Javier Plascencia, of Misión 19 (and nine other restaurants) in Tijuana, is a leading force in the style of Mexican cooking called Baja Mediterranean. It combines Mexican cuisine with European techniques and incorporates local, seasonal ingredients from Baja and up into California, too. This is one of Plascencia's signature dishes, made with black Oaxacan mole paste—robust and spicy from chilhuacle negro chiles—flavored with black Mission figs and Baja Cabernet Sauvignon. He serves the dish with kabocha squash chips and purée as well as little masa dumplings called chochoyones. To simplify for the home cook, we've focused the recipe on the meat and the sauce.
Sunset MARCH 2012
1. Cook ribs: Preheat oven to 425°. Put ribs in a wide ovenproof 5- to 6-qt. pot with onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, salt, and enough water (about 1 qt.) to almost cover meat. Cover pot and bake 1 hour. Turn ribs over, reduce oven to 300°, then bake, covered, until fork-tender, about 3 more hours. Uncover and let meat stand in liquid until cool enough to handle, about 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, make mole: In a small saucepan, cook wine and 2 tbsp. vinegar over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, 10 to 14 minutes. Stir in figs, mole sauce, 1 tbsp. molasses, and 1/2 cup broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, stirring often, until figs are tender when pierced, 50 minutes. Set aside up to 1 hour, or chill until used.
3. Cook fig leaves in a medium pot of boiling water until flexible, about 20 seconds. Drain.
4. Transfer ribs to a board. Slide bones from meat and discard. Trim and discard fat.
5. Lay 4 fig leaves on a work surface, vein side up. Center a short rib on each leaf. Wrap leaves over ribs, starting from bottom and tucking in edges; if needed, add a second leaf to each to cover meat. Set packets folded side down in a greased shallow baking pan.
6. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake packets until meat reaches 145° in center on an instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes. Loosen from pan with a spatula, cut open leaves down center of packets, and fold back edges.
7. Meanwhile, reheat mole to simmering, stirring; if needed, add more broth so mole is pourable. Adjust seasoning with more vinegar or molasses. To serve, set packets on plates. Spoon some mole over meat and arrange figs next to ribs. Scatter chips, cacao nibs, and pepitas on top and serve with remaining mole and more salt to taste.
*Ask a butcher to cut ribs to size. Buy banana leaves at Latino markets (or use garden fig leaves). Find the mole negro at Latino markets or at oaxacanfoods.com (or use brown mole poblano sauce or paste, found at well-stocked grocery stores). Get cacao nibs on amazon.com
Make ahead: Through step 5, up to 1 day, chilled; allow 45 minutes to bake meat (step 6).
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