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Adventures in Recipe Testing: Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Ribs

This piece originally appeared on Edible Monterey Bay's blog in December 2015. Read it there.

 I've decided to repost this piece as some people have asked me what is involved in recipe testing. The restaurant has long been shuttered and I have no idea where Chef Franey is working now.

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.

Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Pork Ribs
Courtesy Jason Franey, executive chef, Restaurant 1833 in Monterey

Ingredients serves 12
  • 6 pounds boneless pork ribs
  • 250 grams (1 cup) Coca-Cola
  • 60 grams (¼ cup) sugar
  • 250 grams (1 cup) water
  • 8 grams (1 tablespoon chopped) serrano pepper
  • 40 grams (1/2 of one whole) onion, sliced
  • 12 grams (4–5 cloves) garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 7 grams (2 tablespoons) whole coriander, toasted
  • 32 grams (1 ½ tablespoons) salt

Dry Rub for Crust
  • 12 grams (1 tablespoon) whole coriander, toasted
  • 10 grams (1 tablespoons) black whole pepper
  • 48 grams (1/4 cup) fried garlic
  • 72 grams (1/3 cup) fried shallots
  • 16 grams (1 tablespoon) guajillo peppers, dried

  • 80 grams (1/3 cup) chicken broth
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup) braise liquid, reduced

  • 25 grams (2 tablespoons) soy sauce
  • 110 grams (1/2 cup) mirin
  • 20 grams (1 tablespoon) yuzu kosho
  • 950 grams (4 cups) water
  • 140 grams (1/2 cup) yuzu juice
  • 140 grams (1/2 cup) lemon juice
  • 500 grams 2 cups fish sauce
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup, or about 16 cloves) garlic, sliced thin
  • 112 grams (1/2 cup) shallots, minced
  • 75 grams (1/3 cup, or 4–5) serrano peppers, sliced thin

To Plate
  • Clarified (or melted) butter
  • 12 sheets of feuilles de brick
  • Ribs
  • Sauce
  • Cilantro

Mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil and pour over ribs roasting pans. Cover with two layers of foil and bake at 350° F for about 1½ hours.

Dry Rub for Crust
 Grind all ingredients fairly coarsely in spice grinder.

In oven, baste ribs with the glaze. Remove from oven and coat the presentation side of ribs with dry rub. Place in oven for 2–3 minutes to bloom spices. Remove from oven and let cool.

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for 24 hours before using.

To Plate 

Brush feuilles de brick with the butter and use to wrap ribs like cigars, as pictured on p. 44. Coat a pan with olive or canola oil and heat to medium. Place “cigars” seam side down in the pan and sear until golden brown. Place a serving of ribs and a small bowl of sauce for dipping on each plate. Garnish bowls of sauce with cilantro leaves.

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