Bacon ribs don’t seem to be as popular in modern Ireland as they were in my Grandad’s youth. He likes his bacon ribs boiled with cabbage until both are tender, then served with a pile of buttery mashed potatoes. Ribs were far cheaper to buy 80 odd years ago than they are now but they are still a frugal cut of bacon to enjoy for a family meal.
Mam remembers this dish being prepared as she was growing up (Grandad will turn 99 this year, Mam obviously is an awful lot younger!). She absolutely detested it, she said that the smell of the boiling cabbage would linger in the hall when she got home from school and she would have to eat a mound of slimy, over-cooked cabbage because that was the way Grandad liked it.
I find it very interesting that my husband’s family always ate their bacon ribs in a completely different way. I wonder if Mam had been exposed to their way of eating the ribs when she was growing up, would she be persuaded to try them nowadays?
My husband loves his bacon ribs boiled until tender, then served with massive hunks of fresh, white “turnover” bread slathered in golden Irish butter. When he worked at night and still lived with his parents, his mother would put the pot on to simmer as he left for work. In the wee hours of the morning he’d return home to lift the ribs and use the slabs of soft yielding white bread to mop up the salty juices.
His late supper/early breakfast was washed down with pints of strong builder’s tea, sweetened with 2 spoons of sugar. I’ve since convinced him that he’s sweet enough without the sugar, but this traditional Irish dish is one that we still have every now and again. The lads sit around the table and bicker over who’s getting the biggest portion or who will get the last rib. If I ditch all but one slice of the bread, add in a fresh salad with a zingy fat-free dressing, then this meal (which would normally be high enough in fat and salt) becomes more healthy and virtuous.
Great pigs make beautiful pork and amazing bacon. There’s an old saying that the only part of a pig you can’t eat is the squeal. We’ve taken that saying to heart by using up as much of the pork that we rear as we possibly can. This recipe was made using our own bacon ribs but you can buy bacon ribs easily in your local craft butcher. Be sure to ask whether or not the ribs are Irish if it matters to you – of the 3 butchers locally that I enquired, only 1 had Irish bacon ribs.
I don’t throw away the salty liquor left over from boiling the bacon ribs. I cool the liquid, then skim off any fat before freezing it if I don’t use it straight away. The stock is brilliant for adding flavour to a soup, boiling potatoes in their jackets or cooking vegetables.
While some of the vegetables I’ve used in the salad may seem a bit alien, actually we grow and/or rear most of the ingredients I’ve used. Grandad may not be familiar with them from his youth but we grow plenty of “unusual” vegetables and fruit in our allotment.
Read on to the bottom to see how I’ve adapted the recipe for cooking/boiling the bacon ribs so that you can make this dish using the slow cooker.
Boiled Bacon Ribs With Fresh Salad
- 2 racks of bacon ribs (at room temperature)
- 2 large carrots
- 1 large kohlrabi OR 1 large broccoli stalk plus 1/4 raw head of turnip (see below)
- 12 small brussels sprouts
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium sized chilli, sliced
- Juice of 1 lime
- Fresh coriander, parsley and mint to dress the salad (optional)
- Bread and butter to serve (optional)
Place the racks of ribs into a large pot of cold water (you may need to cut the racks into smaller pieces to make them fit into your pot). Cover the pot and put it on a medium temperature.
While you’re waiting for the ribs to come to the boil, peel and chop the vegetables (kohlrabi, carrots and sprouts) into thin pieces. You could of course use a food processor or even grate them into large chunks. Whatever makes life easier for you. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl (vinegar, honey, salt, garlic, chilli and lime-juice) and stir until the ingredients have dissolved together. Pour about half of this dressing on top of the prepared vegetables and stir well until you have coated the vegetables in the mixture. Cover this bowl and leave it to one side.
At this point your ribs should be bubbling away. Turn down the heat so that they are at a slow simmer. Leave at this temperature for about 2 hours or so. The ribs are ready when the bones begin to separate way from the flesh. Check the pot after 90 minutes to see how it’s progressing and don’t be afraid to cook for longer if the meat still seems tough.
Once cooked, remove the ribs from the pot, separate them into individual pieces and toss in the remaining dressing. Tear some fresh herbs and stir them into the dressed salad that has been soaking away while the ribs cooked.
I’ve included a couple of thick-cut pieces of white bread with a slather of golden Irish butter, as this is how we would eat it but it is completely optional.
Slow Cooker Bacon Ribs
- 2 racks of bacon ribs (at room temperature)
To cook bacon ribs in a 3.5L, take the racks and cut them so that you fit chunks into the slow cooker. You will more than likely end up with 4 or 5 pieces of bacon ribs. Presoak the ribs in cold water for at least 3 hours if you don’t like your ribs too salty. Pour away the soaking water before placing the rib pieces into the slow cooker. Add 2 cups of water. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours. Don’t remove the lid at all. For every time you take the lid off to check the contents, add a further 30 minutes to the overall cooking time.
Note: Kohlrabi is becoming more common in Ireland, in fact we will grow plenty of it this year as we have loved eating it over the “hungry gap”. It can be difficult to find in supermarkets though. It’s for this reason I suggest using a combination of broccoli stalk and raw turnip if you can’t find any in stores – it’s a similar taste profile and a good substitute for kohlrabi.