My Pandemic Diary, Entry #57
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
Today is Tuesday and a beauty of a day. A little hazy but I expect the sun to break through before long. It seems to be a particularly quiet morning. Even the birds seem subdued.
Yesterday felt busy but not necessarily productive. I had my usual activities, plus I was cooking pork ribs and that takes several hours with a little required attention now and then so I felt like I was working in 45-minute sprints. Not the best way to sustain concentration. No walk yesterday or today which is not a good thing. Tomorrow for sure, rain or shine. We’re still waiting for our exercise bicycle to arrive; it’s due in June which means it could be two weeks or six. Waiting is tiresome, especially now when it’s easy for anything to become tiresome and it’s easy for everything to require a wait.
Today is more of the same and I’m trying to resist the boredom. On the one hand, I want structure and regularity. On the other, I sure would like some variety and surprises. Not bad surprises like computer hell, but like a last minute “oh, let’s get a drink tonight” call from a friend and choosing a fancy hotel bar to meet. I adore New York’s hotel bars, like the Ritz or St. Regis, and many of them have managed to stay enough under the tourist radar that even at Christmastime, you can get a seat. I think I have to add to my “things I miss the most” list -- hotel bars and spontaneity.
It occurred to me last night at 7:00 pm, as the sun started to set with a surprisingly beautiful sunset after a dull gray day, that I haven’t mentioned my noisy neighbors in a while. I can’t remember the day it began, but for weeks, just as it happens elsewhere, every night, my block makes a mighty sound. Someone’s got a cow bell, and someone else -- I think they’re in my building because of its proximate screeching sound – has an air horn. But mostly you hear clapping and cheering. The boisterous racket lasts three minutes and you know they’ll be back again tomorrow. They’re staying the course and I am so proud of my ‘hood.
Cooking and Groceries
This morning I did one of my early (6:00 am) shops at my local market to replenish my produce supply and for a few things I couldn’t get last week at Whole Foods. I expected to find cottage cheese but they were totally out.That’s not completely accurate; they had small curd cottage cheese with pineapple, not something I’ve ever understood or liked. Likewise, as expected, there was no yeast nor rye flour. But I did get a bottle of Heinz white vinegar which is what I use when making ricotta cheese, a box of Diamond Crystal kosher salt big enough to last any global pandemic, strawberries and asparagus, feta cheese (no French so I bought Bulgarian which I prefer to the Greek), and the ingredients for a new salad recipe from Milk Street that has tempted us that includes fennel and blood orange. I’ll let you know tomorrow how that turned out. I am always comforted to have a full refrigerator but now I’m even more comforted to have the shopping done with.
Last night’s dinner was pork ribs, broccoli rabe, and carrot salad. It was once said that you couldn’t get decent barbecue in New York City and the old joke was that to get good barbecue you had to go to Queens … and head to LaGuardia and fly south. Since then a few decent barbecue places have opened around the city, not even close to as good as you can get in places like Kansas City or Memphis, but good enough if you can’t get out of town.
I once tried braising ribs in a slow cooker and they were okay, but it couldn’t satisfy any barbecue craving. Then I came upon Tyler Florence on television as he shared his method for slow cooking ribs in your oven. I was inspired. All you need is a low and slow oven, a dry rub, and maybe some barbecue sauce that you can either buy or make. I sometimes buy one from a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia called Johnny Harris, or I make the brilliant recipe a New Orleans BBQ sauce master and friend shared with me. Both of these sauces are the vinegary kind.
There’s a bit to know about ribs before you set out to cook them at home. First, there are different kinds of ribs, including pork, beef and lamb. But what most of us think of as ribs, certainly ones that we’d probably cook at home or on a backyard grill, are pork ribs, either baby back or St. Louis ribs. Baby back ribs are not from a baby pig! They are the upper, shorter ribs of the animal and have their name because they’re smaller. St. Louis ribs refers to the lower, bigger ribs, also called spareribs (although I’ve heard that term used in various and inconsistent ways), that are cut in a particular way that flattens them and makes them easier to brown. St. Louis ribs are also meatier and have more fat which adds to their flavor. Given the choice, I buy St. Louis ribs.
Here is a good article from TheKitchn.com that gives more information about the differences in ribs and how best to cook them.
And here’s a detailed article I published at TheCityCook.com almost ten years ago that provides more details. But in brief, here are the basics for cooking dry rubbed ribs at home:
- Choose either baby back or St. Louis ribs.
- Leave the rack as a single piece and cut them into pieces after they’ve been cooked.
- Apply a dry rub with flavors you like. You’ll need about 2 tablespoons of rub for each rack. I sometimes mix salt, black pepper and ground cumin. Or granulated garlic, salt, and Espelette pepper. Or paprika, salt, celery salt, and brown sugar. When choosing a mix, just think about whatever appeals to you when seasoning pork. Yesterday I used my spice grinder (a Krups coffee grinder that I only use for spices) to grind about two teaspoons of a delicious and smoky red pepper called Poivre Sauvage Voatsiperifery Rouge (love that name) that I had bought last November as a souvenir at a Parisian spice shop, and combined that with a teaspoon of granulated garlic and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Although my Poivre Sauvage may seem like a fancy red pepper, you can get it at Kalustyan’s.
- Allow three to four hours to cook the ribs.
- Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (you’ll thank me later).
- Wipe off any moisture with a paper towel and then rub the rack on both sides with a little olive oil and then your dry rub. Let the rack sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature and then set the oven to 275° F. Roast for about 3 hours, flipping them over every 30 to 45 minutes, and cook until the top of the rack is browned and the meat is falling off the bone.
- Let the rack rest for about five minutes, cut into servings, and if you like, serve it with a barbecue sauce.
I served my ribs last night with two vegetables, each of which added color and a contrasting flavor to the unctuous ribs. Broccoli rabe, which I love for its bitterness, braised with garlic and red pepper flakes, and my favorite shredded carrot salad dressed with its bright lemon dressing. It was a terrific dinner on a lovely, languishing warm spring night.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.