~Lo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs~
Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper, is perhaps the most famous. Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water. The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.
The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I've watched people bend racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual ribs. That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that. After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts. The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.
Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers. I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.
I bought two. At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment. My rational: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club -- three racks per pack. After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd. I bought them for last year's tailgate season, and, the moment they arrived, I couldn't wait to plug my two new toys in.
Important Note: Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon. That said, it's worth noting that two small racks of ribs will fit in one crockpot casserole and affects nothing about the recipe.
Because the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds). Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.
The "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".
In a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655. Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub. By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce. When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture. Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.
Scratch-made or store-bought marinade? Your choice.
The Jamaicans have cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces. In a pinch there's no shame and little compromise in using them. When it comes to making my jerk-style baby-back spare-ribs, I like to use a wet marinade (as opposed to a paste), and, when time is short, it's the Walkerswood brand that I reach for.
Note: The following is recipe my copycat of theirs. It makes 4 1/4 cups (36 ounces), which is about the equivalent of 2, 17-ounce bottles of store-bought (34 ounces), about 5 cups. Two cups marinade is enough to marinate 3 large or 2 small racks of baby back ribs -- two cups is also enough to marinate 2 whole chickens that have been split in half (4 half chickens) to make jerk chicken. I'm freezing the rest for a round of jerk on another day.
Making my all-purpose don't worry, be happy jerk marinade:
8 ounces large-diced red onion (about 2 cups)
4 ounces diced green onion (about 1 cup)
2 ounces large-diced ginger root (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
1 ounce whole garlic cloves (about 6 large cloves)
4 Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, stems removed
1 cup lime juice, preferably fresh or high-quality organic, not from concentrate
1 cup malt vinegar
1/4 cup mild-flavored molasses
1/4 cup dark rum
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
6 teaspoons ground allspice
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
4 teaspoons sea salt
4 teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
~Step 1. Prep and place red onion, green onion, ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnets in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients. Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl. Add the lime juice, vinegar, molasses, rum and all dry spices. Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses. With motor running, through feedtube, drizzle in the oil, then process with motor running 30-45 more seconds. There will be a generous 4 cups marinade.
Prepping, marinating & slow-cooking the ribs:
~Step 1. To prep ribs for marination, remove from packaging, pat dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack. Don't know how? Read ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~. Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.
~Step 2. Stack the rib sections inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been doubled for extra strength protection against leaks from sharp bones poking through. Add two cups of the marinade (homemade or store-bought) to the bag. Seal tightly. Using your fingertips, squish the bag of rib section to evenly distribute the marinade. Do this a few times until the ribs are thoroughly coated. Place in the refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight. Overnight is best. Up to 48 hours is even better.
~Step 3. Spray the inside of the crock casseroles with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the rib sections to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary. Four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively. Use a spoon to distribute the marinade remaining in the bag over tops of ribs.
~Step 4. Cover the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, on low for 1-1/2-2 hours, depending upon your preference for doneness (to-the-tooth to fall-off-the bone). That said, the tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs should easily glide through and come out on the other side.
~Step 5. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat. Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan. Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan. Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until bubbly and brown.
Tex-Mex ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; large rubber spatula; paper towels 2, 2-gallon food-storage bags; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush
Cook's Note: Prefer rice with your ribs? In Jamaica, they make a dish, coconut rice, and it's served as a side-dish to fiery Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats. This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)