The Coffee Brined Rib, Why Not?

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It seems the world is on its head these days.  People are being paid to hurl insults at rallies and others are openly talking about a revolution.  One is rude and unethical and the other is treason.  Both may be illegal. Up is down and down is sideways.  Let’s shuffle off to realm of food.

I’ve been playing with a coffee brine for my ribs.  I’ve seen recipes that say to soak your ribs in coffee for several hours prior to smoking.  Nope too simple.   I have done this twice and I think I have a good feel for what works.

A brine is a salt water solution that imparts a great amount flavor to meat while keeping it moist.  I almost always brine my chicken breasts.  A brined, smoked and grilled pork chop is to die for.  But I haven’t brined my ribs often.  Brining pork, especially ribs takes time.   A short marinate or brine is just that, short on flavor.  I have brined my ribs for 36 and 72 hours.  I will stay with Alice Waters’ recommendation to brine chicken 24 hours and pork 3 days.  I’m pretty sure there is never a time NOT to take her recommendation.  There was a remarkable difference going the full 3 days.  Don’t skip on time.

I hear you; you don’t like coffee, blah, blah, blah.  Ok then.  Move on, this isn’t for you.  But if you stay, you’ll have some mighty fine eats.  I promise.

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I cut the racks of ribs in half, because my brine buckets won’t really handle the length of a full rack (that’s what she said).  I prefer to remove the silver skin from the ribs, you might not.  It’s a matter of personal taste.  I also rinse of the ribs prior to brining to remove excess blood and stuff. There is always stuff.

Coffee Brine
1 pot of hot coffee (Philz’ Jacob’s Wonderbar)
1 cup kosher salt
1.25 cup sugar
1 tsp Cumin
8 Allspice berries, crushed
10 Juniper berries, crushed
6 whole Cloves
10-20 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
1 bunch of thyme
3 Bay Leaves
1 TBS Honey (add after the coffee to help disolve it)
1 TBS ground pepper or 10 – 15 whole pepper corns.  I like the ground better for more heat
1 TBS Fermented Pepper sauce (recipe on my blog) you could use some tabasco or other hot sauce
Water to cover, Ice to chill

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I like Jacob’s Wonderbar for this as it has a very rich flavor and chocolate tones.  I set up all my ingredients in my brining tub, while the coffee is brewing.  I have a 12 cup pot and I make it strong.   Pour in the coffee and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.  I like to let everything steep for 30 or 40 minutes after the salt and sugar are dissolved.

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The brine should be cool.  At this point I add some ice and cool water to roughly double the volume of liquid.  I add in the ribs slowly as not to make a mess; this is no cannonball pool party.  At this point I add more water so the liquid covers the ribs by 1/8”.  I put a plate on top to keep them submerged.  The brine goes in the fridge for 3 days, so if like me, you are smoking on Sunday, I start the brine on Thursday so I get 3 days plus a bit, instead of less than 3 days.

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About 2 hours before the ribs go on the smoker, I take them out of the brine.  I remove any bits that are stuck to them (like the cloves) and rinse them off.   I let them drain in a colander for about an hour.  Then I rub them heavily with my rub on all sides and loosely cover them with saran as they come to room temp.

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Lee’s Coffee Rub
0.5 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
0.25 Cup Smoked or Hot Paprika
1 TBS Coarse (Salad Grind) Black Pepper
1.5 tsp Chili Powder (I like the New Mexico chili powder specialty sellers like Berkeley Bowl or Whole Spice or the Chili Powder from Rancho Gordo)
1 TBS Granulated Garlic
1 TBS Onion Powder
1/4 – ½ tsp Chipotle Powder)
1 TBS Kosher Salt
1 tsp Ground Oregano (I crush dried Mexican Oregano)
1 TBS unsweetened Cocoa Powder (I like Scharffenberger)
¼ cup whole coffee beans, ground semi-fine.

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Ground coffee. Not the full amount in the rub

Mix the brown sugar with the paprika, until fully incorporated.  I prefer a manual whisk to my stand mixer.  Then add the ingredients 1 at time, mixing fully at each step.  Most of the salt in this recipe comes from the brine.

I get the fire started and smoke as I normally do.  I try to keep the fire at 225, using mostly oak, with some apple and cherry mixed in.  I rotate the ribs every few hours for even cooking as I’m cooking on two levels, one slightly hotter because heat rises.  I don’t use a water pan.

I do spare ribs for approximately 5.5 hours and baby backs for 4.5.  I think that’s because my heat spikes a few times throughout the cook.  It’s a manual process filled with human imperfections.

I often spritz my ribs every other time (every 45-60 minutes) I stoke the fire after the first hour.  My spritz is approximately 4oz apple juice, 2oz apple cider vinegar and 1TBS liquid margarine (seriously). Mix it up and spray liberally during the cook.  This keeps the rub from burning and helps create a nice color.  Totally not necessary, but it does make the ribs a bit prettier and tastier.

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I generally serve my ribs dry, with a sauce on the side.  In this case, the saltiness of the brine in the smaller ribs plays well with the sweetness of the sauce.  I coat the ribs 3 times in the last hour or so, letting each layer caramelize for 15-20 minutes.

Lee’s Coffee BBQ Sauce
2 Cups Ketchup
0.25 Cup Molasses (I like the heavier Brer Rabbit, you might need more with other brands)
3 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Juice from 0.5 Fresh Lemon (or more if you like the tang)
1/4 tsp Tabasco® Brand Hot Sauce
3/8 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 TBS Honey
1/4 tsp Cayenne (Red Pepper)
4-6 Cloves Minced Fresh Garlic
1 TBS Coarse Black Pepper (the pepper adds heat over time as the sauce sits, you may want less)
0.5 Cup Strong Coffee (again, using Philz’ Jacob’s Wonderbar)

Add everything to a pot over low heat. Stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Let the ribs sit for 15 minutes or so prior to cutting.  Enjoy.

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An Awkward Conversation

“I don’t know why I’ve always been so misunderstood.”

Looking up from my steaming coffee, I watched my new table mate sit down.  No invitation was offered or accepted; he just decided to bend my ear.  I was perplexed at his opening salvo.  All I could manage was, ”Oh?”

He nodded subtly.  “I’m really an optimist, trying to see the best in people and helping them when I can.  But people say the worst things about me.”  He shook his head slightly, sighing as he looked down at the table.  “ I’ve never forced anyone to really do anything,” he said quietly.

Sipping my coffee, I took a more studied look at him.  His hair was dark and brushed back.  If this was 1958, he probably would have worn a DA, but now in 2013 he wore it shorter and slightly spiky.   But there was definitely a nod to that duck’s ass.  It wasn’t so long as to be a mullet, but it was just short of becoming one. There was a slight, well groomed point to his sideburns as if to punctuate some as of yet unvoiced hypothesis.

“You’d think all I ever did was take advantage of people and make their lives miserable.    Honestly, I just listen and try to help.”  He sipped his drink.  It smelled like a chai latte.  He  wiped his mouth and the sun sparkled off his sharkskin jacket.  It was more of burnt sienna than true red.  It was an odd choice for a winter afternoon.

“Do you like my Jacket?  It’s my favorite color, though for some reason people think of me as more of a bright red kind of guy.  I wish I liked blue more; I like black, but this isn’t Manhattan.”  I realized he had a black silk shirt under the jacket, diamond studded cuff links were just visible at his cuff.  There wasn’t anything subtle about his appearance.

“Honestly,” he continued, “I just want to help people realize their dreams.  I don’t judge their dreams or try to change them.”  His mouth twitched to a mournful smile.  “Is it my fault that people rarely think through what they want, what they believe they need?”  He shook his head.  “I don’t think so either.”

“You would have thought the old story The Monkey’s Paw was about me.  I have no idea where W.W. Jacobs got that idea.  And I never met Daniel Webster.”  I noticed as a turned his head, scars at his hairline on both sides of his head.  Not symmetrical, but close.  The device that made those scars was not as sharp as it could have been.

I took another sip of my coffee.  I looked at my cup; it was black with candy apple red letters, sparkling like gold leaf.  Diablo Coffee it said.  I had always assumed it was named for the mountain behind me.  I wondered.  To this point my contribution to the conversation had been a single syllable.  I wasn’t sure I had much to offer and was considering just letting him finish his monologue. Maybe he’d move on.

“ I’ve never tricked anyone into doing anything they didn’t want to do.  Robert Johnson? I didn’t do anything, other than give him a pep talk.  Why do people always lump me in with the deep blue sea?  We aren’t conjoined twins.  Do you think Mick Jagger really did me any favors suggesting that I needed sympathy? Not at all.”  For an instant I was sure his eyes shone red.  And then it was gone.

“Why are you telling me this,” I asked cautiously.

He pointed over to the corner where one of my coworkers sat.  “He says that you are a source of great career advice.  I think I’m ready for some.”  I was stunned.

Talk about pressure.

Chicago in 3 dots (or Barfleet, Coffee and Furries Oh My!)

Chicago, the windy city, home to the Billy Goat Tavern and Wrigley Field.  Two disparate locations – one well-lit, the other down in a hole –  linked by a single curse.  Lambchop and I were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention.    At least 3 of you are now smirking derisively, but that’s ok.  We had a wonderful time.  Everyone knows about Chicago Style Pizza, christened pretender pie at the con, but perhaps I might add some new insights after my time there…

Lambchop met her twin in a hobbit from down under. Actually they met as the hobbits journeyed from the Shire to Chitown, stopping in San Francisco.  I fear the havoc the two of them will cause in the coming years, especially if they realize what that ring can do.  Could be I’ll be voted off the island…  I never expected the replacement for the Mudshark in my lexicon to be Trebla, but seeing the girls now swoon for him, I must admit its inner truth.

John Picacio finally won a well deserved Hugo in addition to his Chesley award.  I am pretty sure he’s going to need a bigger trophy case soon.  It will be interesting to see how he fares on his home turf in San Antonio next year…I found the art show terribly disappointing, but I found a gem in an older Don Maitz painted sketch, which hangs proudly in the entry to my office…. now if I only liked The Book of the New Sun.  Perhaps I’ll reread them with older, wiser eyes…

It seems that Chicago is a Pepsi town.  By my count it was 3:1, Pepsi over Coke.  One of the few things the town got wrong… On the other hand Arlington Bill provided more beer than any one man had a right to have in his hotel room…There are signs everywhere declaring it illegal to put ketchup on a  hot dog in Chicago. I don’t know, I might have put more effort in to helping the sad panhandlers shaking their cups of coins.

We were stalked, or so it seemed, through out Chicago by Ron Donachie, aka Ser Rodrik Cassel in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  He and his wife are two wonderfully nice folks, going so far as to walk over and say hello in restaurant after he’d met several of us at a party…those of you that don’t get Star Trek, would surely have missed Barfleet and that would have been a shame.  They won the award for most creative use of  a Kiss song,  “Detroit Rock City,” but I seemed to be the only one to notice. But we did miss the Klingons shouting, “Revenge is a dish.. BEST SERVED COLD!!” … Cam was giving out schmoozing lessons nightly.  I should have paid more attention.

If you are reading this you probably already know Peadar Ó Guilín.  If you don’t, I would suggest you look for him and read his book, The Inferior.  Of course he’s a friend, but I really like what I’ve heard him read.  Needless to say his two books are near the top of my reading stack and I am eagerly awaiting The Shatter…I will be hiring X-Ray (the Enforcer)  and Mr. X to run my next party.  They run a tight ship and really went above and beyond this year…

The programming at the con  was a bit disappointing.  Last year there were so many panels, talks and readings that I couldn’t attend then all.  This year there were few that called to me and inevitably they conflicted…Clearly the organizers did a very good job overall, but how could they not give George R.R. Martin their largest room for his reading and interview?  Those chosen were too small… And Patrick Rothfuss was scheduled to read in a room with 20 chairs?  Even I know he’s a huge draw….but the food in the con suite was great and the midnight pizza after the Hugos, sheer genius.

I never realized how close John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Chip! Chip!  No Coke, Pepsi” was to reality at the Billy Goat Tavern.  Great atmosphere, well priced and solid, if unremarkable, grub. Its one of those things everyone should do at least once… Remarkable might be an understatement for Intelligensia coffee.  I am now a huge fan, but please reconsider your baristas.  Those cute boys in skinny jeans and skinny ties pushed the cool environment towards hipster doofusville.  It just seemed wrong…There are not enough superlatives to shower on Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless is a genius…And Trebla is sex symbol.  What next, dogs and cats living together?

One panel was called “The Secret History of Science Fiction” where George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman and Gardner Dozois, who arrived 30 minutes late,  told stories of cons past.  The room was overflowing with bodies and laughter.  Entering the room as the panel started, I was relegated to stand in the back.  500+ seats were not enough. While I enjoyed this to no end, laughing for the better part of that  hour, I still don’t understand why the guy behind me was wearing stilts…The gumbo at Heaven on 7 was really special, in a foodgasm sort of way.

I don’t really have a bucket list, but one day I need to help Chataya organize a real Furry hunt… Not only was there a complete absence of alcohol at the Hogwarts party, those bathhouse pin-ups of Malfoy combined with the Harry/Snape cuddle pictures crossed the creepy line.  Had Lambchop not been bonding with the Kiwi who did the elf ears in LOTR, we would have left much sooner.

Leigh Bardugo can write — that’s not news.  What is news is that with charm, wit and humor she single-handedly took over a panel that could have flopped, offsetting a few others who were didn’t realize they were sinking.  One day, she’ll be on Kimmel or Leno and she’ll blow up.  Huge.   In the meantime, read Shadow and Bone.  You’ll feel better…I don’t understand the position of the con having a few Young Adult (YA) panels, but refusing the consider the category for a Hugo.  Based on the stories I heard, the passion level on the “no way” side seems over the top for my sensibilities.

And yes, a few too many con-goers did look like they escaped from their mother’s basement.  Other than the 3 or 4 that interrupted panels or were simply clueless in regards to social cues, who cares?  It was a 5 day celebration of shared joy and fandom — much love and thanks to everyone I drank, laughed, talked and debated with… Next year in San Antonio can’t come soon enough.