<<warning: contains only the very scantiest of recipes>> Oh, I believe cookery is an art, and art does not reward blind trust in authorities that have come before us! Yet we all know people who follow recipes devoutly, zombie-like. I once (very briefly) dated a guy who cooked spectacularly delicious dishes – his beer-braised chicken was so good, it could make you cry – but he did not like to improvise.
He clung very heavily upon his subscription to Cook’s Illustrated and admonished Martha Stewart for her unreliable recipes. I think he limited his culinary spontaneity to adding fresh fruit juice to iced tea – good yes, but daring, no. Did this foretell the demise of the relationship? You be the judge.
So, dear Readers (and, I know people read this blog because WordPress gives me stats – oh yes!) how do you read recipes? Me, I never really follow recipes verbatim. My purpose is to understand the author’s use of the ingredients and to get a sense of how the preparation methods emphasize and modify various flavors: I read recipes to synthesize information, not to replicate results. And you? Does anyone else do this?
Well, anyhow, that is the technique that I used to make BBQ pork ribs, for the first time. A few summers ago, I volunteered to make dinner for my family. Let me give a bit of context: my family is filled with individuals brandishing discerning palates. My mother, a Chinese woman, always says, “the Chinese love to eat.” And we all do love to eat (despite the fact that my father is not Chinese, being Japanese, I think he is permitted to love eating as well).
Both my father and my brother-in-law are serious cooks. My father, for one, displays staggering creativity and genius with his composition of ingredients. And, he knows how to make stellar food – chicken curry, nopales simmered with fava beans, crepes, making his own yogurt – you name it, he knows it. And not only that, but what devotion to the pursuit of good food. Do you know anyone else who’s sussed out all the good spots on the beaches to find clams and mussels? How about spotting good restaurants at fifty paces? anybody else on a first-name basis with your local, friendly, albacore fisherman?
As for my brother-in-law, even if he wasn’t intelligent, good-looking, and a great husband to my sis and father to their awesome kids, his cooking alone might warrant a marriage proposal. Who else barbeques oysters – that’s right, oysters – like the 8th wonder of the world?
I, for one, longed, absolutely longed to be good cook too! We were all together in the summertime. I wanted to make something special. My mother and I were at the store when I spotted pork ribs. Despite my lack of barbecuing experience, I could not resist them. Despite lacking any knowledge of what was available to dress them in a sauce, I recklessly bought those ribs!
Once home, I read dozens of recipes on recipezaar.com, allrecipes.com, and Googled for the finest rib recipes. Synthesizing the recipes, I learned that a good BBQ marinade needs a few things: (1) acidity; (2) sweetness; and (3) savoriness. I took a hard look at the fridge and pantry. And what I found and used very likely resides with you as well.
- grainy – not smooth – mustard
- brown sugar
I slathered these onto the ribs. They rested overnight. The next day, I prompted one of the menfolk to start a fire on the grill. When the low fire got established, I put on the ribs. They stayed on the grill for about three hours. On the plate, the ribs were beautifully reddened and a little blackened too. But meltingly tender. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen food disappear quite so fast! Compliments abounded. I was, for that meal, the Iron Chef! Can you imagine, sitting out, on the patio, with your pork ribs and rice and greens on a late summer day? It was delicious.
* The sharp-eyed will note that both mustard and ketchup typically contain vinegar…!