Grilled Baby Back Ribs

People don’t associate French cooking with grilling. But if you go to any neighborhood festival in the summer, out in the countryside, there’s invariably a grill covered with sausages, including merguez, lined up and sizzling away, as well as a broche with something turning on the spit, being lapped with flames, roasting to perfection.

Another thing that people don’t know, including me, was that you can cook baby back ribs in less than 30 minutes, ending up with tender ribs using a grill pan – no fire needed! That’s an especially good thing if you’re a city dweller and don’t have access to a grill, or it’s forbidden, as it is in Paris for safety reasons, which is understandable; the city has been through a number of rebuilds and doesn’t need another one.

The word barbecue in English comes from la barbe à la queue, or, from the beard to the tail, and what you see at those countryside festivals is often a whole beast roasting away, while people hover around, drinking wine, waiting until it’s ready.

My friend Susan Loomis spent years living in the French countryside and now divides her time between Normandy, and Paris, where she teaches cooking classes, enjoying the best of both worlds.

Susan’s book latest book, French Grill: 125 Refined & Rustic Recipes, celebrates the flavors and traditions of grilling in France with everything from grilled vegetables and aïoli and chicken wings with herbs de Provence, to duck breast à l’orange, and éclade, a layer of mussels cooked under pine needles, a ritual I took part in last summer. (You can see the fiery, dramatic cooking of the mussels in action on my Instagram Stories.)

Susan’s book even has grilled sablés, Normandy shortbread cookies, which she brought over when I invited her for lunch, where she made the Côtes de porc grillé, or Grilled Baby Back Ribs, French Style (page 162.) I didn’t quite believe you could have tender ribs in about thirty minutes – and until I tasted her lovely cookies, I didn’t believe you could grill cookies! – but she told me that she came up with this recipe when guests arrived for a party at her house in the country with a few racks of ribs, and she needed to cook them quickly.

In the book, Susan mentions how grilling is often seen as “man’s work,” and men hover around, making suggestions about how she should be grilling, practically grabbing the tongs out of her hands. Not sure if mansplaining has a translation in French, but I was at the demo of a bartender and bar owner in Paris and winced a few times when she was asked if doing her job, and hiring other women to work with her, was a political statement.

Having worked with, alongside, and for women, most of my life in restaurant kitchens, I don’t spend time thinking about if women could or couldn’t cook, bake, mix, or grill something up as good as, or worse, or better, than I could. Having said that, knowing Susan for a number of years, and seeing her behind the stove, and at the grill, I let her do her thing. Because she’s definitely the boss of the grill, at least in my house.

The secret of these ribs isn’t a long list of ingredients. Smoked paprika, fresh garlic, and cumin each have dynamic flavors that come together to complement, and provide a counterpoint, to the tender, juicy pork. But we both agreed when we sat down to eat the ribs later, that the freshly toasted and ground cumin was key to the flavor. The garlic may get a little char when cooking, but as long as you turn the ribs before the garlic gets too dark, that roasty flavor is also part of the appeal.

Susan had never cooked these in a grill pan, which worked very well. And sure enough, we were sitting down and eat ribs, and licking our fingers, not long after she started.

Grilled Baby Back Ribs
Print Recipe
4 to 6 servings
Adapted from French Grill: 125 Refined & Rustic Recipes by Susan Herrmann LoomisAlthough I've given instructions for cooking them on the stovetop, for this quantity of ribs, you may need two pans. We did one batch in a grill pan and the other in a cast iron skillet. If you only have one pan, you can keep the first batch warm on a baking sheet on in a baking dish, covered in foil in a moderately hot oven, while you cook the second batch or ribs. For best results, toast and grind your own cumin. It does make a difference although ground cumin can be used.Susan's recipe uses baby back ribs. In France, we get travers du porc. Like any grilled meat recipe, use the instructions for cooking as guidelines. If you see (or smell) the garlic burning, turn the ribs over, then turn them back again a few minutes later. The total cooking time was about 30 minutes on my stove.
2 pounds (1kg) baby back ribs, trimmed of excess fat
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional oil for the preparing the pan
1. Cut the rack of ribs into portions of 4 or 5 ribs, or whatever size will fit in your pan. For this recipe, using 2 pounds (1kg) ribs, she cut them into four portions. Put them in a large bowl.
2. Toast the cumin in a skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool, then grind the seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle with the salt. (If you don't have either, place them in a sturdy freezer bag and whack them with a hammer.) Sprinkle them over the ribs, along with the minced garlic, several generous turns of freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika, and olive oil. Rub the seasonings into the ribs and let them stand for 1 hour at room temperature. They can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. (If you refrigerate them, let them come to room temperature before grilling.)
3. When ready to cook the ribs, brush a grill pan with oil and heat it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. (If using two pans, simply follow the instructions, dividing the ribs into the two skillets.) Add the ribs to the pan, fattiest side down. Check after a few minutes to make sure the garlic isn't burning. If it is, turn the ribs over.
4. After about 7 minutes, turn the ribs, if you haven't yet, and cover the pan. I used a lid from a stockpot. Continue to cook the ribs, turning them as necessary, but leaving them in place long enough so the fatty side turns a deep golden brown.
5. Cook until the ribs are tender when poked with a sharp knife; if you cut into one, the meat next to the bone should be cooked through and not pink, which will take 20 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and leave the ribs covered in the pan for another 5 minutes before serving.

Serving: Cut the ribs into pieces and serve on a platter, warm. Serve with a salad of your choice. I especially like <a href="https://www.davidlebovitz.com/cole-slaw-with-wasabi-dressing/">slaw</a>-<a href="https://www.davidlebovitz.com/chicken-mango-cole-slaw-recipe/">type</a> salads with grilled meat.

Note: If you want to cook the ribs on a traditional grill, Susan explains how to do that in her book, which involves cooking them over a hot grill for about 35 minutes, turning them a couple of times and keeping the grill closed when not turning them, until they are well-browned on all sides.

 

 

 

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28 comments

  • Joan
    October 4, 2018 5:18pm

    “Not sure if mansplaining has a translation in French,…”

    I was trying to translate mansplaining to a my French girlfriends the other day. They instantly understood the meaning and we coined a French phrase equivalent … “expliqu’homme”.

    We’ll see if it catches on …

    By the way, I have a Le Creuset grill pan and these ribs will be the next meal I cook on it, inside my little apartment. One less trip to Melt or Stevenot. Thank you ! Reply

    • phanmo
      October 4, 2018 6:45pm

      Mec-splanation Reply

    • Emma
      October 8, 2018 2:41pm

      In fact it already has a good translations
      mecxplication, mecxpliqueur,

      I’m French and I like it, it works ! Reply

    • Antonia
      October 8, 2018 2:44pm

      Hi, the translation of mansplaining that I heard last year is mecspliquer, which if anything, is more perfect than the English… Reply

  • October 4, 2018 5:35pm

    My husband grills all.the.time. As we live downwind from the salle des fêtes, I can attest that many French grill a lot. They make all kinds of things on the huge rolling iron firepit, including mussels and paella. Most often, though, it’s an entire animal, often a sanglier (boar) or a chevreuil (a small deer) or even, for big events, a whole taureau. Down in these parts, ribs are called petits os (little bones) or croustilous, which is a delightful word.
    Will be trying out this recipe! Reply

    • October 4, 2018 9:18pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s amazing to see those firepits, and spits, they set up in villages in France. And yes, those large ones for whole cows are enormous. It takes the whole day to cook them! Reply

  • Nicol henderson
    October 4, 2018 5:49pm

    I was very excited to see Susan, my first time in France was to her cooking school in Louviers in 03. I fell in love with France and have been back 4 Xs since. I love your posts David, keep up the good work and say HELLO to Susan for me next time you see her. Reply

  • Cyndy
    October 4, 2018 6:02pm

    If you go into a charcuterie or supermarket meat aisle and wish to buy baby back ribs in France, what is the French term for that cut of meat? Reply

    • October 4, 2018 8:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      They are travers de porc. I put a picture of mine, linked, in the headnote to the recipe. Reply

  • Victoria
    October 4, 2018 6:03pm

    These look delicious. James Beard’s rib recipe is, seriously, for only salt and pepper on ribs that are then cooked in a 350°F oven for 90 minutes, turning every 30 minutes. They get crispy and delicious. I bet you could do these that way too and might be good for the good who doesn’t have a good exhaust fan. Reply

  • Lauren Taylor
    October 4, 2018 6:30pm

    What would you suggest as the cook time if you wanted to do these on a grill instead of a grill pan? I don’t have a grill pan, but since fall has hit I want to grill every weekend! Reply

    • October 4, 2018 8:55pm
      David Lebovitz

      You can cook them on the grill. I gave brief instructions on how to do it after the recipe (and it’s explained fully in the book) but it’s basically the same process of cooking them on both sides, then “tenting” them and cooking the ribs, while they’re standing, on their ends, too. Reply

  • Tati
    October 4, 2018 6:31pm

    Can’t wait to try these! I don’t have access to a grill (Brooklyn 2nd floor apartment) so I’m looking forward to trying this. I also like the advice above about finishing in the oven – perhaps I’ll try to sear them on the stovetop first before finishing in the oven. Thanks for all of the detailed information and tips! (Thanks to Susan, too, of course!!) Reply

  • October 4, 2018 6:39pm

    A friend who lives in Switzerland has said that (at least where she lives) the translation of “to mansplain” is mecspliquer. Perfect, don’tcha think? Reply

    • phanmo
      October 4, 2018 6:46pm

      Oops, beat me to it! Reply

    • Louise
      October 5, 2018 7:27pm

      Also used in Canada. Reply

    • Joan
      October 6, 2018 11:51pm

      Perfect ! Reply

  • phanmo
    October 4, 2018 6:44pm

    These look delicious David!
    I have to mention that the word barbeque comes, through Spanish, from the Arawak word barbacoa. The “barbeque au queue” is considered a false etymology based on the similarity in sound.

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/barbecue

    http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/barbecue/substantif&nbsp;Reply

  • October 4, 2018 7:46pm

    Can’t wait to try these. I am loving Susan’s grilling cookbook and everything I have made so far has been a hit in my household. Reply

  • natacha liuzzi
    October 4, 2018 8:03pm

    I can’t wait to try these, David! Thank you for the mansplaining giggle! Reply

  • Sharon
    October 4, 2018 9:11pm

    Looks good and I’m curious to try this.

    Is there a step 4. ? Reply

  • Catherine
    October 5, 2018 2:48am

    As I don’t like pork, I am planning to use lamb ribs which are very easy to get here in Melbourne because of all the Middle Eastern butcher shops! Delicious. Cannot wait. Reply

  • Jill
    October 5, 2018 4:44am

    What a nifty idea! Ribs in 30 minutes WOW!!!!

    Thanks David. Hv a beautiful day. Reply

  • Bernadette
    October 5, 2018 10:24am

    I’m from Australia and we loveour Bbq’s here, so am so keen to try this out very soon. I have read Susan’s book she first wrote on her arrival in Normandy, and actually made my husband detour from Le Tour! we were following, to visit her town.
    Can I get this grill book in Australia yet? Bernadette. Reply

    • October 5, 2018 6:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know but most books are available internationally through Book Depository, with free shipping to most countries worldwide. Reply

  • October 6, 2018 10:45pm

    Thanks to Susan Loomis “French Farmhouse Cookbook”, I was able to make my first sourdough starter and, after a few months, bake edible breads in the US.
    I will definitely try these ribs. Reply

  • Rochelle
    October 9, 2018 8:35am

    Do you think that other meats can also cook quickly with this technique, like the bigger beef ribs?
    And please post the grilled sables recipe! Grilled cookies sound wonderful! Reply

    • October 9, 2018 11:18am
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t tried it with beef ribs (we don’t get those in France, or at least I’ve never seen them) but if you try them, please let us know here in the comments how they work out.

      I don’t post two recipes from the same book on my blog, as a courtesy to the author and publisher. But perhaps you can find the recipe elsewhere or pick up a copy of the book. They really were terrific. Reply

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