The Ribbe (roast pork rib) is a classic on the Norwegian Christmas table. The rib, which is actually a whole side of pork rather than just spare ribs, is very rich and juicy and is therefore served with equally rich and juicy trimmings: Cowberry sauce, sauerkraut, potatoes, thick gravy, Christmas sausage, apples and prunes.
Cooking the rib is easy, but the challenge a lot of people face is the art of crisping the rind. The perfect rind should be bubbly and crispy, and almost melt on your tongue. Basically, you want to give the pig a 3rd degree burn.
Many people say it’s a matter of luck to get the perfect crackling, but I have found a method that has never failed me.
First: Use a sharp knife and score the rind into 1-1,5 cm squares, parallel to the ribs. Normally the rind is already scored by the butcher, but they often miss a spot or two. Make sure the rib is properly scored – all the way through the skin and deep into the fat below. Now rub salt and pepper all over the rib, making sure you get deep into the grooves. You can also put cloves in the scores for extra flavour. Leave the rib overnight in the fridge.
Put the rib in an oven pan with the rind side up. Put a small plate or a ball of crumpled tin foil under the rib so it’s higher in the middle. This allows the fat to run off.
Pour 2.5 dl (1 cup) of water in the pan and cover the pan tightly with tin foil.
Roast (or rather, steam) the rib at 230 °C (450 °F) for 40 minutes. This will make the rind swell up and get spongy. It looks nasty at this point, but rest assured this is only an intermediate step.
Remove the tin foil and turn oven down to 200 °C (390 °F). Put the uncovered rib back in the oven and roast for an additional 1-1,5 hours (for thin rib) or 2-2,5 hours (for thick rib). This should make the rind bubbly and crispy.
You may find that parts of the rind is still rubbery. If this happens, you can crank up the heat to 250 °C for the last 15 minutes or use the grill – but make sure not to burn the rind!
Better yet (this is one for the men): If you have a heat gun in your tool shed, crack it out and start “blow-drying” the bits that haven’t crisped. You will find the rubbery bits will bubble up and crisp like magic within seconds – but again, make sure not to charcoal the poor thing.
If you want apples, Christmas sausage or prunes as trimmings, you can add these to the pan for the last 20 minutes of cooking. After cooking, let the rib rest to settle the juices.
There you have it – now carve into inch-thick slices and pig out!
On a side note: every Christmas in Norway a “Rib Hotline” is set up by meat experts to provide first aid for desperate Christmas cooks. Last year they had about 800 inquiries.