30-Minute Mozzarella

Clearly I have been on somewhat of a cheesemaking streak lately. I know that as I have been yammering on, lately, about the joys of making your own cheese, various friends have been looking at me like I have two heads. They will tell me that it sounds pretty cool, but they think that I am crazy for embarking on such an ambitious task. While I recognize that not everyone in the world is ever going to be super excited about making their own cheese, I need to reiterate, as I always do, that it is really, really, really easy. Like stupidly easy. I hesitate to say this as I do like the props I get for taking on something so seemingly “advanced”, but you guys. It is EASY. Now that I’ve tried a couple of beginner cheeses, I am definitely keen to explore the more challenging ones, and they certainly can get complicated, but stuff like mozzarella is easier to make than say, a loaf of bread.

In fact, mozzarella can take only 30 minutes to make. Seriously. So I command you to stop being intimidated by it right now.

Here is what I love about making my own cheese:

First, I love any kind of cooking that feels like a science experiment, or alchemy, depending on your take on these things, in that you take a couple of very simple ingredients, and through a chemical process, transform them into something new and very special. It feels like magic and I love it and get a huge sense of accomplishment from doing it.

Second, as I said in my post on ricotta, I genuinely believe in learning by doing. Cheese is one of my favourite foods, and I think I learn a lot about the cheese I buy from others and consume by learning to make it myself. I am down with any and all angles that allow me to deepen my love and understanding of cheese.

Finally, it tastes good. Really, really good.

If you are curious to try making cheese, then I strongly encourage you to try this mozzarella recipe. Because it is so easy, and you can make it for a weeknight dinner, it comes together that quickly. It will demystify the whole prospect of home cheesemaking immediately. The only caveat is that you’ll need to buy some rennet, which is hard to find in stores. I highly, highly recommend purchasing some online from cheesemaking.com. It is run by the great Ricki Carroll, the same woman who wrote the wonderful book that I am learning to make cheese from. Her prices are great, she ships really fast, and has no problem shipping this stuff to Canada. I think I had my supplies in less than a week. I bought the smallest container of this liquid vegetable rennet, which is enough to make a few dozen batches of cheese.

I have made Carroll’s “30-minute mozzarella” twice now. The first time, we ate it on grilled pizza, and then just the other night, I tossed it, still warm, onto a gorgeous caprese salad composed of heirloom tomatoes and basil fresh from our garden. The mozzarella has the most wonderful smooth texture, and it complemented the tomatoes beautifully. We ate it alongside sausages that Graeme had just made from scratch, also using our bounty of garden herbs, and it felt really, truly wonderful to savour this meal that had been so profoundly prepared from scratch. When making (as well as growing) your food yourself, it doesn’t need to be fancy to be something that you savour and enjoy with great pride.

I look forward to sharing more cheesemaking adventures with you in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the mozzarella.

30-Minute Mozzarella
Adapted from Home Cheesemaking. Makes approximately 200 grams mozzarella.

Ingredients:

  • 0.75 tsp citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
  • 2 litres/0.5 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized, that stuff is useless)
  • 1/8 tsp lipase powder (optional, also available for purchase on cheesemaking.com, just adds a bit of flavour), dissolved in 1/8 cup cool water and allowed to sit for 20 min.
  • 1/8 tsp liquid rennet, diluted in 1/8 cup cool water

When all your ingredients are ready, start heating your milk in a big saucepan on medium-high heat, and add the citric acid solution (and lipase, if using) when the temperature reaches 55F. Stir thoroughly.

Heat the milk to 90F, stirring often. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the rennet slowly with an up-and-down motion for about 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Uncover the pot, and check to see if the curds and whey have separated. It should look something like this:

The curd should not be too soft and the whey should not be too milky. If it is, let it sit a few more minutes until it separates more. Cut the curd so that it’s not one big lump.

Put the mixture back on the stove and heat until 105F, stirring very gently. Remove from heat and stir gently for 2-5 minutes, depending on desired firmeness (I think about 3 minutes is perfect).

Scoop the curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon, or drain in a sieve. Put the curds into a microwavable bowl*. Press the curds gently with your hands or a big spoon to pour off as much of the whey as possible.

Microwave the curds on HIGH for approximately 1 minute. Take the bowl out of the microwave, drain off the whey, and gently fold the cheese over and over with your hands or your big spoon (I tend to do the latter because it’s hot!) as though you’re kneading bread. You are trying to make sure the heat distributes evenly throughout the cheese. (It does not require nearly as much kneading as bread, though! Just a minute or so.)

It will look something like this:

Microwave the cheese twice more for 35 seconds each (and add salt after the second time if you are using it). Knead it after heating each time. After the third heating, it should be getting nice and smooth. Knead it until it’s elastic, and stretches like taffy.

If it’s not stretching properly, and is breaking instead, then it may have cooled down too much. Microwave it again.

When the cheese is ready, roll it into balls. It is AWESOME to eat fresh like this, while still warm, and I recommend that you do so. If you are not planning on eating it right away, place the balls in a bowl of ice water until they’re properly cooled down, as this will ensure it keeps a smooth, lovely texture.

*There is a way to do this without the microwave, if you don’t have one, but I haven’t tried it! With the microwave, it is super duper simple.

Lorne Sausage

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite breakfast foods: Lorne sausage, also known as square sausage or sliced sausage. Lorne sausage is a Scottish food and can be found everywhere in Scotland. It is an uncased sausage made of a mixture of beef and pork, bolstered with rusk, and seasoned with coriander and nutmeg.  The meat is formed into loaves and then sliced.

When I lived in Scotland, I most often bought rolls filled with slices of square sausage from the café next to the office I worked at in Glasgow (sometimes they would run out of rolls and serve it on baguette), or sometimes I would buy a Styrofoam tray of fry-up meats–slices of Lorne sausage, some black pudding, and some fruit pudding–from the supermarket and have that on a weekend morning with some fried eggs and maybe a couple of slices of bacon, some sautéed mushrooms, and fried tomato.  For all of its ubiquity there, I’ve never seen this type of sausage outside of Scotland.

Even though I can’t buy Lorne sausage here, it’s really one of the easiest sausages to make, and I whipped up a batch this weekend. I bought whole cuts of meat and ground them myself, but you can just as easily make this with pre-ground meat as long as it is fatty enough.  There do seem to be plenty of variations on the recipe, though I made what seems to be a fairly basic one.  I found mention that some versions of Lorne sausage use “a couple of fingers” of whisky as an aspect of the seasoning, and while I’m sure that this would be delicious, it’s a little more refined than I would generally like for a breakfast food.  I used breadcrumbs for this recipe, but I’ve seen some recipes calling for oats instead and I would like to try that the next time I make a batch of sausage.

This is a nice, slightly sweet, robustly-flavoured sausage that is great for starting off the day.  For me, it has more than a touch of nostalgic appeal as well: there are some things like a certain kind of light on an otherwise damp and grey day, the complex aromatics of a glass of whisky, and yes, the taste of coriander and nutmeg, that really make me miss the couple of years I spent in Scotland and the friends I made there.

Lorne Sausage
Makes about two loaf tins worth of sausage

Ingredients:
1 kg not overly lean beef, cubed
1 kg pork shoulder butt, deboned
250g pork back fat, cubed
150g finely ground bread crumbs

1 tsp onion powder
3 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
3 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg

1/2 cup chilled water

Grind the meat through the large die on your grinder. Add the bread crumbs, the seasoning, and the water and mix until everything is well combined and sticky. Add more water if necessary. Fry up a little bit of the mixture and check for seasoning. Correct if necessary. Press the mixture into a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, taking care to not have any air bubbles in the sausage, then put the loaf pan in the freezer for an hour or two. When the sausage has frozen slightly, remove it from the freezer and slice it. Keep what you’re planning on cooking in the near future in the fridge, the rest can be frozen, ideally with pieces of parchment paper between the slices for easy thawing and frying.

Fry the slices and serve them on rolls with a squirt of brown sauce or ketchup.

Smoke-roasted pork tacos


I love smoked foods. There are few things that can’t be made better with the addition of smoke. The problem is that it’s not viable for us to have a smoker right now–we don’t have enough storage space outside so we’d have to worry about junkies wandering off with it–so I mainly daydream about when we will be able to have one so I can make my own bacon, and can smoke ribs and sausages and fish and whatever else I feel like.

Or at least I daydreamed about that until I figured out that it’s actually pretty easy to smoke food on a barbecue.  All you need is woodchips and a grill large enough to be able to cook your food with indirect heat, and since we have literally the cheapest non-portable propane grill that Canadian Tire sells and can smoke on it, that means pretty much any two-burner barbecue.

Apparently this is actually “smoke-roasting” because it happens at a higher temperature than hot smoking, but if it tastes great, who cares about nomenclature, right?

The night I made these smoke-roasted pork tacos I was actually planning on making shrimp tacos with a small amount of shrimp we had in the freezer but when I went to the local fruiterie to get some vegetables and tortillas, I spotted a pork tenderloin on sale and thought that this would be a great addition to the meal.  And since I’d just found a bag of applewood chips that I’d previously bought and had forgotten about, I figured that I might as well try combining the two.

I marinated the tenderloin in a mixture of tequila and lime juice for about an hour, and soaked a couple of cups of wood chips in water for about fifteen minutes.  I drained the wood chips and put them in a foil pouch, making sure that it was open at both ends.  The pouch went in at the bottom of the barbecue.  I started up the barbecue with only one burner until the chips started smoking, turned the heat down to it’s lowest setting, then put the tenderloin on the side opposite the burner until it cooked to an internal temperature of 145F.

We served it on tortillas with pico de gallo, avocados and onions marinated in lime juice and tequila because the avocados were too hard to use for guacamole, cheese, and sour cream.  I ended up cooking the shrimp as I had initially planned and we had that as well.  For sides we grilled some corn and served it with a chile-infused butter and I also made quick-friend zucchini with toasted garlic and lime from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican cookbook.

The meat took on a wonderful orange-ish colour from the smoke and had a beautiful smoky flavour.  It wasn’t difficult to prepare or cook and really made the tacos something special.  They may have been nicer texturally had I shredded the pork instead of slicing it, but the flavour was great.  We will definitely try this again.

Smoke-roasted Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4.

Ingredients:
1 pork tenderloin
A generous splash of tequila
The juice from two or three freshly squeezed limes
Salt and pepper
2 cups applewood chips

Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and put it in a sealable container with the tequila/lime juice mixture.  Let this sit in the fridge for about an hour.  In the meantime, soak the wood chips in water for fifteen minutes, drain, and make a foil pouch for them.  Close the pouch, leaving the ends open, place it on the bottom of your barbecue and heat the grill until the chips begin to smoke.  Place the marinated tenderloin on the side of the grill opposite the wood chips–the tenderloin shouldn’t be over a flame.  Cook with the lid closed until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145F, about 45-60 minutes.  Serve with tortillas and your favourite taco fixings.

Quick-friend Zucchini with Toasted Garlic and Lime
Serves 4. Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican.

Ingredients:
1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 scant tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
A generous 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I used fresh oregano from the garden)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Sweating the zucchini. In a colander, toss the zucchini with the salt; let stand 1/2 hou over a plate or in the sink. Rinse the zucchini, then dry on paper towels.
2. Browning the garlic and frying the zucchini. About 15 minutes before serving, heat the butter and oil over a medium-low heat in a skillet large enough to hold the zucchini in a single layer. Add the garlic and stir frequently until light brown, about 3 minutes. Do not burn. Scoop the garlic into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, then scrape the strained butter mixture back into the pan; set the garlic aside. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the zucchini to the pan and fry, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and tender but still a little crunchy. Remove from the heat.
3. Finishing the dish. Add the lime and toasted garlic; toss thoroughly. Sprinkle with the pepper, oregano and parsley, then mix, taste for salt and serve in a warm dish.

Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper

I love summer desserts. I can be counted on to devour every pie, crumble and cobbler in sight with near-psychotic enthusiasm. It is hard to go wrong with fresh fruits and berries, a butter based crust or topping, and some sweetener. The only problem with these desserts, however, is that there comes a time in every Montreal summer when it is so hot that it would be suicidal to turn on the oven. As any locals reading this blog will know (or really anyone in the northeast of this godforsaken continent), that time came last week.

Of course, beyond the issue of cooking in this heat, summer fruit is also so fantastic that you often just want it relatively unaltered (or completely unaltered), rather than baked into even the simplest recipe. And so one of our summer dessert standbys, when we do want a little something special that doesn’t involve turning on the oven, is this incredibly simple recipe of strawberries soaked in Pernod (pastis liquor) and black pepper. We have been especially into it in recent weeks, as Quebec strawberries are everywhere, and so delicious, and new ones are finding their way into our fridge on an almost daily basis.

Graeme and I discovered this tradtional French way of preparing fresh strawberries when it was served to us last summer at our favourite French bistro in town, Au Petit Extra. I was very skeptical at first, as I hate the taste of black licorice, and therefore tend to hate the taste of licorice-flavoured liquors, but in this case those three simple ingredients–strawberries, Pernod and black pepper–all combined to create something coherent and special, and just licorice-y enough to make an impression but not enough to alienate me and my palate. Au Petit Extra called them “fraises pépé” (grandfather’s strawberries?), but I am not sure at all if that is a commonly used name for them or just one they came up with; as far as I can tell as an ignorant anglophone, it comes from the expression, “chercher les fraises [pépé]” which, for some reason that I do not at all understand, means to become senile. I would welcome any francophones reading this here entry to comment and clear up some of this linguistic confusion, because google and my beloved wordreference.com really let me down on this one.

Anyway, ever since that fateful dinner, Graeme and I have been trying to figure out how to recreate this incredibly simple strawberry dish. It has been a truly Goldilocks-style process; the first time I made this, the Pernod was far too subtle, and then when Graeme tried his hand at it, it was so strong that I found it inedible. After going back and forth a little bit, I finally found a balance that works for our taste buds, although I’m sure other folks would want to alter it one way or another for theirs. I present to you the recipe we came up with below.

At its best, the Pernod and black pepper should not overpower the strawberries, but rather they should give them this extra punch that makes them taste… even more like strawberries. Like super-strawberries. To me, that’s what summer desserts are all about; when fruit is so fresh and so tasty on its own, it is a shame to do much to it unless you are emphasizing what is already there. You certainly don’t want to take anything away from the beauty of a fresh, ripe strawberry.

Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper
Serves 2-3. Or maybe more, if you served them with good vanilla ice cream, which is an EXCELLENT idea.

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and halved
3 tbsp Pernod or pastis liquor
A few generous turns of your black pepper mill

Put all the strawberries into a bowl, and pour in the Pernod, stirring to make sure they are properly covered. Grind your pepper into the bowl, stir, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour or two. (I find that it’s perfect to prepare this just as you’re getting ready to sit down for dinner, and then it is good to go by the time you are ready for dessert.) Serve on its own, or with ice cream.

Mint Lemonade

As a general rule, Graeme and I try not to eat out just for the sake of eating out. Lately, though, it has been so damn hot in this city of weather extremes, that on some days it has been difficult to muster up the energy to cook anything at all. This past Sunday evening, for example, we found ourselves sweaty and exhausted and so we decided to give ourselves a break and seek out food prepared by other people. We wandered down to Sainte Catherine street, which, in our neighbourhood–alternately titled Centre-Sud or the Gay Village–is wonderfully pedestrianized for the entire summer. As such, practically every restaurant on the strip has a terrasse spilling out onto the street, and it seemed like an ideal place for some muggy summer dining.

The village is not known for its restaurants, although there are so many around these parts that I often feel like it is overlooked as a food neighbourhood because there are definitely some gems hiding amongst various chains. On Sunday, we stumbled onto the terrasse of Lallouz, a new-ish addition to the neighbourhood, and a really well-run, charming, yet impressively inexpensive Middle Eastern eatery. We cannot recommend it enough. We feasted on a variety of little salads to start, and then enjoyed really well-prepared grilled beef, chicken and lamb kebabs on warm lafa bread. It was a perfect, not too heavy meal for such a hot night. And what really sealed the deal for me was that, included in their $12 (!!!) set-menu price, was a pitcher of mint lemonade.

I get a little bit excited about mint lemonade, and so this was a fabulous surprise. And was it ever some good mint lemonade. We downed it speedily. It instantly brought me back to the mint lemonade I drank in Israel, when I travelled there in early 2010. It is ubiquitous in the region, and for good reason; could there be any more refreshing combo than lemon and mint? Sweetened, but not too sweet? I would not shut up about how exciting Lallouz’s mint lemonade was, and so on the way home Graeme insisted we stop at the nearby fruiterie and pick up a big bunch of lemons. Surely this was something I could recreate at home?

I am happy to report that–duh–yes, mint lemonade is super easy to make, and a perfect refreshing drink to help you deal with the summer heat. If you are like me, and have mint growing in the garden so fast that you can’t keep up with it, this is a great use for some of it. I completely winged the recipe below and it turned out totally to my liking, so you should feel free to wing it too, and get it just how you like it. And stay cool.

Mint Lemonade
Makes 1 pitcher full.

Ingredients:
1.5 cups lemon juice (about 7-8 lemons)
1.5 cups simple syrup*
a bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
3 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and serve in glasses over lots of ice.

*I warn you, I like my lemonade nice and tart. Adjust the simple syrup to your tastes, and definitely sweeten it if you think I’m a crazy sourmouth or something.

Homemade Whole-Milk Ricotta

It all started with yogurt. I am an inveterate yogurt-for-breakfast eater, as well as a snob about eating healthy, creamy, full-fat, no-junk yogurt, which can make for an expensive breakfast habit. So when I discovered that it was so damn easy to make your own yogurt, I was hooked. It felt like alchemy; just do a couple of small things to your milk, let it sit for six or so hours, and ta da! Tasty, inexpensive, and you get to thrillingly exclaim “holy crap, I made yogurt!” to anyone within shouting distance. We get a little obsessed with learning to cook things we would normally buy from scratch in this here household, and all of a sudden I was aware that there was this whole world of dairy out there just waiting for me to mess around with it. And so, I bought myself this veritable bible of home cheesemaking possibilities, and set to reading:

source

Once you enter the world of homemade cheese, you have got a whole lot of new vocabulary to learn, and I will admit that I found myself a little bit overwhelmed at first. That said, Ricki Carroll’s book does a great job of explaining the basics and building from there, helping me to understand the process of turning milk into cheese, and what the various possibilities are. Still, despite the fact that I should have known better, I had a hard time believing that it could be as simple as it seemed. Most “recipes” consist of little more than milk, and an appropriate souring agent that does the job of separating it into curds and whey. Hard cheeses get a little bit more complicated, but Carroll assures the reader that classics such as ricotta and mozzarella are really perfect for beginners and dummy-proof.

So last week, I decided to finally throw my hat into the ring and start with some ricotta. I know that all of you who already know how to make things like ricotta, or have Italian grandmothers who did this every day like it was like breathing, are probably laughing at my hesitation. As always, making my own ricotta taught me that the world’s more traditional foods are usually very straightforward and simple to prepare; how else would they have become so ubiquitous? Like my experimentation with yogurt, watching the milk transform into cheese felt like magic. As the mixture warmed up and nothing happened, I was skeptical. What was I doing? And then, as it slowly reached the set temperature, the curds started to appear and I knew that I was creating something.

All in all, including hanging the ricotta to drain more of the liquid out of it, the process took less than an hour. Apparently mozzarella, which I hope to attempt later this week, takes even less time! And it was too cool to watch it all happen, with seemingly little intervention on my part.As I watched the ricotta drip, I thought about the ricotta we buy in the supermarket, and how we generally treat it as a means to an end. It is not something I tend to get excited about eating in and of itself–it is an ingredient in a tasty lasagna, or some other more complex dish. But fresh, and straight out of my own section of cheesecloth, it was the star of that night’s dinner. I ate it with spaghetti and some homemade garlic scape pesto (the recipe here is fabulous), generously seasoned, and it could not have tasted more delicious.
I am therefore convinced that making your own cheese is awesome for three reasons: first, it tastes fresh and wonderful, and elevates often under-appreciated ingredients like ricotta to being central and show-stopping elements of one’s meal. Second, it is really fun to do, and feels like magical kitchen alchemy. And third, and perhaps most importantly, it is a way of learning about cheese. And I love cheese. It is one of my favourite foods, and I consume it with alarming enthusiasm. And it is incredibly instructive for me to start learning how it’s made, and by proxy what it actually is, exactly, both in terms of my appreciation for this beautiful food, and for my understanding of what makes a cheese tasty, or sharp, or creamy, or pungent, or nutty. Anything that deepens my understanding and appreciation of cheese is a good thing, in my book.

And so, let me share with you the ricotta recipe from Carroll’s book, adapted in two big ways: first, I scaled down the quantity considerably, as I imagine that if you are embarking on this for the first time like I was, you probably want to smart small in case it all goes sour (literally, ha!). Second, I couldn’t find citric acid, which is what she suggests as a starter (which is odd, as I’d never had trouble finding it in stores before–I think it was just an off day in my neighbourhood), so I did a bunch of sleuthing and figured out how to substitute the right quantity of lemon juice instead, which worked like a charm. So I will offer you both possibilities in the recipe below. Enjoy, and if you try it, tell me how it went!

Homemade Whole-Milk Ricotta
Makes about 1 cup of ricotta. Adapted from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheesemaking.

Ingredients:
1 litre whole milk
1/4 tsp citric acid disolved in 1 tbsp of water OR 20 ml (1 tbsp & 1 tsp) lemon juice
1 tsp cheese salt (optional–I didn’t use any)
1 tbsp heavy cream (optional and definitely made the cheese more creamy)

Add your citric acid or lemon juice and optional salt into the milk and mix thoroughly. In a medium saucepan, directly heat this mixture to between 185F and 195F (I did this over medium-high heat). Do not boil. Stir often to prevent any burning. Once it gets up to this temperature range, the curds should start separating from the whey (the leftover liquid). Make sure that the curds separate enough that the whey is not milky, and turn off the heat. Allow it to set, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

Line a colander with butter muslin/cheesecloth and ladle the curds into the colander. Tie the corners of the cloth into a knot and hang the bag to drain, with a bowl under it to catch the drips. Carroll says to hang it for 20-30 minutes, but as this recipe makes only a quarter of the quantity she suggests in her book, it should be ready within about 15 minutes. It is really up to you how long you hang it for; do it until it reaches a consistency that you like.

The cheese is ready to eat immediately. If you would like to make it creamier, add some of the cream, and mix it thoroughly. Carroll says that in a covered container in the fridge, the ricotta should last 1-2 weeks, but we wouldn’t know, as ours was all gone within 24 hours.

Stay tuned for more cheesemaking adventures!

Barbecued Ribs

On Thursday morning I was sitting at my computer with my morning coffee reading the day’s news. I was on The Guardian’s website and, in an experience that is no doubt familiar to many Guardian readers, found myself enraged at the headline for one of their articles. Was it some provocative but thick-skulled analysis of the conflict in the Middle East? A woefully misinformed and patronising article about Canadian politics? Anything ever by Madeline Bunting?  No, it was the headline for the following article by Felicity Cloake on the site’s sidebar: are ribs, this “mainstay of the American barbecue canon overrated or a porcine classic?”

Ribs overrated?  They’d pushed me too far this time.  I ranted to Anna about how stupid the Guardian is and how they only publish things with extreme views that will divide and anger people who will then repeatedly click on the article to leave vengeful comments on it.  Such is the world with print media declining.

To be fair, once I calmed down enough to read the article, it wasn’t actually bad at all.  Basically Cloake’s point is that the British are terrible at barbecue and so their idea of barbecuing ribs is to throw them on the grill for a few minutes on each side and then wonder what the big deal is about ribs as they joylessly gnaw on tough and barely edible meat.  You would think that I’m exaggerating here, but barbecue is an unknown art in the UK.  We tried it when we lived there and had poor results.  You can easily find a cheap charcoal grill, but good luck finding decent charcoal.  And when I say “decent charcoal”, I mean charcoal that will actually heat up enough to be useful for cooking.  It’s like the British state and its perverse obsession with all things health and safety carried out a risk analysis and determined that not only is barbecue potentially carcinogenic but also that hot things can burn and so people should be denied the primal pleasure of cooking things over fire.  Balls.  I digress.  Anyway, Cloake goes on and tries different methods of cooking ribs to find the best possible recipe.

Not that a recipe for ribs is really necessary.  To me, ribs are one of the quintessential “cook from the heart” foods.  As long as you’re cooking them for a long time with low heat and making sure that they don’t dry out, you can do pretty much whatever you want with them and you’ll end up with great meat.  I prefer to give the ribs a slow bake in the oven and finish them on the grill, which is, I know, anathema to the purists who insist that you can only do proper ribs if you smoke them, but I don’t have a smoker, and I’m not confident enough about my barbecue’s temperature control to be able to cook them for hours at a low temperature on the grill.  When it’s all said and done, the ribs are tender and delicious and that’s good enough for me.

I prefer spare ribs to back ribs because they have more fat on them.  I always get mine from my butcher.  The night before I cook the ribs, I first remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.  You can find out how to do that here.  With the membrane removed the rub and the sauce can better penetrate the meat.  I use a rub, which consists of sugar, salt, and spices, though how I make the rub varies each time.  I’ll post the rub I used this time below, but I normally improvise it based on whatever seems good at the time.  I apply (rub?) the rub onto the meat, wrap it in plastic, and keep it in the fridge overnight.

About four or five hours before the planned dinner time I start baking the ribs in the oven.  I only did it for about three hours this time because I had a band practice that went a little bit late.  They still worked out great, and there are plenty of baked ribs recipes that call for a two hour bake, so I guess that two hours is probably the minimum?  But generally speaking, the longer you can bake them, the better.  I brush them with sauce before they go in the oven–Anna made the sauce from from Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food, which she posted about here–and put them into a 250F oven on a broiling pan.  I put some water in the broiling pan with the idea that the water would steam and keep the meat moist.  I’m not actually sure this works, but the idea seems to make sense.  I’ll occasionally reapply the sauce and turn the ribs.  The sauce should bake nicely onto the meat and as the meat cooks it should pull away slightly from the bone.  When they’re cooked and tender, they can be taken out of the oven and kept until you’re ready to grill them.

When the guests arrive and you’re ready to eat, brush some more sauce onto the ribs and grill them on the barbecue to get the sauce nicely caramelised, and then serve.  We had ours with grilled corn, spoonbread, and a potato and vegetable salad.  The meat was tender and flavourful.  We had a couple of friends over for dinner and over drinks and conversation we devoured the two racks over the course of the night.  It was what summer eating should be about.

Rub for ribs
Makes enough for two racks of ribs

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (I use Colman’s)
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Mix everything together and generously rub it into the meat.