The secret to “Fall off the bone” tender ribs is slow-roasting.
So season or marinate a rack of ribs, then wrap it tightly with aluminium foil, twice, and slow roast on low (less than 150c) for 3 hours.
At the end of the 3 hours, if everything went right, you should start to get the aroma of roasting pork (which would be inexplicable if you are roasting beef.)
I find that at 3 hours (at about 120C), the meat is tender, comes clean off the bone, but is not exactly falling off the bone. But if your recipe calls for fall off the bone, then go for 4 hours or more. My previous experiment went with 4 hours, and it was falling off the bone, which presented a bit of a problem as I was trying to fry it.
(The other “by-product” of slow-roasting is the collagen-rich juices that you get from the pork ribs. You should totally work this back into the recipe, but if for some reason you do not need it, save the liquid to make really really tasty ramen soup base. Just imagine, using that collagen rich liquid to flavour your instant noodles. Unctuous!)
So anyway, once your ribs are tender, the next step depends on what you want to do.
Note: The times given are for a small oven (about 35 litres) cos that’s what I have. If you have a bigger oven, you may get the same effect in less time. You should experiment and find out.
BBQ/Grill – marinate or glazed with BBQ sauce, and put it on the BBQ. In this case, you probably want to go with 2 to 3 hours, or the meat could fall off the bone while on the grill and make it very messy, if not difficult to grill.
The marinate is up to you but you probably want something that will caramelise, so something with honey, sugar, or molasses. Gula Melaka BBQ Pork Ribs any one?
(Note to self: Try Gula Melaka Marmite BBQ glaze.)
And you may want to baste the ribs several times to get a good coating of BBQ sauce on the ribs. Or if it is getting really messy, just put the BBQ sauce on the side for dipping.
Oven-Baked – this is for the more “civilised” cook, or one with no access to a outdoor BBQ/grill. Here, watch (Food Wishes) this video.
You use the oven to baked the ribs, but you apply several coats of the BBQ sauce.
Bak Kut Teh. OK, this is a bit of a mind kitchen experiment. I want the meat to be tender, but simmering it in soup for a few hours should have the same effect, right? So why slow-roast, THEN boil?
This may be a personal idiosyncrasy, but I FEEL that simmering the ribs for hours tend to leach all the flavour from the pork, leaving the meat rather tasteless. So Bak Kut Teh eaters then dip the almost flavourless meat in dark soy sauce with sliced red chillies to get some taste.
And of course the broth is great, cos all the flavour of the pork has transferred into the broth.
BUT… if I slow roast the ribs with lots of soy sauce, and white pepper, I should have a very flavourful, and tender rib after 3 hours. Then I boil the garlic, spiced and peppered broth, add the ribs (cut up) AND the collagen-rich juices to the pot and I should have a flavourful broth (from the collagen-rich juices, the bak kut teh spices, the pepper and the garlic), and meat that is still tasty and tender. Something to try.
Fry. But what I have been doing is frying the ribs after they have been slow-roasted, and cut into individual ribs.
Oil the wok or frying pan, and bring to medium high heat, and fry the ribs. If there’s marinade or seasoning, these may stick to the pan. After frying all the ribs, you can deglaze the pan with diced onions, or your usual way. For the Harissa sauce, after deglazing the pan with onions, and garlic, add tomato paste and Harissa sauce (you can use sambal or Sriracha, or whatever you want to try. My wok has a ceramic lining so it doesn’t have a sticking problem, so I just add onions, once the fond is deglazed, turn down or turn off heat, add tomato paste, and Harissa.
Another time, I added the pork juices to corn flour, smoked paprika, and coarse black pepper, mixed well, and added it to the onions deglazing the wok.
I had corn flour because that time I coated the ribs with cornflour (seasoned with paprika and black pepper) before frying. This gave the ribs a crispy coating. I was going to pour the marinade over the ribs and baked it some more, but after the ribs had crisped up, baking seemed redundant, so I just provided the black pepper and onions sauce as a dip.