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The Best Memories of Katie’s and a recipe for Smoked Blackberry Ribs

I was exactly one month into my 18th year when my mother died suddenly, so I have spent much of my life like that little fairytale duck who wandered about seeking its mother. It is fortuitous for me that I have met many generous women who have been willing to share their guidance and wisdom with me as I have stumbled along life’s path.

One of my earliest mentor/surrogates was Harriet Robin, my childhood best friend’s mother. Thrillingly, in recent years Harriet and I have become friends in our own right, and I’ve also become close with her lifelong best friend, Anne Leonhard. Both ladies are skilled and passionate home cooks and together they are enjoying second careers as culinary school instructors, most frequently at The New Orleans School of Cooking, where their classes sell out due to their mutual engaging style and sassy, sparking wit. It must be like makin’ gumbo with Laurel and Hardy. These lifelong friends recently served as judges on the premier season of Peacock/NBC’s “Baking It,” and they jointly penned a cookbook/memoire, “Across the Table: Recipes & Stories from Two New Orleans Friends (2017).”

A few years back I took Harriet and Anne, both born-and-bred, card carrying Y’ats, to Katie’s Restaurant, a shockingly good restaurant to which neither one of them had, shockingly, ever been. We started our belt-busting luncheon with char-grilled oysters on the half swimming in buttery goodness and toasted Parmesan; and a crawfish beignet—a puff of dough filled with savory mudbugs, caramelized onions and Provel cheese topped with a zesty aioli. The highlight of the meal was the arrival of Scottie’s CNN Blackberry and Jalapeno Ribs, which are s-l-o-w smoked and basted with a mind-blowing glaze of fresh blackberries thinned with jalapeño juice.

Harriet: “Oh Mercy, oh my goodness! These are the best ribs I have evuh had in my life! Wait, no, this could be the best thing I have evuh had! I’m going to bring some home to Maw-Maw!”  Side note: Maw-Maw, Harriet’s mother, was still going strong and enjoying things like jalapeño glazed ribs at age 101. 

Chef Scott “Scottie” Craig: “Lemme tell ya ’bout dem ribs: Katrina is the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life.” 

Days after the disaster Scottie’s friend met a group of CNN journalists seeking a mobile kitchen. He connected them with Scottie, who had lost both his home and his business to flooding. “I was desperate. I found them a mobile kitchen and they got me along with the deal. I was gonna stick like glue.” 

Scottie set up shop at the CNN outpost in a parking near Lee Circle. Inexplicably, those with high-level connections who were allowed to roam the city at will included Arthur J. Robinson, a.k.a “Mr. Okra.” Regardless that he was awakening to a sparsely populated, utterly decimated place, back in those dark days Mr. Okra cheerily continued to load up his pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and drove around town singing out through a bullhorn what items he had for sale.

“I have no idea where he was getting this stuff—but every day it was ‘I’ve got blackberries!’ He seemed to have blackberries just coming out of his a–. So, I bought blackberries. CNN headquarters kept sending in loads of baby back ribs. What to do? This is it. I still get calls from CNN bureaus all over the country asking for these ribs.”

The Best Memories of Katie’s and a recipe for Smoked Blackberry Ribs
Photo credit Sam Hanna for New Orleans Magazine

Chef Scottie’s CNN Blackberry Ribs

Serves 4

2 racks best-quality baby back pork ribs

Rib Rub (recipe follows)

Blackberry Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)

fresh, whole blackberries, if desired

Rubs the ribs evenly with the Rib Rub.

Smoke the ribs on a prepared outdoor smoker set at 225ºF for 4 to 5 hours until tender. Refrigerate the ribs until well chilled. See NOTES, below, for a method for smoking the ribs in the oven.

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.

Serve the ribs with other sauce and fresh, whole blackberries if desired.

Rib Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 

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
  • 1cup brown sugar
  • 20 fresh blackberries 
  • 30 pickled jalapeño slices, finely chopped 
  • pickling liquid from jalapeños
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Combine all ingredients except the pickling liquid, salt, and pepper in a in a saucepot. Puree with an immersion blender. Set the saucepot over medium heat and cook, stirring often, 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.

NOTES:  1. 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; do not drown them. 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 smoke-flavored 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.

2.Though Scottie uses this divine sauce to baste the succulent, tender ribs he serves at Katie’s, it would work equally well on chicken, pork, duck, or vegetables. “Hell, use it on tofu. But 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.”

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