Not-quite barbecued Ribs

I love barbecued ribs, but I have never been happy with making them at home.   While I have a grill, I don’t have the space or time for a smoker.  One of my major influences as a cook is Alton Brown.  The AB method of cooking ribs involves using your oven.  While I respect AB, when it’s ninety, I don’t want to be turning on my oven.  That said, I agree with some core tenets of his ideas of ribs:

  1. Tender ribs require a “low and slow” approach to cooking.
  2. Braising is one of the best ways to make meat tender.

This is not a recipe to throw together and forget.  Neither is it a recipe that needs your attention all of the time.  It takes some patience though, as many good things do.  It all starts with a rub.

Mix together:

  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP salt
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp pineapple sage (or regular sage)
  • 1/8 tsp dried habanero (optional)

Why did I build this rub this way?  The sugar and salt are the base of the rub.  Everything else is balance.  Cocoa gives depth to savory recipes.  Cumin is also a rich spice that really works in spicy foods.  Allspice is a sweet spice that is a staple in Jamaican foods.  Cayenne and habanero add heat.  (Habanero, while very hot, also works well with sweeter foods.)  And the thyme and pineapple sage round things out with that good, green herb flavor.  This is enough rub for about two racks of ribs.  I only had one rack of ribs, so I’ve got about half left over.

Now that you have your rub, it’s time to rub down your meat.  Sprinkle the rub on with a heavy hand.  You’re aiming for a good coating, not a light seasoning.  The bit of moisture on the meat will probably make it into a little bit of a paste on top.  Once you’ve coated your meat, stick it in the fridge to think about what it’s done for an hour.

When those are nearly ready, you can work on the braising liquid.  For that you’ll need:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 12 oz. beer
  • 2 fresh apricots
  • 1 T stone ground mustard
  • 1 T worchestershire sauce
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 T pineapple sage
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp cayenne

I started by blanching the apricots.  Once the skins were soft, I pulled them from the hot water, dumped out the pan & refilled it with the beer.  I used a lager, but you could use any not too strong beer or even a dry cider.  After slipping the skins from the apricots, I chopped them coarsely.  The whole mix went into the pot & simmered briefly.

Preheat your grill (or broiler).  You’re going to want it hot.  I think my grill was in the 450-500 degree range.  We’re not aiming to *cook* these ribs.  Just to give them a bit of char on each side.  A couple of minutes on each side should do.

Once you’ve charred your ribs, you can dump them into a crockpot.  I have a six quart that they fit into easily.  If you have a smaller one, you may need to cut them apart to make it all work.  Pour your braising liquid over the ribs.

I cooked these on high for about  two hours, and then low for about two hours.  I suspect they’d do fine on low for about six hours.  That said, I also flipped the ribs every hour to immerse the top side.

When they were nearly done, I removed the ribs and poured off the braising liquid.  I reduced it by half, then added about half of it to some barbecue sauce that I brushed the ribs with.

Tender, tasty, delicious ribs.

On Pleasing the Mouth

“…cooking is about emotion, it’s about culture, it’s about love, it’s about memory.” – Massimo Bottura

It’s a common phrase around this house and my friends: “Food is love.”  It’s one way of showing love.  From the soup your mother made when you were sick, to the bride and groom feeding each other cake, to the ice cream your best friend brought over after your terrible break-up, feeding each other is an act of love.  Sharing food is an act of bonding.

Food is also a part of culture and memory.  Traditional foods are traditional because of sentiment.  My mother makes an astounding array of cookies at Christmas.  She is a baking machine for weeks on end.  These are not slice and bake cookies.  These are linzer tarts, Russian teacakes, and rainbow cookies.  Turtles, nut cups, and almond cookies.  The basic chocolate chip and sugar cookies turn up as well.  My childhood was filled with my mother baking double and triple batches of cookies in December.  When we put out cookies for Santa, it was an array of our favorites with a glass of eggnog, and a carrot for his reindeer.

When my grandmother was sick, and my mother was caring for her, my father stepped up to do a lot of the cooking.  My father makes a good meatloaf.  However, the food I remember most from that time is frozen cheese ravioli and canned sauce.  It wasn’t haute cuisine by any stretch, but ravioli of any kind were my favorite food.

When we drove down to the city to visit my grandparents, they always ordered a cheese pizza when we got there.  My grandfather hated all cheeses, so it was my grandmother’s opportunity to enjoy it.  Ravioli and a good, cheese pizza remain among my favorite comfort foods to this day.

I learned my style of cooking from my mother.  This can be described as “to taste.”  My mother cooked by eye and smell quite a bit.  I got instructions like “cover the bottom of the pot with diced onions” and “add enough oregano.”  This was a challenging way to learn to cook, but is a very rewarding way to know how to cook.  Instead of learning recipes, I learned guidelines, flavors, and techniques.  Most importantly, I never learned to fear failure with food.  Most failures will still be edible.  If not, there’s always take-out.

“Good food” is in the eye of the beholder.  And something doesn’t need to be “good” to make you happy.  All cooking and food comes down to the idea of pleasing the senses and the heart.  Cooking is a remarkably forgiving art.  (Baking is another story, and another post.)  “Anyone can cook,” to quote a rather sweet children’s movie.

I plan to write about my musings and memories, my reviews of restaurants, and my own recipes.  I’d like to have a new post every other week to start out.  I invite you to cook along with me.