Bourbon-Dijon baby back ribs

A marinade for oven-baked ribs with great warmth and depth.


In summer I'll happily fire up the barbecue any night of the week and throw some racks of ribs on the grill to be seared, charred and glazed into sticky fabulousness. In winter, however, with the barbecue (and the cook) in hibernation, ribs have to be consigned to both the oven and the weekend: marinated, slowly baked and cosseted into being.

I've experimented with many flavours for oven-baked ribs and this is one of my favourites. Two French names side by side – one via the American South – come together to great effect. The deep, warm tones of bourbon whisky meet their match in the gentle but insistent heat of Dijon mustard. It seems like an odd combination, I'll agree, until you taste it, and then it all makes perfect sense.

A little sweet and salty rounds out the marinade, which you brush onto the ribs for their final half-hour of cooking to create a golden, burnished glaze.

Use whatever cut of pork ribs you prefer: baby back, spare or short. It's also great for a slab of pork belly – marinate but don't glaze once in the oven, to achieve perfectly crisp crackling instead.

Bourbon-Dijon baby back ribs

Serves 2.

2 racks baby back pork ribs
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) bourbon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 star anise
1 clove garlic

In a small bowl, mix the bourbon, mustard, tomato paste, sugar and soy together until well combined.

Place the ribs in a resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Add the star anise and clove of garlic, unpeeled and bruised, and refrigerate overnight.

To cook, set your oven to 160°C (320°F).

Remove the ribs from the bag, reserving the marinade for later. Place the ribs on a rack in a roasting tin and pour in enough water to just cover the base of the tin. The steam it creates will keep the ribs wonderfully moist. Cover the whole tin tightly with a sheet of foil and roast for 1 hour.

Remove the foil and turn the oven up to 200°C (400°F). Baste the ribs with the reserved marinade and cook for another 30 minutes, brushing with marinade a couple more times, until they become golden, glazed and glossy.