Mr. Okra-inspired ribs
Days after New Orleans post-Katrina flooding, a friend put Chef Scot “Scottie” Craig in touch with a group of CNN journalists seeking someone who could feed them something other than military-issued, vacuum sealed M.R.E.s. With his home and restaurant—the popular Katie’s in Mid City inaccessible— Craig was free to eager to help
“I was desperate,” Craig said. “I found them a mobile kitchen and they got me along with the deal.”
He set up a mobile kitchen at the CNN outpost near Lee Circle. In those early days, only military, journalists (which now included Scottie), and crafty, connected types capable of securing passes roamed the city. Inexplicably, those with high-level connections included the late Arthur J. Robinson, a.k.a “Mr. Okra,” the city’s best-known traveling produce salesman. Regardless that he was awakening to a sparsely populated, utterly decimated place, in those dark days Mr. Okra cheerily continued to do the same thing each morning that he had done for decades: He loaded up his pick-up with fresh fruits and vegetables and drove around town singing out through a bullhorn to inform of what he had available for sale.
“I have no idea where he was getting this stuff,” Craig said. “Most people were still munching jars of pickles, but every day it was ‘I’ve got blackberries!’” when he drove by. He seemed to have blackberries just coming out of his ass. So, I bought blackberries.
“CNN headquarters kept sending in loads of baby back ribs. So, I had lots of ribs and lots of blackberries. What to do? This is it.
“I was supposed to work for CNN for three months, tops. I ended up working for them for two years. I still get calls from CNN bureau’s all over the country asking for these ribs.”
Baby Back Ribs with Blackberry & Jalapeño Glaze
2 racks best-quality baby back pork ribs
Rib Rub (recipe follows)
Blackberry Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
Fresh, whole blackberries, if desired
1. First, rub the ribs evenly with the “Rib Rub.”
2. Next, smoke the ribs on a prepared outdoor smoker set at 225ºF for 4 to 5 hours until tender. Refrigerate the ribs until well chilled.
3. Prepare an outdoor charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking. Brush the ribs generously with the sauce and grill until heated through. The sauce should be thick enough to stick to the ribs.
4. Serve the ribs with additional sauce and fresh, whole blackberries if desired.
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
Blackberry Barbecue Sauce:
1 cup ketchup
1 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
20 fresh blackberries
30 pickled jalapeño slices, finely chopped pickling liquid from jalapeños
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Combine all ingredients except the pickling liquid, salt, and pepper in a in a saucepot.
2. Puree with an immersion blender.
3. Set the saucepot over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. If sauce gets too thick, thin it with some of the pickling juice from the jalapeños. Taste. Add salt and pepper as desired.
- Don’t have access to a grill? See below for a method for smoking the ribs right in the oven.
- This divine sauce would work equally well on chicken, pork, duck, vegetables or even tofu.
- Whatever you do, don’t use this on those horrible, fatty St. Louis-style ribs,” the chef warns. “They suck. Use only lean baby backs.”
To smoke the ribs in the oven preheat the oven to 225ºF. Layer the bottom of a roasting pan with hickory or oak chips and add enough water to create a shallow pool coating bottom of pan and moistening chips. Put a rack over the chips and put the rubbed meat on the rack. Cover the entire roasting pan tightly with foil, making a tent at top so steam can circulate around meat. Bake for 4 to 5 hours, or until meat is cooked and tender. Carefully remove the foil from pan. Slather the ribs with the blackberry barbecue sauce and cook them under a high broiler, watching carefully, until they are nicely crisp and browned, about 5 minutes.
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