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A barbecue for autumn

September 26, 2009

I know bbq sauce is more of a summery thing, but last night at our gig in New Paltz at a fancy wine bar, the bandmates and I ordered “small plates” (aka appetizers) which included honey almond chicken wings/drumsticks. They were sticky and not too sweet, but not all that almondy or honey tasting and not at all spicey. The chicken was, however, fall-off-the-bone tender, if a little on the dry side. The sauce needed a zing of something. They should have used raw honey, a little almond flour or almond paste, and maybe some cider vinegar or lemon juice to punch it up.

This past week has been an incredibly busy one and the next week is going to be just as busy. So, tonight I’m taking the opportunity to finally do some home cooking again, since I have the whole day off from school and work and rehearsals and gigs. A great deal of homework needs to be done, but I can work on that this afternoon and tomorrow.

So, there are boneless pork ribs thawing in the fridge and I just made some homemade barbecue sauce. I’ve discovered that I don’t really like to follow recipes when cooking. Even when I am “following” a recipe, I read through the whole thing first, then I look at the ingredients, the composition, the cook heat & time, and basically wing it. It usually turns out just fine. Sometimes not as good as I would like, but definitely more than edible. I’m also learning that I need to taste things. I have a habit of just thinking of what other flavor elements would work well with something and dumping in a little spice or adding another vegetable or a pat more of butter or a little more salt, and I don’t tend to taste. I have a very good sense of flavor pairings (they called me the “flavor queen” sometimes at the pastry shop) and things usually turn out delicious. But often I notice something that I could have tweaked slightly, like adding a little more salt or a little less pepper; things I would have noticed beforehand if I had only tasted.

That is the principle by which I made today’s barbecue sauce. I knew that many barbecue sauces had a tomato-based element (usually ketchup), molasses, honey, vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, butter or oil, and/or a variety of spices and heat-inducing ingredients. I had on hand: tomato paste, full-flavor molasses, clover honey, dijon mustard, olive oil, and cider vinegar. I also had chopped garlic, hot pepper sauce, black pepper, and dutch processed black cocoa powder. Basically, I started with a 6 oz. can of tomato paste, added half the can of water, a glug of mild olive oil, two glugs of cider vinegar, a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard, a heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic, about a 1/4 cup of honey, what ended up being probably a 1/2 cup of molasses, probably a teaspoon of hot pepper sauce (I used a habanero sauce Chad had in the fridge but you could use Tabasco), a heaping teaspoon or so of ground black pepper, and a heaping teaspoon of black cocoa powder (my “secret” ingredient). Here’s a more formal, coherent estimate of my recipe:

Honey Molasses Barbecue Sauce:

1 – 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 can water (3 or so oz.)
2 tablespoons mild olive oil
3-4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup full flavor molasses (use more if using light, use a LOT less if using blackstrap)
1/4 cup clover honey (I had buckwheat, but I thought the flavor would get lost)
1 teaspoon (6-10 shakes) hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco
1 heaping teaspoon black pepper (provides a surprising amount of heat)
1 heaping teaspoon dutch process black cocoa powder (or whatever cocoa powder you have on hand)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Taste and adjust spices/sweetness as necessary. This barbecue sauce is quite sweet (just like I like it), so you might want to go light on the honey. This sauce also has a little heat. Enough to make your lips tingle/burn, but definitely not enough to make you run (or even walk) for a cold beverage. It should be noted that I have a pretty low tolerance for spice. Adjust heat accordingly to your personal tastes. Makes appx. 4 cups sauce.

I thought about cooking the sauce, but decided just to let it marinate in the fridge. I’m planning on putting the boneless pork ribs on a greased aluminum baking sheet with high sides and dumping the sauce over top in increments and cooking it slow in the oven. I want the sauce to reduce and get sticky but I want to keep the meat moist.

I went to the farmers’ market that the museum hosts in their parking lot every Wednesday and picked up some really cheap produce: a large bunch of radishes (tops intact) cost $1 and a giant bunch of 6-10 leeks – normally $3.50 year-round for 2-3 leeks in the grocery store – for $2.50. So, tonight I’m going to make potato-leek-cabbage gratin to go with the barbecue pork. It’s going to be delicious. I’ll probably make a bechamel/white sauce with a little cream cheese and sharp provelone added to pour over top. Nom, nom, nom.

*sigh* And now? Homework is calling. : (

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