There is a little something you should know about me: I love to shop. And while my closet can attest to that fact, so can my pantry. When I travel I am always sure to devote at least half a day to culinary pursuits—wandering through markets like the Boqueria in Barcelona, or visiting little gourmet shops in Paris. Inevitably, I return laden with corked perfumiers' bottles of French rose extract, painters' tubes of Moroccan harissa, and tiny ominous packets of Venetian squid ink. And when I'm grounded back home in the States, I still find excuses to dally around any corner gourmet shop, combing the aisles like a pirate who stands on the X on his map and expects, rightly so, to uncover unprecedented treasure.
I get a secret thrill when I bring out of these little bottles or jars, and guinea pig them on my friends and family. Inevitably, eyes widen in delight and speculation, and a general chorus echoes down the table: "Mmm! What is that?" I love revealing the answer: "Orange flower water!" "No!" "Yes." All of a sudden everyone at the table feels like they are sharing in a gourmet adventure, whisked away to some corner of a forgotten world where everyone sits around snacking on orange flower water and Raz-el-Hanout. What they don't know is that I paid less than three dollars for a bottle of the stuff just across town at Fairway.
This is the premise of my new series, The Secret Ingredient. If you, like me, find yourself fascinated in the food aisles, leaving shops with little items stashed away for your imagination, then I hope you will enjoy it. Once or twice a month, I'll choose a new Secret Ingredient, tell you where it comes from, what it is, and what to do with it—recipes included.
March's Secret Ingredient is pomegranate molasses.
One of my favorite Greek myths (not surprisingly) revolves around food. In order to explain the origin of the seasons, the Greeks claimed that the goddess of springtime, the young and lovely Persephone, had eaten her way into an unhappy marriage contract. Before her husband Hades, god of the underworld, had let her leave to rejoin her mother Demeter, goddess of the harvest, back in the sunshine, he had insisted that she share a pomegranate with him. Thinking nothing of it and pining for the light and company of our world, Persephone munched down five seeds, and off she went. Not so fast, Hades thundered—or every seed you have eaten, you will have to spend one month with me, in the darkness. And so winter, when Persephone is gone, and her mother is mourning her absence, began.
Pomegranate may have been damning to poor Persephone, but as we can all see from Pom Wonderful's ubiquitous advertisements, the anti-oxidant powerhouse can actually keep us out of the grave. And while pomegranate juice is becoming seemingly ever more expensive, pomegranate molasses, not molasses at all, but rather a syrup made from concentrated pomegranate juice and sugar, is positively cheap. You can find it for under four dollars at any kosher shop or Middle Eastern food store, and some of the wider-ranging supermarkets (again, I found my bottle at Fairway).
Pomegranate molasses has been getting a lot of press on Serious Eats, from my Mâche Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing to Michele's Perfect Roast Chicken with Pomegranate Jus. It tastes equally of very, very sweet, and very, very tart, but that's capital SWEET and capital TART. It has the consistency of ketchup, and a deep, garnet color. Dip your finger in, and taste—it's the original sweet/tart candy that makes you pucker and smile all at once.
So, now that you know what pomegranate molasses is, what do you do with it? Absolutely anything. Today, I am going to show you how to use it to make Pomegranate Molasses Barbecue Sauce to slather on Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Pork Ribs. But additionally, use it in vinaigrettes or gravies, in cocktails or sauces, in glazes or cakes. It is your secret ingredient weapon for making anything and everything taste interesting, slightly exotic, and just generally delicious and unusual.
I am proud to report that after friends and family tasted these these ribs, they all universally turned to me with wide eyes and asked, "What is that?"
Pomegranate molasses—my little secret.
- 4-pound rack of pork spare ribs or baby backs
- 1 cup pomegranate molasses barbecue sauce
- For BBQ Sauce
- 1/2 sweet onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 15-ounce container of ketchup
- 1 cup pomegranate molasses
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dry mustard
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Season the ribs with salt and pepper, and put onto a baking sheet, underside up. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the rack over so that it is meat-side up, and bake for 30 minutes. Glaze the whole rack of ribs with Pomegranate Molasses Barbecue Sauce, and bake underside up for 20 minutes.
Raise the heat to 450°F, and while the oven is heating up, re-glaze the top, meaty part of the ribs once again with the Pomegranate Molasses Barbecue Sauce. Bake for 15 minutes, or until charred.
To make BBQ Sauce:
Mash together the onion and the garlic in a food processor. I always like to annihilate the garlic first on its own to get it really chopped, then add the onion.
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pot on medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and season with salt and pepper. Add the thyme, and sweat for 5 minutes on medium-low heat.
Add the ketchup, molasses, sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, cumin, and paprika. Season again with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. That's it!