Adventures in Recipe Testing:
Making Chef Jason Franey's Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Ribs
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann
Testing recipes is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s exciting because you are cooking someone else’s recipe that will be published somewhere. And it’s nerve-wracking for exactly that reason—you are cooking someone else’s recipe that will be published somewhere.
When I am tasked with testing a recipe, which I do from time to time for different publishers, I constantly repeat the following mantra in my head: follow the recipe, follow the recipe, follow the recipe.
I am notorious for making tweaks and substitutions when I cook. I’m all about using what I have; I don’t hesitate for a second to swap out one kind of mushroom for another or use a different herb than specified. But—in these instances—the results depend on me following the recipe exactly.
In this case, I was testing Chef Jason Franey’s recipe for Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Pork Ribs that would appear in the Winter 2015 issue of Edible Monterey Bay. I have to be honest: when I read the ingredient list, my eyes might have glazed over and I might have asked myself, “What did you just sign on to cook?”
There are multiple steps and several items that are not common pantry items. His recipe is definitely not for the faint of heart or anyone who is easily deterred. There were times in the process that I actually declared aloud, “I think I would rather just go to 1833 and have him cook it for me!”
“What? Are we going to 1833?” asked my husband, excitedly.
“No, not tonight, but it would be easier,” I answered.
The adventure began when we needed to downsize the recipe. Chef Franey’s recipe serves 60. We modified the amounts to serve 12. And his recipe, as I know all real chefs do, is written in weight measurements. I know, I know—switching from volume to weight is an essential and fundamental step in becoming a better cook. But I’m not there yet. I have made the switch for baking sweets, but not for savories. So, for the home cook, we decided to provide both the volume and the weight measurements.
The recipe didn’t specify ‘boneless’ ribs; so the first time I went to the market, I picked up a rack of baby back ribs. Then I looked at the photo and suspected that maybe I should have purchased boneless. I went back to the store.
Then it began to get really interesting. Chef Franey called for “Yuzu Kosho” and “Feuilles de Brick.” I know what yuzu is and actually had just gotten about a dozen of them. I researched yuzu kosho and made a batch on my own.
Yuzu kosho is a condiment that adds a bold citrusy kick to dishes. It’s a fresh paste made with the zest and juice of multiple citrus fruits. Mine included lemon, grapefruit, lime, and yuzu. It also has the added je ne sais quoi of a little heat, a little salt, and a little sweet. Click here for that recipe.
When I began to search for the Feuilles de Brick, I was less successful. I called supermarkets all over town, followed by all the speciality markets. No luck. Only one person was even familiar with it. She had one-up on me. I was scrambling to describe these sheets—they are sort of like a phyllo dough and sort of like a crêpe. I looked at making my own, but was running out of time.
Chef Franey offered to give me some, so I sent my husband to the restaurant. “What am I picking up?” he asked. “Feuilles de Brick.Just tell him you’re picking it up for Edible Monterey Bay,” I answered.
Because sourcing Feuilles de Brick was so tough, I talked to the publisher about providing readers with some local substitutes. We agreed on phyllo dough as that’s readily available in almost every market.
Once I had all the ingredients, I ended up making three versions because I wasn’t sure if the ribs were baby back or boneless. I made Baby Back Ribs in Feuilles de Brick, Boneless Ribs in Feuilles de Brick, and Boneless Ribs in Phyllo dough.
What an incredible dish. Truly. The finished ribs—which are first braised then crusted with a rub made of coriander, fried garlic, shallots, and guajillo peppers—were an amalgam of textures and a wild combination of flavors. Tender meat, crispy wrapper, tangy, zesty, and salty. The sauce. Let’s talk about that, too. Teeming with Asian flavors, it includes the yuzu kosho, soy sauce, mirin, and more fish sauce than I have seen used in a single dish ever. The garlic, shallots, and cilantro add even more depth and layers of flavor. It was a delicious, finger-licking surprise. Wow!
But it was a complicated recipe. My husband and two boys were torn on which version they liked the best. I still think I would prefer to go to 1833 and just order it. And now, my appreciation of the dish will be heightened by the knowledge of how much work goes into the dish.
Note: Feuilles de Brick can be ordered on amazon: here.