RETURNING SOON: the final installment of my South American trip reports and then pictures!!! yes! But now this–maybe a bit of inspiration for your weekend and summer-long BBQ fun–my slightly famous recipe for baby-back ribs.
FIRST, the story:
At forty-six I had my first Jewish boyfriend. Baby back ribs were his favorite. My math? “ribs=food=love.” I talked the whole process through with the butcher at the designer grocery store. I took copious notes: precooking,stripping away the membrane, grilling, doneness, sauce… I opened up the package at home, panicked and called again, taking down a slightly different version.
My little Kosher-girl hands were fearful: wash! Wash again! Could this possibly be worth it?
They were outstanding, delicious, seductive and appreciated. I had a new BBQ event food.
The big secret is that everyone loves Baby Back ribs: low-fatters,low carbers, gluten-frees (watch the sauce) vegetarians, and especially my Jewish friends.
After a few tries, my fingers stopped getting weird and tingly when I touched the meat. Eventually, I grew less fearful, and finally, I was comfortable enough with the fruit of the pig to return to my usual slapdash ways in the kitchen: “They’ve been in there how long?” “I forgot to pre-cook them;” “I’m not messing with that membrane-thing;” and my truest liberation, “I could have sworn I had sauce. I’ll just mix the ends of all the condiment jars together and it’ll be fine.” What a great way to clean out the 5/6th used up condiments that had taken over my fridge. Every batch is different; every batch delicious. Baby back ribs are just so damned good that anything—or nothing-at-all—works.
And now, the sort-of recipe (especially laughable for all of you who know how I cook.)
I use the old-fashioned charcoal Weber kettle–I don’t know from gas. I figure about ½ a rack per person when I’m serving more women than men. Less if I’m also doing my famous salmon or chicken legs.
Another secret—-pork is the basic black dress of cooking; everything goes well with it. Choose 2 to 3 of these flavors: spicy, fruity, sour, garlic, smoky. You have a flavoring opportunity at the beginning—I suggest a rub with plenty of salt, pepper and garlic. Then you have a sauce opportunity later on. I like fruity with a little acid and heat.
Ideally, put the rub on the ribs the night before and put them in the fridge wrapped so they don’t dry out. The next day, preheat the oven to about 300 degrees. Loosen the membrane on the bone side of the rack with a table knife and try to peel it off in one movement. (Try grabbing it with a paper towel. Don’t fret if you don’t get it all. If this step grosses you out or is in any way annoying, you can skip it. If you feel bad about having skipped it you can sort-of scrape the membrane off after the precooking but it’s not a huge deal.)
Then roast the ribs in a pan deep enough to catch the fat runoff for an hour and half or so. Later in the day you’ll allow for about an hour on the grill. I set the kettle up in the “indirect method”—areas of coals on either side with the racks in the middle of the circle. You might use the last 10 minutes on the grill to brush on thin layers of sauce, turn, baste, watch, turn, etc. Most sauces have sugar and will burn if you leave the ribs unattended. If your sauce is very fruity or spicy, maybe you just want to let folks spoon it over the ribs at the table.
Ribs go with everything but Matzoh Balls.
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