Take a deep breath and smell the meat in oil deep-frying. This is definitely the beef lover’s equivalent of Crispy Pata (deep-fried pork shank/thigh/hind leg). I have only ever eaten crispy tadyang (beef ribs) in restaurants, and more often than not, besides the initial hit of crisp caramelized meat that triggers a temporary food high, the rest of it tastes like crisp cardboard. There is a fine line between crispy good and crispy bad. So how does one manage to get it crispy good? It starts out at the butcher, in this case one of the vendors at the Metro Grocery in the Market!Market! Mall. I asked if they had the whole ribs of a cow and the smart aleck pointed to short ribs and said those were the ribs. I politely re-asked if he had them uncut or whole ribs and he put two cuts of short ribs together and said that was the longest they had. Suppressing an urge to reach across the glass display case and wring his neck, I took a deep breath and purchased something else. But as the smart aleck left the counter, the saleslady of the neighboring supplier (isn’t it weird there are 4-5 different purveyors of the SAME type of meat at a grocery?) wisely picked up on this overheard exchange and asked in Filipino “do you want the whole uncut ribs of a cow?” to which I smiled and said yes, and she sent someone to the freezers…
A couple of minutes later, a pushcart emerges and I swear the entire ribcage of half a cow emerged, and this brought the biggest smile to my face. The ribs were nearly two feet long and even that was a bit bigger than I had hoped for. The butcher then agreed to cut me six 1.5 foot long ribs and then cut them further into individual meaty ribs. Now I had my raw material. This was very Pebbles and Bam-Bam caveman food in the making. Other shoppers looked on without comment but I can only imagine what they were thinking… :)
When we got home, I realized I had a humongous stock pot to boil them in, but it would be nearly impossible to fry the ribs without using several gallons of oil. So despite my wanting the caveman-with-stone-bat-image of an enormous fried rib on one’s platter, I had to send the ribs to my suki butcher and have him cut them in half, to roughly 9 inch long pieces…
With no recipe for crispy tadyang (or is it tadjang?) to guide me, I figured the ribs had to be boiled over very low heat to tenderize the meat and add some flavor to it. Into a pot of water I added the ribs and when it reached the boiling point, threw out the water and started all over again. This step to avoid all the foam and muck in the broth. On the second boiling, I added some star anise, whole peppercorns and onions to the water and boiled this over very low heat for some 3+ hours until the meat was quite soft and tender. You can also add some soy sauce to the broth for the last half hour of cooking, but I was afraid the salt content of the soy sauce might toughen the meat, so I didn’t do this step for this batch of ribs.
The ribs were removed from the liquid, cooled and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I took the ribs out of the fridge to come to room temperature, and basted them with a mixture of kikkoman soy sauce, kalamansi and ground black pepper. I kept brushing/basting the ribs for about an hour before cooking them. But leave them alone for the last 15 minutes before cooking them so the surface isn’t too wet and it has had a chance to absorb the soy and kalamansi. Outdoors, in a large wok with lots of vegetable oil over high heat, we deep-fried the ribs for several minutes until they had a wonderful crisp exterior, but still a moist and tasty interior meat. The result? Excellent crispy tadyang. Served with lots of homemade papaya atchara and this made for a wonderful lunch. We also served this with a sawsawan of soy sauce, fish sauce and lots of fresh lime juice and chilis. Two foreign guests joined us for lunch and they seemed to enjoy this dish immensely.
I still wonder about the dryness of this dish and I think it is best served with a moist seafood or vegetable dish like shrimps or long beans in coconut milk. But then again, pinoys do like dry, crisp food. Overall, this took a long elapsed time but it was incredibly simple to make. Definitely a keeper of a recipe. :)