Ribs are wonderful; ribs are good. It’s even rib season — grilled racks of various animals are on menus all over the place…but only one menu has fish ribs. Head west from NYC’s Times Square to La Pulperia (or hit their Upper East Side location) for a treat you’re not going to find anywhere else. Chef-owner Carlos Barroz hunted down a source for pacu (a fish found only in the Amazon that exclusively eats plants), ordered racks of ribs (an off cut that’s so off you couldn’t hope to find it) and grills them with a homemade chipotle-orange barbecue sauce. It’s the best way to start a Brazilian meal since the caipirinha.
Every Tuesday, Barroz receives the delivery from Brazil…with a brief layover.
“It’s not a very common item at the fish market. It was difficult for me to find them, but now one fish market from Philadelphia gets fish ribs for me,” he says.
The difference between fish cooked with and without its bones is enormous, something that’s plainly obvious in this preparation. Juicy, flavorful snow-white meat flakes effortlessly off tiny, needle-like rib bones and melts in your mouth like that fillet of who-even-cares could only dream of.
Best of all, these ribs don’t need a brine, a boil, two hours in the oven and four hours on the grill.
“The preparation is very simple, like every fish: salt, pepper, olive oil, then you grill, bake or sauté. In this case, I grill it in the same way people grill baby back ribs. They look like baby back ribs, but they’re fish ribs,” says the chef. And they’re done in about ten minutes: five on the grill and five more in a hot oven to crisp up. Barroz serves them with extra barbecue sauce and orange suprêmes to cut the richness. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t leave a shred of meat on a chicken or rib bone, this is a truly uncommon treat.
While you’re there, try Barroz’s pride and joy: his salmon brûlée. Yup, brûlée like that. It’s salmon tartare topped with a thin layer of cream cheese, sprinkled with sugar, torched to caramelize and topped with strawberries and scallions — the chef’s own ode to a classic New York bagel with schmear. And…strawberries. It truly works, though. You just have to dig right in.
Come for the pacu ribs and stay for a cocktail, ideally something with spicy mezcal and pungent volcanic salt, and don’t mind the cheers directed toward the soccer game being broadcast at the bar. They’re just an added bonus.