I love the sound of fans revving up for the Super Bowl. At the grocery store.
“Red or black beans for the chili?”
“Get a number at the deli counter before they run out. And don’t forget mustard.”
And especially the sound of the game in progress in the bakery section. “I’ve got the rolls! Go long!”
Snacks at the Arizona stadium promise to be bold and spicy. Here in coastal New England, we like our food bold, too, because there’s always the possibility of a blizzard. The family might cozy up to a simple pot of chili with store-bought cornbread. Or throw a really gussied-up big event.
A few years back, I worked with a chef who chose his party menu carefully. No buffet and beer for him. No quarterback ever showed up his cooking. He paced the meal to the game, setting up briny oysters and shrimp cocktail for pregame munchies.
During the first half, guests chowed down on wedge salads heavy on the bacon, blue cheese and homemade garlic croutons. The main event coincided with the halftime show: an enormous prime rib roast — rare on the inside, burnt on the ends — with heaping platters of colorful, oven-roasted winter vegetables. And as the scoreboard showed the winning stats, he unveiled a display of a dozen desserts from apple pie to tiramisu. (Warning: He is a kitchen professional. Do not try this at home.)
At a watch party, the food needs to stand up to the game. Pots of meatballs, sausages with onions and peppers, stacks of Cuban sandwiches, chili with or without beans, or thick seafood chowder. Even firing up the backyard grill for the day is not unheard of. In the snow. In pajamas!
A party worthy of the 2023 game’s location calls out for ribs. Cooked low and slow, they barely need attention after the first sear. But first, you need to choose the ribs. In my early cooking days, I didn’t know a spare rib from a chicken wing. I learned fast about the huge choice and differences. Here’s a thumbnail glossary:
An inexpensive bony cut from around the belly. (The belly is for bacon.)
*St. Louis-style ribs
Trimmed pork spareribs cut into a uniform rectangular shape, a flap of meat on the side of the bone holds them together in a “rack.”
*Baby back pork Ribs
Somewhat lean cut from around the muscle along either side of the spine. This lean cut cooks more quickly than others.
*Beef short ribs
From near the bottom of the rib cage, this tough meat wants a very slow braise. Think hours.
*Country-style pork ribs
Thick, meaty ribs are cut from the shoulder or the loin. The loin section cooks up more quickly than the shoulder meat.
So, to the stove.
EASY BABY BACK RIBS
For two racks of baby back ribs.
Feeds 4 to 6.
Flavor ingredients in a rub or sauce are always cook’s choice. Below is a mere suggestion, not written in stone. Feel free to add/remove any rub ingredients and substitute cumin, smoked chili powder, etc. to the dry rub. Cider, maple syrup or beer might enhance a sauce.
- The “rub” is the dry seasoning mix.
- Mix together: 2 tablespoons smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons coarse salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons cayenne (ground red) pepper.
- Massage two, 3-pound racks of baby back ribs with this. Let this sit for at least two hours refrigerated.
- For a basic barbecue sauce, mix 1 cup ketchup, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons mustard and a ¼ teaspoon garlic powder. Simmer for 15 minutes until slightly thick. (Or gussy up a prepared brand with your signature additions from apple cider to Tabasco.)
- Sear ribs on a rack in a roasting pan at 425F degrees, 10-12 minutes on each side. Turn down oven heat to 300F degrees, paint the sauce lightly over the ribs. Cook for 1-1/2 hours.
- Take the ribs out of the oven. Swab with half the sauce. Cook another 30 minutes. Take ribs out once to mop with more sauce after the first 15 minutes.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 10 large red-skinned potatoes, about 5 pounds, quartered
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Mix the next seven ingredients in a large bowl.
- Add the potatoes, toss to coat with the seasonings.
- Spread potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until
browned and tender, stirring once, for about 55 minutes.
Don’t forget reams of paper towels and stacks of extra-large dinner napkins. (Sorry about that, but it’s only one day a year.)