, I read a great little post by one of my favorite food bloggers, Zen Chef, who wrote about how he--in a pinch--transformed a half-melted carton of Ciao Bella passion fruit sorbet into a restaurant caliber dessert. As an undying fan of passion fruit, I always have a carton of that particular sorbet in the freezer (or icy and melty on a table near me) and decided that perhaps it was time to put this recipe into action.

Half-way through an episode of Lost, I bopped up from the couch and went into the kitchen where I started mixing and beating and sugaring my way to my very first passion fruit sorbet. It looked perfect. Light and with an airy rise a full inch above the rim of the ramekin, this souffle was impressive. But there was just one problem; it didn't taste like much. Maybe it was the eggs or the sorbet, but the passion fruit flavor was lost among the egginess and all I tasted was something that tasted like a sweet, airy omelet. It wasn't *bad* per se, but it wasn't at all what I expected.

My boyfriend and I each finished one souffle, and the leftovers were wrapped and placed in the fridge. "Maybe I'll eat it for breakfast," I told him.

But then I forgot about it.

Two days later and the (now totally collapsed) souffle was still sitting in the fridge. Craving something sweet, I finally pulled it out and scooped it into a plate. Topped with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a handful of berries, I sat down on the couch to eat what I expected would be a passable treat. OH. MY. GOD. was I wrong! It was...incredible! I can't even describe how transformed this cold, fallen souffle tasted. It was as if the passion fruit had suddenly woken up and bathed itself in a silky caramel-tinged custard. With the mild whipped cream and the tartness of the berries, this was pure delight. I offered Eugene a bite who agreed that this dessert had come a long way since the sugary omelet of a few days past.

I ate it slowly, not wanting the goodness to end, and not until I near the end did it finally hit me. Sugar Souffle!! This was precisely the flavor I'd been imagining all along.

The recipe for the original souffle came from here, but if you really want to taste what my childlike imagination conjured all those years ago, I suggest you let them cool, cover with plastic wrap, and keep in the fridge overnight. The next day, top with some berries and a big plop of whipped cream. I think you'll like...

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