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Hoorah for the 4th of July

FireworksFor all of you getting ready for the 4th of July weekend, I give you my famous BBQ baby back ribs recipe. This is not, strictly-speaking kosher, but it is life enhancing. Don’t invite your cardiologist. This was published in Storied Recipes, short-short true stories and the recipes that flavor them, by and for SOMOS–the Society of the Muse of the Southwest–a great organization in Taos NM. So first the story:

STORY
At forty-six I had my first Jewish boyfriend. Baby back ribs were his favorite. The math of my people–and so many others’–adapted the situation to this:“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 Jewish-girl hands were fearful: wash; wash again. My finger tips tingled each time they got close to the taboo meat. Could this possibly be worth it?

They were outstanding, delicious, seductive and appreciated.

I had a new barbeque event food. The big secret is that everyone loves Baby Back ribs: low-fatters; low carbers; gluten-free-ers (watch the sauce) vegetarians; and especially my Jewish friends.

After a few tries, my fingers stopped getting weird and tingly. Eventually, I grew less fearful and finally 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?” “Oh crap, 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-kinds-of-jars together and it’ll be fine.” What a great way to clean out my over-condemented (stet) fridge. Every batch of ribs is different; every batch delicious. Baby back ribs are just so damned good that anything— or nothing-at-all —works.

RECIPE
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 making 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. Yes these should go together but the pork can take a lot and you should be creative.

Ideally, put the rub on the ribs the night before and set them in the fridge wrapped so they don’t dry out. (Drying out, at any step in the preparation, is really the only bad thing that can happen to the ribs.) 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 anyway annoying, you can skip it. If you then feel bad about having skipped it, you can sort-of scrape the membrane off after the precooking but it’s not a huge deal. Believe me–your friends will still love you.)

Then roast the ribs in a pan deep enough to catch the fat runoff for an hour and half or so. (I once forgot them in there, went to another state–okay so it’s Washington and it’s just 5 miles North, still–I called my neighbor to break in and take them out of the oven when he had a chance. Verdict–delicious.) 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 fruity or spicy, maybe you just want to let folks spoon it over the ribs at the table. In any event that’s a good time for more sauce.

ACCOMPANIMENT: Ribs go with everything but Matzoh Balls.