Okay, let’s talk ribs! There are as many rib recipes out there as there are pigs and cows out in the farms, unwittingly about to donate. Like me, everyone has their favorite rib: beef, spare, baby back, pork, bone-in, boneless, etc. Also like me, everyone has their favorite way to cook them. Don’t get me wrong, I love ribs that have been boiled in beer until cooked and then low grilled as coat after coat of sweet hickory sauce is applied so the sugar caramelizes and the rib meat melts in your mouth. But alas, I am not a grill master. I am not even a grill newbie Okay, I’ll admit it. At the tender age of 50, I have never even lit a grill. My name is Donya and I’m grillphobic. Seriously, the whole thing is a daunting undertaking to me. If you haven’t grown up learning how it just seems like way too much to get your arms around. Direct, indirect, smoker, chimneys, gas vs charcoal….BAAAAAHHHHH!!! Plus, like with the rest of my food, I’m super picky. If you’re going to grill my steak, it better be a perfect red but warm. The least bit overdone and NO THANK YOU! I will say my dad makes a fabulous grilled chicken with simple olive oil and salt and pepper. The flavor is amazing! My ex husband was great with the aforementioned ribs too. But I prefer the flavor and moisture of slow cooked meat. There’s just nothing like it. So I always plan ahead because I like the ribs in the oven by 10am-noon. My rib of preference? The bone-in country style pork rib! Listen, if you are looking for a healthy vegan type blog, you should probably look elsewhere. I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule and Stace and I do well during the week now. As a funny aside, when I was in love in my teens and 20s, I couldn’t eat because of the bubble-gut effect of new love. However when I fell in love with Staci, all I wanted to do was cook all the food she had missed for so many years. 18 months and 30lbs later, here we both are. But the hurricane of love has settled into a nice moderate tropical storm and we’re slowly but surely pulling ourselves together. But the weekends are all about good food. And wine. And margaritas. But as usual, I digress….
Back to the ribs. I’ll share with you how I go about turning them into something you’d nearly trade your first born in for (yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposistion, don’t judge me). The key is low and slow. Sometimes I do a dry rub and sometimes just salt and pepper (if I’m going to sauce them which I am today). Several months ago I pulled out my grandpa’s old BBQ sauce recipe to make for Staci for the first time. It is not traditional southern barbeque sauce so I wasn’t sure what she would think. She’s never let me make ribs any other way since. So that’s what we’re doing today. She’ll have to suck it up eventually so I can walk you through a dry rub but this weekend she is on call. Being on call as a hospice nurse is not fun. Even if you don’t get called out, you suffer from “jack in the box” syndrome (as I like to call it), just wondering when/if the phone is going to ring. Sleep is light and hard to come by. Generally it leaves one edgy and irritable. A full work week on either side tops off the fun. It’s the price of such a calling. So when she is on call I like to make something special.
I usually buy 2 packages of pork ribs which we gluttonously ravage all weekend until they’re gone. But in effort to be a little better on the weekends, I bought a single package this time. The key to cooking meat well is that the meat be free of moisture prior to searing, roasting or grilling. This is absolutely essential when searing but we’re not doing that today. The night before, I usually throw a bottle of Shiner Bock, a coarsely chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, some peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves in a gallon freezer bag along with the ribs. I fill the remainder with water, place in a casserole in case it leaks and refrigerate overnight. I will admit, I completely forgot to do this last night. It does help with the flavor and tenderness but we can go ahead without it. (I was inexplicably cranky yesterday and last night. Irritability is the planner’s nemesis. It totally escaped me and I’ve made these a dozen times or more. Ah, c’est la vie!)
After I pull them out of the marinade (or the styrofoam today), I dry them really well with paper towels and throw them in a mixing bowl. Generous amounts of salt and pepper, maybe a smidge of smoked paprika and chipotle powder since I forgot to marinade and a tablespoon of vegetable oil and toss to coat. Oven is preheating at 200F.
I wrap them in sections of 4. I use a LOT of aluminum foil and wrap those suckers tight! I then wrap them again in the opposite direction and put the aluminum pack in my 9×11 Pyrex casserole. I repeat until the ribs are gone (usually 2 pkgs for 1 pack of ribs and 4 pkgs which is 2 casseroles if I’m doing 2 packages of ribs).
They go in the oven, uncovered for at least 4 hours. I prefer 6. After 3 hours, I remove them from the oven, flip the packages and back in they go!
Once I put them back in, I start my purple hulls or lady creamers or field peas. This is something I had to learn as a Midwesterner. I’m not a fan of the black-eyed pea but the others I mentioned are divine when done well. I try to get them in the summer in the produce section but frozen is okay too. I put them in a pan and coarsely chop an onion and add. Then the pepper bacon!! Oh how I love to cook with pepper bacon! I cut half inch pieces from the end of the slab until I feel like it’s enough (who needs precision in savory??). I cover with water and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a very slow simmer and cover for the last 2.5 hours the ribs are cooking. We’ll finish them off in the last 30 minutes. Then I go on about my day and do things like clean or pull weeds or nap or blog. Yay, Saturday!
In the final hour I put together my slaw. It varies but today I’m doing a celery and fennel slaw with a remoulade-type dressing. I recently acquired a new mandoline. My old one was OLD, and cheap and has been the scene of many a bloody self-mutilation. I needed something sharper, more professional and a little more Donya-proof. Actually, it’s just the OXO brand mandolin so it’s not chef-y expensive but I love it! It has several blades, a locking mechanism and an easy raising and lowering capacity to get the slice of your dreams. It also has a 4-pronged handle that actually sticks into the food so you are not as likely to have a run-away red potato. I use the default blade at the thinnest setting and run a fennel bulb and 2 celery stalks through. For the dressing I use a 2:1 mayo to Dijon ratio (this isn’t true remoulade because I don’t have any Creole mustard on me right now), a few glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and a few squirts of lemon juice. If I have some green onion on me, which I do, I throw that in there as well. I hand whip it into a frenzy and add to the slaw until I have the right ratio of slaw to dressing. I used to just dump it in there but have learned over the years that sometimes less really is more. I was just always a big proponent of no, MORE is more. Moderation is NOT a four-letter word. I have to tell myself this repeatedly.
Now it’s time to set the slaw aside and tend to the peas. Using the lid, I strain the peas. I use the lid because it also brings down the bacon and the onion, most of which I take off with a slotted spoon and throw it away because it looks really gross from cooking all day. But I leave a few pieces of each in. Generously season with salt and pepper and throw in a few tablespoons of butter and stir until the butter is melting. As you stir the butter in, the peas will start to cream. It’s a beautiful thing. Adjust seasoning as desired.
The barbeque sauce. To publish or not to publish. This is an old family recipe that I could drink by the bottle and often thought should be bottled and sold. While I know my material herein is copyrighted, it won’t save me from the ne’er-do-well who greedily slurps up my sauce and makes millions from its distribution. But love is meant to be shared and this sauce IS love! I’ll share the recipe with you but I ask that you give my site credit when redistributing…because, trust me, you will. Just be forewarned – this recipe (this whole meal for that matter) is not AHA approved!
SO, like all of my favorites, it starts with a stick of butter. Melt over medium low heat. I have modified this recipe a bit because I discovered something: Finely grated onion and garlic create amazing flavor in this sauce. Grandpa says to finely chop. Donya says do the labor of love thing and finely GRATE: one-half onion and 1 clove garlic. Do NOT be lazy and blast it in the food processor – not the same. It should come out more liquid than solid if you’re doing it right. Add to the melted butter along with ½ c. ketchup and 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce and 1½ tsp salt. Hand whisk to incorporate. Try and keep all ingredients combined. The butter wants to rise to the top and can make the sauce feel and taste more greasy if you don’t whisk it into submission. This is NOT traditional barbeque sauce! If you like the smoky sweet of a traditional southern sauce, stick with Sweet Baby Ray’s. And I love a good southern sweet barbeque sauce. But not like I love the divinity I grew up licking off my fingers. The tang and bite of this sauce is unmatched by anything I have found anywhere. It is where sauces die and go to heaven.
Remove the ribs and very carefully unwrap. These will now be fall-off-the-bone tender. I sometimes have to use a slotted spatula or even a spoon. Pile them on the plate with a small bowl of sauce on the side, some delicious peas of choice and a plate of slaw. Sometimes I will make garlic toast or bread but this dinner definitely will stand on its own. Enjoy!
Happy reading, joyous cooking and spread the love!