DEBORAH SALOMON: Ribs: Dish Of Choice For Holiday
Ribs and chicken for mmm-Memorial Day. Sound good?
I haven't made or eaten ribs for years. But I do remember how delicious long, thick, meaty beef ribs can be. Ditto for the sweet-if-sparse meat falling off pork rib bones, whether baby back or long.
Fat is responsible for the flavor and failings of beef ribs. They are so good because they are so marbled. They also take a while to cook; not all outdoor grillers are willing to wait, resulting in meat that must be gnawed from the bone. Dripping fat makes them susceptible to charring over a hot fire.
Ribs do require a little finesse. Purists may shudder, but precooking's the answer not only to tenderize meat but to render some of that fat.
As I recall, I would buy a rack of beef ribs, the meatier the better, and cut the rack in half, better to fit my Dutch oven. I'd either boil the ribs gently for about 30 minutes or set them on a rack in a roasting pan half-filled with water, cover tightly with foil and baked in a slow oven for at least an hour.
Then, I'd smear the partially cooked ribs with sauce and a healthy dash of vinegar, rub with chopped garlic, place in a plastic bag with cut-up onions and refrigerate overnight. Bring ribs to room temperature and, with paper towels, wipe off tomato-based sauce before placing on the not-too-hot barbecue, preferably charcoal. Cover and let cook slowly for another 30-45 minutes, turning often and brushing with a thin layer of sauce during the final 15 minutes. Just before serving cut ribs apart with a long sharp knife and eat with your hands. Those little towelette packets are impossible to open with sticky fingers. Instead, provide wash cloths soaked in a lemon juice-water solution.
Because beef ribs are so heavy, rich and greasy you absolutely need light, tart side dishes. Vinegar-dressed cole slaw is perfect. Buy two bags of angel-hair shredded cabbage. Mix in a finely grated carrot, green scallion cut into thin ribbons and a spoonful of chopped pimento. Dissolve a tablespoon of sugar into cup or more warm vinegar.
Toss with slaw, season with freshly grated pepper. Refrigerate several hours, stirring frequently, until wilted. For a taste twist, substitute brine from green olives for some or all of the vinegar.
Instead of mayo-logged potato salad, simmer tiny unpeeled potatoes until almost tender, spray with olive oil, crisp on the grill with the ribs.
Precooking chicken parts, covered, in the oven, then marinating and finishing on the grill speeds up the meal, too. For a light but surprisingly delicious strawberry shortcake, use sliced angel-food cake instead of biscuits. Top with partially crushed fresh strawberries and vanilla yogurt -- unless you can stomach fat-free whipped topping.
Even better, thread cubes of fresh pineapple and melon on skewers, brush with honey, maple syrup or ginger marmalade and brown on the grill.
Treat pork ribs the same: half-cook, marinate, grill. A rice casserole that can be served from the grill goes well with pork: Mix equal parts cooked brown rice (with a handful of wild rice thrown in) and cooked couscous with enough broth to moisten. I add a spoonful of soy or barbecue sauce to the broth.
Saute chopped mushrooms, garlic, onion, sliced almonds and stir into moistened rice. Bake in an oiled metal pan at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Keep pan warm on grill.
Whatever you serve this Memorial Day, remember to display Old Glory in honor of those who will never again gather on the deck to laugh, talk and eat ribs with the people they love.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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