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Sweet, spicy ribs: high-brow, down-home

The Baltimore Sun

Virginia Willis is a cook whose life story I can easily relate to. She was brought up in Atlanta and is a life-long devotee of Southern cuisine, but after studying and cooking in France, she also became enchanted with French food. I grew up in Memphis, and to this day make grits for breakfast, bake corn bread almost weekly, and serve crispy fried okra often. And, yes, I too was seduced by la cuisine francaise after studying in Paris while in college.

Imagine, then, my delight when I discovered Virginia's new cookbook, Bon Appetit, Y'all, a collection in which the author combines her Southern heritage with her French training. As I turned the pages, both Southern specialties and French-inspired creations caught my eye, but one dish in particular stood out. Quintessentially Southern, it was Coca-Cola-Glazed Baby Back Ribs. The recipe was simple and had a short list of ingredients. A glaze is prepared with Coke Classic, brown sugar, vinegar, and extra hot Scotch bonnet peppers, and then is slathered on pork ribs as they roast slowly in the oven. When tender, the ribs are run under the broiler for a few minutes to brown, then, voila, they are done.

These ribs did not disappoint. The pork paired beautifully with the sweet notes provided by the Coca-Cola and sugar and were complemented by the robust heat from the chilies.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.


Serves 4

1 cup Coca-Cola Classic

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

2 Scotch bonnet chiles (see note)

2 racks baby back ribs (3 pounds total)

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes or longer. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes or longer, glazing occasionally, until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone. (See note.)

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately with lots of napkins. Makes about 20 pieces.

Note: Virginia Willis notes that Scotch bonnet peppers are intensely hot, but their fire is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar and Coke. She suggests that to tone down the heat, substitute jalapenos instead.

I used Scotch bonnets and chopped them with their seeds, which produced a sauce with plenty of heat. A second time I removed the seeds, then chopped the peppers; I found that this yielded a sauce that was not as hot.

Note: When baking the ribs in my oven, the baby backs needed an extra 25 to 30 minutes until they were tender.

Reprinted with permission from "Bon Appetit, Y'all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking," by Virginia Willis.

Per serving: 925 calories, 38 grams protein, 46 grams fat, 17 grams saturated fat, 89 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 184 milligrams cholesterol, 186 milligrams sodium. Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

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