Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If You Need Cooking Lessons - Just Phone

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine asked me if I'd teach him how to "make" spareribs. Seems he and his wife were having some people to their house for dinner, and he wanted to show off his barbecuing/grilling skills. Significant Eater and I were invited, but were unfortunately unable to attend.

As a side note, this lovely couple has a "country house" in a little town upstate, somewhere near New Paltz, NY. They had been inviting us up for a weekend all summer, but due to our travels to and from DC, it hasn't happened yet. Of course, they think it's because I hate the "country," but c'mon, really, who hates the "country?" I mean, I don't like mosquitoes or flies or bears or the sun or any of that stuff that you find in the country, but we have a few of those things in the city too, don't we?

Where was I? Oh yeah, cooking lessons. The spareribs. And there was a catch. You see, my buddy was going to be upstate cooking these ribs, and I was going to be down (state), right here in my sunny, bug and bear free NYC apartment. So these cooking lessons were being given - you guessed it - over the phone.

Now one of the cool things about this lesson was that my buddy was able to take pix during the event (who doesn't love an I-Phone) and send them to me virtually simultaneously. Excellent. So here's how it went.

We started with the dry rub - which we actually made here, in my bug-free NYC apartment. Any good dry rub will work - this one had salt, brown sugar, black pepper, paprika, chile powder, a bit of cayenne and maybe even a little garlic powder thrown in for good measure. (Don't use too much garlic powder - the stuff is vile - but in a dry rub a tiny bit can't hurt.) Once my bud was upstate, dry rub in hand, he purchased a couple of racks of spareribs - St. Louis style. I had him remove the fell, the membrane covering the underside of the ribs, as I think it makes for a better end product and allows the ribs to absorb more of the rub flavor. And then he massaged the dry rub in, and put the ribs in the fridge overnight to rest.

Of course there are as many ways to cook ribs as there are barbecuers who swear by their versions. Trust me, I love smoking ribs, low and slow, for hours on a Weber or other smoker device, but since the upstate grill was a gas one, these were going to be bastardized bbq - first cooked in the oven and then finished on the grill to get all crusty. The nice thing about this is that the ribs can be cooked ahead of time and then finished in like 15 minutes, giving the hosts plenty of time for other things - like hanging out with their guests, sweating and swatting flies.

As the oven preheated to around 275 F, the ribs were laid onto a couple of baking sheets, to which about a cup of white wine with a bit of melted honey and worcestershire were added, and covered tightly. And into the oven they went for about 2.5 hours. When uncovered, they looked like this…

Set those ribs aside. Wrap 'em up in foil and refrigerate them even. But save all the yummy liquid from the baking sheets - that gets reduced way down for the glaze, which you can do now.

About 45 minutes before dinner, crank the grill up - let it preheat good and hot, and anyone that tells you your oven or grill is done preheating in 10 minutes is kidding you - it's not. I like to give everything, oven and grill, at least 1/2 an hour - it gets the heat all evened out and you'll get better results that way. You can cut the ribs into smaller slabs to make them easier to handle on the grill.

Brush the ribs with the glaze and put 'em on the grill. Turn them every five minutes or so, and brush them some more. In about 15 minutes, your ribs will look like this. And your guests will be eating them up.

Now sit back, crack open a beer and admire your handiwork. Watch your guests as they can't stop eating. After all, you've just learned how to cook spareribs - on the phone.

Note: If you don't have a grill, if it's too hot or cold outside, if you live in an NYC apartment, the final step can be done under a hot broiler.

Phoned-In Spareribs
2 slabs spareribs, St. Louis style, membrane removed

Dry Rub

2 T kosher salt
2 T brown sugar
1 T chili powder
1 T paprika (sweet or medium, or even smoked)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
.5 tsp cayenne

Braising Liquid

1 cup white wine (almost anything works here)
1 T honey or brown sugar
2 T worcestershire (in a pinch - soy)

Technique above.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Osteria Morini - A First Visit

New York City may be experiencing a rebirth of things Italian, not that Italian restaurants ever really stopped, ummmmm, birthing...and for lovers of Italian food (me!) that's a good thing.

Of course I've blogged (there's that word again) about Eataly a number of times, and will probably annoy more in the future - I like the place, what can I say? It makes me happy. I love Lupa - always have since the day it opened. Mario and Joe and Lidia may have their 4 stars at Del Posto, but the realm of Italian restaurant dining changed when Lupa opened.

Jason Denton and his brother Joe have done NYC proud with their introduction of panini to NYC (don't tell me they didn't) at the tiny 'ino eons ago and serve us well to this day with 'inoteca "lower east," 'inoteca "murray hill" and Corsino. And new ones in the works as well, rumor has it.

So what's the latest? It's Osteria Morini, from Chef Michael White and his partner Chris Cannon, who have wowed some in the past with Alto, Convivio and Marea, for instance. Morini is arguably one of the more exciting fall openings, so an early tasting was a must, and the other night a friend and I were able to grab two bar seats at an early hour which we happily did.

The estimable Eben Freeman is running the cocktail program for the White/Cannon restaurant group, and that's a good thing. Eben's cocktails were always a highlight at the late, lamented Tailor. Here, there are a few "low-alcohol" apertivi on the menu at $11, but I went straight for the Negroni-ish cocktail, which was simply a Negroni in proportions of 1.5:1:1, served up. Tanqueray gin and Antica (on tap!) are the two variable elements (you do know Campari is the third, don't you?) and at $14 not necessarily a cheap cocktail, but nevertheless a well-made one.

Since my friend was expected to go home and prepare dinner for his wife, we didn't order tons of food; there were some menu items that I must immediately return for, as a matter of fact. But what we had overall was pretty tasty.

For starters, we had the crocchette (croquettes, folks), served naked...just the wonderful smoky flavor of speck infusing molten bechamel - please be careful when eating this gem, or risk interior mouth burn. Our other anitpasto was fegatini, a smooth, luscious liver mousse served with, as usual, too few toasts and is it such a hard concept to serve enough toasts for the amount of whatever is supposed to be spread on them? I guess so, because Morini is hardly the first to skimp on the toast thing. It didn't matter as we fought over every last morsel, reduced to using our fingers to scrape the luscious liver out of its dish.

For our "mains," I chose the strozzapreti (priest stranglers) with braised porcini, the pasta as good as any I've had in recent memory. The braise of mushrooms was almost meatlike, and the pasta is just what my grandma would have made if she was an Italian nonna from Emilia instead of a Jewish nana from Minsk. My buddy ordered another appetizer (remember, he was still having dinner) of fried rabbit, which were quite simply some delicious hunks of fried rabbit - sweet, juicy and all those things that rabbit isn't most of the time. There were a few bitter greens and reds on the plate, to help cut through the rabbit, but we weren't fighting over those.

Dessert and coffee service will be left for another day, sadly. There's a fancy, fully automatic espresso system set-up that may have cost $20K, or may have cost nothing if they're getting their beans from the coffee machine supplier - who knows? But I have a feeling the coffee won't be a highlight of your meal. We were comped an after dinner digestif - a nice ending to a fine meal.

It'll certainly be no problem to add Osteria Morini to the growing list of excellent places to get your Italian fix on.