Monday, October 24, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Costela (Back Ribs)

barbequed back ribs
One of the most flavorful cuts of beef, large meaty back ribs (known as costela in Portuguese) are a favorite cut of meat in a traditional Brazilian churrasco. Churrasco can mean simply "grilled meat" but it more commonly means a prolonged weekend meal for family and friends consisting of a number of meats grilled over wood or charcoal, outdoors, accompanied by numerous appetizers and canapes, side dishes, relishes and pickles, and lots and lots of icy Brazilian lager-style beer.

Technically, a butcher will tell you that back ribs are cut from the carcass' 6th through 13th ribs (the largest ones). The smaller ribs that are closer to the animal's frontquarters are the short ribs. Normally back ribs are available only in specialty butcher shops and even there might have to be be pre-ordered. One can purchase an entire rack of back ribs, but that's a serious quantity of meat - some of the ribs are 18 inches (45 cm) long and a whole rack contains 6 or 7 ribs. The sheer size of a rack of beef ribs means that it's quite complicated to cook, whether in an oven or on a grill. Most people order a portion of a rack only - 2 or 3 ribs.

In Brazil, back ribs are a highly desired cut of beef, and are consequently one of the more expensive cuts. In North America the ribs are valued less and because they surround the ribeye they are often "leftovers" in the butchering process, and can be picked up relatively inexpensively.

If being grilled, back ribs must be allowed to cook until well done, since rare or medium-cooked ribs are not tender at all and, though flavorful, can be too chewy to enjoy. It's the long cooking that tenderizes the meat.

Alternatively, back ribs can be cooked in the oven and there benefit from the presence of moisture to help them become tender. Back ribs, like their cousins the short ribs, take marvelously to the braising process, in which meat is cooked with liquid at a relatively low temperature, for a long time. Or the ribs can be roasted covered, which allows the trapped steam to aid in the tenderizing process. Either technique will result in tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Coming up on Flavors of Brazil - some ideas on how to cook back ribs Brazilian style. Stay tuned.

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