Bourbon Barbecue Ribs

platter of ribs

 

For good reason, some people think the Cambridge grocer Formaggio Kitchen is Fromaggio Kitchen, if only because the cheese case there represents The Louvre of what happens when the world’s sweetest milk meets the world’s funkiest bacteria. Cheese reigns at Formaggio Kitchen. The staff speaks casually of ashen pyramids from obscure Dolomite villages, population 300. I once asked about a rare raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed with ferns, from Romagna.

“You mean Cacio Raviggiolo?” the Formaggio Cheese-ist asked without lifting head from cutting into a wheel of Harbison.

“Unfortunately, they make too little for it to ever cross a border.”

There is much more than cheese inside this small storefront on Huron Ave. (also in Boston’s South End and NYC). Whether it’s coffee or morels, “delicious” at Formaggio Kitchen is consistent, so, naturally, a barbecue package from Formaggio is worth a trial.

Barbecue condiments usually just blur in my eyes, the infinite variety of ketchupy sauces and the little bottles of fire-liquid that come with with chest-pounding challenges of Scoville-scored heat. Whatever.

But a Formaggio product makes me think twice. If anyone in that store knows even half as much about applying indirect heat to meat as they do about Comte, a Formaggio assortment of stuff to use when you’re making barbecue must be pretty good.

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Here’s their gutsy barbecue package:

1.  Cool, crisp and spicy McClure’s Pickles

2.  Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman Heirloom dried beans

3.  Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego or Very Hot Sauce

4.  A small tin of Formaggio Dry Rub

5.  Sir Kensington’s Ketchup, a condiment born when Catherine the Great asked the British noble at his gourmet dinner party for some “ketchup” to go with the Wagyu Beef. Kensington went in the kitchen and made up this stuff, as the story goes. (Kensington was already a member of the National Geographic Society and the Guild of Pepperers.)

6.  A pale yellow, crumbly wedge of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Cheese, Silver Medalist at the 2012 World Cheese Awards. It wouldn’t be a Formaggio package without cheese.

So here’s what happened. I made the Rancho Gordo beans the night before, soaking them, simmering them in sweated vegetables and water for a while, draining them and tossing with roasted poblano peppers, olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon. They were pretty tasty.

Rancho Gordo beans

The Cabot Clothbound turned out to be a faultless bite of sharpness to have with a cold, dry beer while waiting for the ribs to grill.

The Ribs. We have made this recipe before, a recipe basically from the Backyard Barbecue Bible, which we adapted here to include the Formaggio Team: the Formaggio Dry Rub (mystery ingredients, but excellent) coated the ribs, and they marinated in that overnight. The next day the ribs were wrapped in foil and baked slowly at a low temperature for two hours. The meat is just wonderfully tender at that point, and the rub honestly penetrated. Then more rub is added, and the ribs are finished to crispy edges and still tender centers on the grill.

ribs off the grill

Our traditional Bourbon Barbecue Sauce got Formaggio-ed; instead of Heinz here we used the Sir Kensington Ketchup. Instead of Tabasco we used Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego.

We’ve made these ribs before, remember, but never have they had the depth of flavor, heat, and, it’s worth saying again, flavor. These were complicated ribs: sweet without tasting like molasses or corn syrup. Five different notes of heat – as in “do, me, so, ti, and la” – played up the scale. Coffee, berries, honey, charcoal – flavors like that, all lavished upon the fire-bitten sides and warm tender collapse of farm-raised pork.

The truest test of deliciousness came with a sip of Barbera D’Alba. Somewhere in their roots the words Barbera and Barbecue must be related, because rarely has a food and wine met with such holy potency. This was a Sunday Supper. 

platter on table

Bourbon Barbecue Ribs

Ingredients

4-5 pounds baby back ribs

Formaggio Dry Rub or dry rub of your choice (Make sure you set aside 2 tablespoons for grilling later.)

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce with Sir Kensington’s Ketchup

Instructions

1.  One day in advance: To prepare the ribs, strip off the thin membrane on the lower side. Make a cut or two into the membrane at one end of the rack, pushing the knife or your fingers under it to pull it off. It usually comes off easily.

2.  Coat the ribs well with the rub, and place in large plastic bags. Let sit overnight. (The rub and meat juices become a marinade.)

3.  The next day, at least 3 hours before serving time, preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Remove ribs from bags and wrap securely in foil. Place on baking sheets, and bake at this slow temperature for 2 hours. The meat should begin to shrink away from the ends of the bones, exposing them a bit. The meat should pull apart with no resistance.

4.  If you plan on grilling the ribs right away, fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium (4-5 seconds with the hand test). If you want to delay the grilling for more than an hour, cool the ribs, opening the foil to speed the process. Rewrap the ribs in the foil and refrigerate them until about 30 minutes before you plan to grill.

5.  Sprinkle the top side of the racks of ribs evenly with the remaining rub. Grill the ribs uncovered over medium heat for a total of about 20 minutes. Grill on each side for about 7 minutes to crisp. At this point, brush the ribs generously with the sauce and cook for about 6 minutes more, letting each side face the fire briefly. (Do Not be tempted to add the sauce earlier than this or the sugars in it will burn, and ruin your beautiful flavor.)

6.  The ribs are done when very tender with a surface that’s crisp in some spots and gooey with the sauce in others. Slice into individual ribs and pile on a platter. Serve with more sauce and paper towels!

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce with Sir Kensington Ketchup

Ingredients

1 cup Sir Kensington ketchup

1/4 cup molasses 2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3-4 tablespoons Jim Beam Bourbon

salt, optional

Instructions

1. Combine the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, butter, mustard, onion powder, pepper, and chili powder in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes until thickened lightly. Stir in the bourbon and simmer another couple of minutes. Taste and add a bit of salt if needed, then cook for another minute or two. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

SUnday dinner

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