I was recently talking to my friend Jim about cooking and food. He had read my blog about cooking with Keller and was curious about why Keller couldn’t use raw garlic instead of the roasted garlic that the mashed potato recipe called for, and why I urged him to use garlic powder instead of raw garlic. As I went on to explain my preference for roasted garlic or garlic powder over raw garlic in the recipe, he casually mentioned that he had never cooked with fresh garlic. In fact, he never cooked with fresh herbs. “Really?” is all I could say, trying not to look at him as if he had two heads, although I had good reason too. Jim is a gardener who grows vegetables and had just mentioned that his mint plant had died.
“What do you use your mint for then?” I inquired.
“Ice tea,” he simply replied.
As the conversation progressed it turns out he’s used fresh basil in tomato and mozzarella salads. I assured him that fresh mint in tea and basil in a salad counted as cooking with herbs.
A few days later I called my mother up to get her barbecue short rib recipe that I mentioned in my last blog post, “You Say Barbeque, I Say Barbecue.” Having roused her from her nap, I was amazed that she was able to rattle off the “recipe” for the ribs. When she mentioned garlic powder, for some reason I mentioned my friend the gardener and how he claims to have never cooked with fresh herbs to which she replied, “I never cooked with fresh herbs either.”
“¿Que?” (Which is Spanish for “what?”)
I realize that when making a dry rub for meats, dried or powdered herbs work best. But this idea that gardeners have “never” used fresh herbs blows my mind. Like Jim, my parents were gardeners. My mom grew the most beautiful rose bushes in every color under the sun. My favorite to this day are a fiery orange varietal that reminds me of flames and summer. For years, they grew tomatoes and had planted a fig tree. There was even a period when they grew grapes, but I never thought they were truly edible—probably best used in wine making under the purview of a seasoned vintner. They even planted a peach tree in honor of Keller’s birth.
It was another few days when I realized that my parents did make use of fresh garlic, parsley and cilantro in their meal prep. Not sure why my mother would say she never used fresh herbs when clearly, she and my father did use a few select fresh herbs. Maybe because the things we do, the practices we employ seem so routine, that we don’t think of them as anything special or unique. Or maybe her memory is starting to go.
I tend to use both dried, store bought herbs, and fresh—also store bought—herbs. In the early years of my marriage most of the recipes I used called for dried herbs, from which I built an extensive arsenal of dried herbs. But as I became more adventurous in my cooking I started using fresh herbs when creating pesto or when preparing a paste to cover a roast. In some cases, fresh and dried herbs are interchangeable, when preparing a stuffing for example or seasoning roasted vegetables. Other dishes, such as pesto, is best done with fresh herbs, while dried herbs are the best choice for dry rubs.
Which brings me back to my conversation with my mother when she divulged the “recipe” for her ribs, or rather the ingredients and cooking method, since she didn’t have measurements for any of it, leaving me with a new project to recreate the flavor of her ribs.
Mama’s Barbecue Short Rib Recipe Ver. 1.0
While I consider it a work in progress to achieve the flavor I remember as a child, I think it’s worth covering the different configurations of spices used in the dry rub. In this version, I used way more cumin then I should have. For the sauce I used Kraft® Original BBQ Sauce, however, it was much smokier than I remembered. I probably should have gone with the Kraft® Honey BBQ Sauce. And speaking of smoky, I forgot to add the liquid smoke to this version. What I came up wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the barbecue short ribs of my childhood.
4 lbs. short ribs, bone-in
¼ cup of soy sauce
Juice of 2 lemons (2 oz.)
1 tablespoon, cumin powder
1 ½ tablespoon, garlic powder
1 ½ tablespoon, dried sage
1 teaspoon, ground pepper
½ teaspoon, salt
- Place the ribs in a glass casserole.
- Pour soy sauce and lemon juice over the rubs.
- Combine cumin, garlic powder, sage, ground pepper and salt in small bowl. Rub the ribs with the mixture.
- Cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to roast, remove the casserole from the fridge and let it rest at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Transfer the ribs into a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, meat side up.
- Roast the ribs for one hour.
- Remove the ribs from the oven after an hour and transfer the ribs to a broiling pan, bone side up.
- Set the oven to broil on high or 500°F and the rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler.
- Pour the barbecue sauce into a small bowl.
- Cover the bone-side of the ribs in sauce and place them in the oven for two minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the oven and flip them so the fleshy part is up. Apply more sauce. Broil for two more minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the oven and flip them again—bone side up—and apply more sauce. Broil for another two minutes.
- Remove from the oven again and flip the ribs. Apply one last coat of barbecue sauce and broil for two more minutes.
- Serve immediately.