I am a meticulous planner by nature as well as by profession. That attention to detail has served me well these many years, but truth be told, I’ve grown tired of it. It seems that as I’ve aged, I’ve let loose of the need to fastidiously program every waking minute of my life. Empty day planners now occupy a stack on the back of my credenza, and except for an occasional iPhone alert, my schedule these days is pretty much free-form.
I certainly understand that cooking requires a certain degree of detail–written recipes and jaunts to the grocery with a long list of ingredients in hand–but I prefer improvising in the kitchen. Setting out on a Saturday morning with no preconceived notion of what’s for supper, is a liberating path to culinary creativity. I freely admit that many of my most exciting Cajun recipes have happened by chance or a surprise discovery during one of my Cajun cooking explorations.
Stopping for a link of boudin and a pound of tasso at one of my favorite smokehouses The Best Stop in Scott, Louisiana was the first stop of my weekend quest. It was there I found a cut of meat I hadn’t stumbled across before. It was a long rack of beef short ribs coiled up tightly into a roll and stacked in the back of the meat case. While I am a huge fan of English cut short ribs, I’ve only seen them individually cut into 4 to 6-inch lengths. Keeping the rack intact was a new and curiously different presentation for my Cajun recipe version of a tried and true dish. I had the butcher wrap one up for my ice chest.
Leaving Best Stop, I took to the back roads of northern Lafayette Parish and made my way through a maze of rural highways and over to Church Point for a quick stop at one of my favorite food stores. Piggly Wiggly is a Southern cultural treasure with stores located in just about every rural train-stop south of the Mason Dixon, and here in Acadiana they are just as plentiful. For a grocery chain, Piggly Wiggly clearly understands the local customer and their Cajun cooking traditions. Not only that, but the company seems to understand both their cultural responsibility and Southern sensibility. To this point, the location in Church Point stocks a meat case full of local Cajun recipe ingredients as well as many hand-crafted products from the locally-owned artisan smokehouses and homegrown purveyors in the parish. It is a 7-day-a-week, hometown farmer’s market.
It was the produce bin piled high with fresh scuppernongs that caught my attention this Saturday morning. Akin to the southern muscadine, the scuppernong is a larger, and some say sweeter, variety of the white grape that grows wild on bushy vines seen throughout Louisiana. Once you pop through the thick skin and scoop out the seeds, the juicy flesh of a ripe scuppernong is a prize well worth the effort. With a couple of pints bagged up, this unexpected ingredient will pair well with the grilled and glazed beef ribs dinner I’m thinking about.
Bathing these ribs overnight in a dark and syrupy marinade will give them a rich flavor profile and begin to break down the sinewy cartilage of this historically tough cut of beef. This marinade combined with a later dry rub gives the meat a dark, crustiness to the exterior that shields the moist beefy interior. I use two cooking techniques for this recipe; a 2-hour stint in a 300ºF oven along with a long smoky grilling for the finish. The combination of these long, slow methods renders the collagen and melts the fat within the meat resulting in a fork-tender stickiness. I like to serve this with a creatively presented potato and cheese combination spiced with a Cajun tasso ham.
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup red wine
- ½ cup vinegar-based barbecue sauce
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (3-pound) rack of beef short ribs
- ½ cup water
- 2 pints (about 2 dozen) ripe scuppernongs, sliced in half and seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons sugarcane molasses
- 2 tablespoons sugarcane vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup bourbon
- 3 large russet potatoes
- ½ cup diced tasso or smoked ham
- Spray butter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons ground coffee
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 6 fresh sprigs of rosemary, for garnish
- In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and combine. Place the rack of ribs in a large plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the end of the bag and massage the bag to make sure the marinade covers all parts of the ribs. Place the bag back into the mixing bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- In a large saucepan, add the water. Bring to a boil and add the scuppernongs, rosemary, sugar, and brown sugar. Stir to combine and add the honey, molasses, and vinegar. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes until it reduces by half. Add the lemon juice and bourbon. Stir the thickened sauce until the bourbon cooks off most of its alcohol and the scuppernongs break down. Add a little more water if needed to thin the sauce so that it can be brushed on. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
- Using a sharp knife, or better yet, a mandoline, slice the potatoes into thin rounds and place into a bowl. Add the diced tasso to the bowl.
- In a large skillet, spray the bottom and sides with an even coating of the butter.
- Pour half of the olive oil into the skillet and swirl it around until it coats the bottom. Arrange the potato rounds on the bottom in a concentric circle overlapping the edges. Keep going until you reach the center and have completely covered the skillet. Do the same all along the outer edges of the skillet using half circles of potato.
- Scatter the diced tasso over, under and around the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese liberally over the potatoes and along the edges of the skillet. The cheese will work to bind the potatoes and tasso together.
- Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook just until you hear the sizzle of the olive oil and potatoes beginning to cook on the bottom. Immediately turn off the heat and move the skillet to the hot oven and continue cooking for 20 minutes until the potatoes just begin browning and the cheese is melted. Turn the oven off and open it to let the heat escape. Keep the skillet in the warm oven until serving.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and combine into a dry rub.
- Retrieve the rack of beef short ribs from the refrigerator and pour off the marinade into a container. Coil the rack of ribs tightly and tie with butcher’s twine.
- Sprinkle the still-wet ribs liberally with the dry rub, place on a cutting board and let come to room temperature.
- In a large roasting pan lined with foil, place a metal rack. Pour the remaining marinade into the bottom of the roasting pan and place the ribs on the rack above the liquid. Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in the oven. Let cook for 2 hours.
- After the ribs have finished cooking in the oven, remove them and uncover.
- Add 2 handfuls of hickory wood chips to a large container. Cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove the soaked wood chips to a large piece of aluminum foil and tightly seal. Punch holes in the foil packet and set aside for later.
- Preheat an outdoor gas grill, with one side burner on high and the other burners turned off.
- Place the wood chip packet on the grill over the hot burner. Place the ribs on the side of the grill without heat and approximately three inches from the hot side. Brush the ribs with the scuppernong bourbon sauce. Cover the grill hood and cook for 30 minutes as the wood chips begin to smoke.
- After 30 minutes, raise the hood and rotate the rib rack brushing again with the scuppernong bourbon sauce. Cover the grill hood and cook for another 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, raise the hood and turn the rib rack over and brush again with the scuppernong bourbon sauce. Cover the grill hood and cook for a final 30 minutes.
- Remove the rib rack from the grill and brush liberally with the scuppernong bourbon sauce. Wrap in aluminum foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
- For serving, place the coiled rib rack in the center of the skillet of potatoes and remove the butcher’s twine. Brush on the remaining scuppernong bourbon sauce. Garnish with the rosemary sprigs placed in the center of the coiled rack of short ribs of beef.
- Bring to the table family style for a dramatic presentation. Carve the ribs along the bones into individual servings with a bed of the cheesy tasso potatoes. Serve with hot French bread and horseradish cream sauce or Creole mustard on the side for dipping.
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