Lambic braised slow-cooker ribs with jus BBQ sauce

These 2-step slow cooker ribs use lambic beer as a braising liquid, and can be finished by using the jus to create your own BBQ sauce.

Ribs, before they are baked in the sauce.

Slow cooker ribs can be done so many ways. Here is the method I like to use. This is a two-cook method so it is important not to overcook the ribs in the slow cooker. You want them tender, but not fall-off-the-bone. They should hold up in the oven.

It s very unlike me to engage in a two-step cooking process, but for this recipe, it is worth the extra effort.

What you need

1 large onion quartered or sliced
1 package loin baby back or St Luis style ribs
6 oz of beer… I used Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic (see notes)

Spice rub:

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 bay
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3-5 whole cloves or allspice corns
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

For the BBQ sauce:
Braising liquid (strained and defatted, if desired)
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce or gochujang (spicy chili sauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

How you do:

Season the ribs with your spice mixture. Load onions into the bottom of the slow cooker and lay ribs on top. Alternatively, curl ribs around the sides of the slow cooker. Pour the Lambic into the bottom of the dish and cover. Get a big glass and enjoy some Lambic while you relax. Cook on low for 6 hours. Resist temptation to lift the lid.

When the ribs are done, line a sheet pan with foil, parchment, or other non-stick surface and heat oven to 375F. Move the ribs to the pan and section them, if desired.

Strain the liquid left in the cooker (you can save the onions for a stir-fry or as a garnish, if you like). Use a fat separator to remove the fat and move the jus to a medium sauce pan, reserving a few tablespoons to mix with the cornstarch (slurry). Add the sugar, chili sauce, and cornstarch slurry. Cook on high to reduce sauce to desired thickness…between 10-20 minutes.

Brush some sauce onto the ribs and put them in the oven for 45 minutes, glazing with the sauce every 10-15 minutes or so.

Notes:

Lambic is a sour, fruity beer that comes in various flavors. It is delightful and refreshing in the summer. Lindeman’s peach and raspberry are my favorites, but any will do for this recipe. What I like about this beer is that it adds acidity and sweetness to the mix. However, you can use any beer or cider you like. If you use the lambic, get the big bottle so you can have some while you cook and then serve it with dinner.

How to make better chicken stock

Photo by Bil Harding, via Flickr

Here is the deep dark secret to developing the “chickeniest” chicken stock you’ve ever tasted. Plus, my genius (stolen) ideas for straining and cooling. With my apologies to the vegetarians.

The goal for this recipe is to achieve a deeply flavored bone stock that is fundamentally “chicken.” It takes on a jello consistency when chilled. It can be used to make soup or to flavor other dishes for any type of cuisine (ok, except vegetarian). Also, I’m sorry for the intro photo.

There are a ton of chicken stock recipes out there. Most of them call for an addition of aromatic vegetables, and flavorful spices or herbs.

But I’m here to tell you to knock it off.

Here is the recipe:

A large stock pot (tall, not wide), pressure cooker large enough to fit everything, or a crock pot .
A fine mesh strainer
A large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath
A variety of freezer-safe containers. I find 32 oz, 16 oz, and ice cube trays (with lids) the most useful.

1-3 chicken or turkey carcasses (with some meat still on), leftover wings, neck, skin, or any other tendon-rich pieces. I keep carcasses in my freezer and when I have a couple of them, I make stock.
Water
Optional: 1 tablespoon of salt or less

Put the carcasses in your stock pot and put just enough water to hit the top of the bones. Do not overfill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to simmer for 8 hours or overnight. If using an electric pressure cooker, follow the same directions, then check your manual for heat, time, and release instructions. With a crockpot, be sure everything fits (you will not be able to make as much at one time).

When the stock is ready, fit a fine mesh strainer over a large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath. A fine mesh strainer is usually good enough for my needs. However, sometimes, I prefer clearer stock. If you do also, run it through the fine mesh, then, in a secondary process, add a cheese cloth to the stainer and run it through again. (If you try to do the cheese cloth during the first run, it will get clogged really quickly.) The bowl sitting in the ice bath is a great method to start the cooling process quickly. The faster you can get it cooled and into the freezer, the less time there is for bacteria to set in.

Empty the strained stock into your smaller vessels often so you can get them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The fridge-first method is a good idea—it reduces steam condensation and deters freezer burn, and it allows you to gauge the success (does it look like jello) of your stock. Once the stock is cold you can move it to the freezer and keep it for 2-3 months. If you use ice trays, freeze them overnight then pop the cubes into a freezer safe bag for storage.

What is missing?

Do not add any onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chiles, parsley, cilantro, or any other fresh plants. Sure, adding these things are traditional and make you feel like you are “adding flavor” to make your stock.

But these other ingredients turns your stock into chicken/vegetable stock, and the result is usually not very good because vegetables release flavor much more quickly than bone and don’t improve with long cooking. Make a vegetable stock on its own in about 30 minutes and you’ll like the flavor better.

I’m not opposed to adding some spices, such as peppercorns, bay, and thyme. However, I have found they aren’t necessary, because you will likely use them in the secondary process. Others such as anise, cinnamon, can bring in either an Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Be cautious, however, because those distinctive flavors can clash with other cuisines. And again, you will likely add them to your final dish.

One note: It is better to under salt than over salt. I have two reasons: One, if you are using a leftover carcass, it is likely there is already salt on the bird, particularly if it was brined. Two, you are going to add salt to your final dish. This is a base ingredient and it does not need to be salty.

One more note: I do not talk about fat. There are ways to remove it. I’m not going to go into those methods, because I like the fat in my broth. Fat is flavor.

Make the Stock Even Better

There are additional ways to improve this stock. I’m approaching it from the idea of using what is leftover after a holiday or Sunday night dinner with family. If you really want to get exceptional stock, buy chicken feet from your butcher and use that alone or along with your carcass and pieces. Tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue are what make stock great. Chicken feet are nothing but tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue.

A pressure cooker is the best way to get a really “essential” stock flavor. The way pressure cookers force liquid into food at a high heat produces a caramelization that simply cannot be achieved with slow cook methods. The result is a deep and complex stock in a fraction of the time. It is great for cooking in the summer as well. My only problem with the pressure cooker is that mine has a 10-cup capacity, which includes the bones. It is a lot of work to make stock for such little output.

So there you have it. The best chicken stock recipe I’ve found is the one that emphasizes technique and contains no extra ingredients.

Crockpot Chicken Chili 2 Ways

Two basic basic chili recipes are made more flavorful with fresh chili powder made from scratch.

Ok, there are three different recipes in this post so hold on to your hats! We have chili often at our house. It’s easy and pretty healthy. Serve chili with shredded cheese, green onions, chocolate chips, sour cream, avocado, and/or chopped tomatoes.

First up: the chili seasoning.

Make your own chili seasoning

3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried Pasilla chiles
3 dried Guajillo chiles

1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Choose some dried chiles from the market. I like a mix of Ancho, Pasilla, and Guajillo, for a sweet/smokey combo that isn’t too hot. Use a combo that makes sense to you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

To prep the chiles, stem and seed them by cutting off the tops with kitchen shears and shaking or scraping out the seeds (SAFETY: Use gloves and be sure not to touch your eyes). Cut the chiles into small pieces and toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for 5 minutes until they become fragrant.

When the chilis are toasted, put them in a blender and grind them finely. Don’t open the container, and be sure to let the contents settle for a minute once they are done. Transfer the powder to a spice container and add the rest of the ingredients.

Note about the sugar: Not everyone adds sugar, but I like to play with salty sweet in my food. In addition, this makes an epic dry rub for tri-tip meant for the grill.

Fast and Easy Chicken Chili

1 lb of chicken tenders or breast
1/4 cup chili powder or chili seasoning (see below to make your own)
1 medium chopped onion
1 12 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
6-12 oz. water or broth
1 1/2 cups (1 can) pinto, navy, or black beans rinsed and drained
Optional: 1 bell pepper

Stew the chicken with onion chili seasoning, onion, bell pepper, sauce, and water for at least 4 hours on low. Add the beans 20 minutes before serving.

You can easily adapt this recipe for the stove top. Brown the chicken with the onions. After the chicken is cooked, add the seasoning and stir on high for 2-5 minutes. Add the other ingredients except the beans and cook on low for at least 1/2 hour. Be sure it comes to a strong simmer. Add the beans 5 minutes before serving.

All Day Bean and Bacon Chicken Chili

1/2 package of bacon cooked, drained, and chopped
1/1/2 cups (15 oz) dry beans of your choice
7 cups chicken broth or water
1 lb chicken breast
1 small/medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped.
1/4 cup chili seasoning, divided into 2 portions
1 can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce

Pour rinsed beans into slow cooker. Add the chicken, bacon, onion, green pepper, garlic, and half of the chili seasoning.

Add 7 cups of broth or water and put lid on slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-5 hours (or low for 8-9 hours). When beans are tender, add tomatoes and remainder of chili seasoning. Cook on low for an another hour.

Stop your ovens. It’s officially time for the summer cooking series.

We kick off the season with Jalapeno poppers!

Photo by Tim Evanson, via Flickr.

This week, the temperatures at our house reached the high 90s. That means there will be no more baking, roasting, or braising for the foreseeable future. The hottest times of the year leave us with four options for cooking: the stove top, the grill, the slow cooker, and the electric pressure cooker.

If we had a smoker, I’d add that too. We go to other peoples houses for smoked foods. I might head over to my bro’s house for a lesson in smoke to share.

But tonight, I’m making stuffed jalapenos. To avoid baking these in the oven, I’ll use the toaster oven,. You could also put these on the grill using a grill pan or sheet.

I love the aroma and flavor of jalapenos, even if I don’t always like the spice of them. I often use pickled jalapenos instead of fresh, because they are a bit more mild. Baking them also soothes the spicy beast, especially if you remove the pith and ribs.

Super Simple Stuffed Jalapenos for the Toaster Oven

3 jalapenos (green ones will be more mild than those with red or orange coloring.)
1/2 package of bacon
1/2 package of cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (or more if desired)

SAFETY FIRST: Really and truly– wear gloves and protect your eyes while you work with hot peppers. Jalapeno juice can spray while you remove the insides. And the spice offers lasting pain if it gets into an open hangnail, for example. Wash your hands and knife before using it again.

Slice the jalapenos lengthwise. Remove the seeds, pith, and ribs using a spoon. Arrange them on a lined baking sheet that fits in your toaster and set aside. Cook the bacon over medium low heat until crispy. Chop it into small bits and put it into a bowl with the cream cheese, sour cream and garlic powder. NOTE: I’ve tried this with more intense flavorings, but I feel as though the bacon, the cream cheese, and the jalapeno flavor can really shine when they are left alone.

Fill the peppers with your bacon/cream cheese ambrosia, and top with cheddar. Be generous with the filling and with the topping.

Pop those bad boys into the toaster for 15-20 minutes at 350F. You want the cheese on top to get a super melty and bubbly and you want tender peppers.

ANOTHER SAFETY TIP: Toaster ovens can be temperamental, so don’t walk away. Depending on your oven, you might need an additional 5 minutes, or you might need to pull them out if they start to get charred on top.