I committed a cardinal sin. I went to the grocery store hungry. I had forgotten to take dinner out of the freezer that morning, and so thought perhaps I'd buy some fresh fish.
Walking by the meat dept., I saw a couple of packages of ribs. Hhmmm....and they were from Niman Ranch, the national brand that attempts to produce their meats on small, family farms in an humane way with no antibiotics.
The "no antibiotics" thing has become important to our family. The hubby is an ER doc, who over the last decades has seen an alarming and dramatic rise in the number of germs and nasties that do not respond to an ever-increasing array of antibiotics. There is no need to add antibiotics to animal feed, unless they are being raised in an overcrowded, inhumane and rather unsafe environment.
Go see FOOD, INC, or FRESH, both movies that will make you head straight to your farmers market for pasture-raised, grass-fed meats. (Joel Salatin, the farmer/guru from the Shenandoah that Michael Pollan wrote about in THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA and featured in both films was in Raleigh this week for a Film Feastival at Meredith College, co-presented by Slow Food Triangle. He's entertaining while he making his point.)
photo by Mollie Nicholie, Maple Creek Farm
MEAT with a BETTER CONSCIENCE
Niman Ranch infiltrated into our huge hog-producing state back in the early '00s, partnering with about 30 small NC farmers in eastern NC. Rather than hog-factory style with huge waste ponds, these farmers raised hogs the way their ancestors did - free-roaming (within electric fences), which allowed them to snooze mud-caked in the sun or under the canopy of trees and shrubs. Niman claims to have "happy pigs." Then in 2006, when fuel prices were high, getting the hogs to the processing plants in Iowa proved to be too expensive, so contracts ended in NC. I read that some of those farmers tried to find restaurants to sell to, like The Pit in Raleigh.
You can find pork from free-ranging pigs at Cane Creek in Chatham County, or at various farms near Asheville, like Maple Creek Farm, and a few even in Wake County. You will be amazed at the difference in taste, and how much less fat there is.
IMPORTANT TRICK for RIBS
Like tender ribs? Here's the first thing you need to do: Slide a knife or your finger under the thin membrane under the rack of ribs. Grab it with a paper or cloth towel and pull it up and away from the ribs. Now, these "naked" ribs will absorb more rub or sauce, and you will not have to bite through that tough membrane.
RUB MY RIBS
I've adapted a couple of recipes together to come up with a great tasting rub for pork. If I want them real hot and spicy, I add the chili and cayenne. Sometimes I prefer the ribs without the heat, and they're still delicious. I also like to grind the spices all together in my old coffee grinder.
This rub is enough for 3 racks (about 7 lbs)
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds (buy it that way or grind it yourself)
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
OPTION: To make the rub a bit "hotter"
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne red pepper
NOTE: Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixture for the glaze.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Using the best tools in your kitchen - your clean hands - rub the spice mixture onto both sides of the ribs.
Place the ribs in a large roasting pan, and cover with foil. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Rotate the ribs, cover tightly again, and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes longer, or until very tender.
For the GLAZE:
Reserved 2 tablespoons of the above spice rub
1/2 cup apricot or guave preserves
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Place all in a small glass bowl and microwave on high for about 20 seconds, or until preserves melt enough to mix all together.
When ribs are tender, remove from oven. Turn oven to broil. Quickly spoon or brush glaze over the meaty side of the ribs. Broil the ribs for about 10 minutes or until browned. If there is any remaining glaze, you may also do the other side of the ribs.
Slice between the bones and serve immediately.
Enjoy the ribs with a zinfandel, syrah, or Cotes du Rhone . . . a hearty red.