Monday, June 11, 2012

Meat me in St. Louis

Consider your final meal….. the last tasty morsel of deliciousness that will ever tingle your taste buds and fire those sensory neurons in your brain – how important would it be to get it just right? Not that I would want it to be anytime soon but I have given this a little thought. For me, the ideal menu would start with a fresh chicken liver pate with thinly sliced onions on a crisp melba toast, finish off with a baked sour cream cheesecake and, in between, tender, juicy and succulent barbequed pork ribs, lightly smoked and falling off the bone. Armed with this I would be well prepared for the eternal nap on the sofa in front of the celestial T.V.

But what constitutes good pork ribs? Sadly, in Ireland, a decent rib I have yet to experience. I have tried many attempts in various restaurants but invariably they fall short by being either chewy and tough or dry and overcooked. A good rib is a skill only achieved by practice and heat control and the right seasonings. Having a good butcher on standby is also a great help.

This brings me nicely onto the subject of today’s post – the wondrousness of the St. Louis Cut Pork Rib.

In the US there are two types of ribs – Baby Back and St. Louis. In short, the baby backs are the part of the rib nearest the spine. These are tender but not very meaty and are what are normally sold in butcheries in Ireland. The St. Louis cut is after the baby backs and before the rib tips. These ribs are much meatier but tougher and that requires some more attention during the cooking process – but the final results are so much better in both flavours and a satisfying “bite”.

For the last year I have tried to find a butcher who will take the time to understand my requirements and again I must refer to Brendan Keenan from Keenan & Kennedy Butchers, Brendan took the time to look up St. Louis Ribs on the internet and sold me two perfectly cut racks of meaty deliciousness. (and no, he doesn’t pay me or reduce the bill for saying that….)

There are four steps to the perfect rib:
1) Preparation
2) Flavouring (The Dry Rub)
3) Cooking (The Braising Liquid)
4) Finishing (The Sauce)

The Piggly Wiggly Ribs

The Rub
5 Tbls Light Brown Sugar
1 Tbls Kosher (coarse) Salt
1 Tbls Chipotle Chilli powder (or whatever chilli powder you have - measure according to heat..)
1 Tbls Smoked Paprika
1Tsp Dry English Mustard
1 Tsp Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Onion Powder
1 Tsp Old Bay seasoning (optional and only if you can get it…seriously Irish retailers – Old Bay and Kosher Salt – Why does no-one here sell these??)
½ Tsp Black Pepper

Mix well together and put in some form of shaker (I use a magic bullet – got one some years ago and it’s the only thing it’s good at….)

The Braising Liquid (enough for two racks – halve if only doing one)
1 Cup (250 ml) Apple Juice
2 Tbls Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbls Worcester Sauce
1 Tbls Honey

Mix together

The Barbeque Sauce
½ Cup (125 ml) Apple Juice
2 Tbls Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbls Tomato Puree
2 Tbls Irish Whiskey (or Bourbon) (or optional)
1 Tbls Soy Sauce
1 Tbls Worcester Sauce
2 Tsp Molasses (Black Treacle)
2 Tsp Light Brown Sugar
1 Tsp Dry Mustard
½ Tsp Garlic Powder
½ Tsp Onion Powder
½ Tsp Chipotle Powder
½ Tsp Kosher Salt

Mix together in a heavy bottomed pan over a low to medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half (about 10 minutes) Let cool – I do this part after the ribs are first put on. (Note – reserve some sauce for dipping etc before you use it on the ribs)

Preparation - Firstly inspect your ribs (same for the baby backs – don’t miss this step). There will be a membrane on the inside (bony side). Push the back of a teaspoon or blunt knife under the membrane and work it until you can get a finger in under the skin. Then pull the membrane and it should pull away cleanly from the meat.

Flavouring – sprinkle the dry rub liberally on both sides of the ribs. Pack into a large Ziploc bag (I get mine from Ikea – the largest bags are ideal) and press as much air out as possible. Alternatively, wrap well in plastic wrap. Store overnight in the fridge. Take out of the fridge ½ hour before you go to cook them next day.

Cooking – The secret to good St. Louis Ribs is to cook low and slow. As this is Ireland, and most barbeques here are basic models (compared to the American models), it tends to be difficult to keep the temperatures consistent over long periods. This means that the best BBQ ribs are actually cooked in the oven (please don’t stone me just yet….)

Heat oven to 250F degrees. Place the ribs on a sheet of aluminium foil which has been doubled over (the final sheet size must be large enough to wrap the ribs in a parcel). Bring the two side edges to the top and seal tightly. Seal one end tightly. In the other end pour in half the liquid (if doing two racks) in each of the parcels and seal tightly. Place onto trays and place on the oven for 3 hours. (less if making baby back ribs say 2 ½ hours). After three hours test the “doneness” by twisting a middle bone – If it pulls away from the meat you are ready to finish - if not give it another half hour.

Finishing - If finishing on a BBQ light it ahead of the estimated oven finish time according to your BBQs instructions. If it’s raining, snowing etc (as it invariably is in Ireland) finishing in the broiler (or grill as it is in Ireland) will also work – just be sure to move the rack down from the elements. Add smoke to the BBQ by soaking hard wood chips for half an hour beforehand, wrapping in foil, piercing the foil a few times and placing on the hot charcoals or gas covers (not the elements directly). Place the ribs onto the grill rack (bony side down) and baste with the sauce. Cover and let the smoke do its work – note this will be enough to give a smoky taste to the ribs but will not give the pink smoke rings that BBQers crave in competition – this is caused by the meat being prepared for hours in a smoker which is advanced BBQ juju - trust me, we haven’t got to that level yet – you’ve only just learned about St. Louis Ribs for God’s sake…..

Keep basting every three to four minutes or so for 10 to 15 minutes (we are just looking to caramelise the sauce a bit) then let the ribs rest for 5 minutes.

Slice down between the bones to present for parties or, as I do, grab one full rack and run off into a corner, wide eyed and snarling at anyone who tries to take them off you as you suck the meat off the bones oblivious to the juice running down your chin whilst chanting “precioussss, my preciousss”…..oh – probably too much information….

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