Barbecue Ribs and Homemade Baked Beans

Barbecue ribs are hardly something new, and I’m not claiming to be doing something unique with them here. But they give me a chance to sing the praises of marinading and slow cooking. Ribs aren’t a cut of meat where you look at them beforehand, inspect them, and imagine they are a prime cut that you are going to get a lot of meat from, but when given time and attention, they can turn into a very worthy meal. If you are not a confident cook, food like ribs, which benefit greatly from marinading and slow cooking, are a great place to start, as they don’t require a lot of effort, you don’t need fancy equipment, and the results will impress if you are cooking for others. All that is required is to rub some spices into the meat the night before, put the meat in the oven at a low temperature, then wait. I’m sure even the least enthusiastic cooks could accomplish that.

Homemade baked beans always seemed the perfect complement to ribs. Almost like a bean hotpot, you get earthy, warm flavours, while bulking up the less-than-filling ribs. Canned baked beans, like Heinz and Branston, are so ingrained in the British culinary landscape- I think I remember QI suggesting that the British consumed over 90% of the world’s baked beans. We almost think of them as an ingredient in themselves- I might make sausages, wedges, and beans, and not give baked beans a second thought as part of the meal. But the homemade version is really worth trying, again very straightforward to make, and will impress guests (and your own stomach).

Barbecue Ribs

I’ve included a recipe for barbecue sauce here, which I have made a handful of times- it’s a real winner. You may not want to make as much sauce as the recipe provides, and this recipe will make a whole load of ribs, but quantities are easily halved. But if you don’t have time to make it, or the resolve, a store-bought sauce will do well too. Similarly, you can use a barbecue spice mix instead of making your own. All recipes here are adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s America.

Spice Rub:
1tsp fennel seeds
2tsp paprika
zest 1 orange
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic
Barbecue Sauce (makes 500ml):
1 onion
10 cloves garlic
2 chillies
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh rosemary
small bunch fresh coriander
10 bay leaves
1tsp cumin seeds
2tbsp fennel seeds
2tsp paprika
6 cloves
zest and juice of 2 oranges
200g soft brown sugar
6tbsp balsamic vinegar
200ml tomato ketchup
2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2tsp English mustard
200ml apple juice
1tsp sea salt
1tsp ground black pepper
1 quantity barbecue rub
1 quantity barbecue sauce
500ml apple juice
4 racks pork ribs, approx 400g each

1. Make the spice rub. Place all of the spice rub ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Make the barbecue sauce. Finely dice the onion, peel the garlic, and de-stalk and the chillies. Fry in a pan with olive oil until browned. Meanwhile, place the thyme, rosemary, coriander, bay, cumin, fennel, paprika and cloves into a blender and blend until smooth. Toss the spices in with the onion mix and add a little more oil, the orange zest and juice, and the brown sugar. Stir well and boil for a few minutes until the mixture becomes a little thicker. Add in the rest of the ingredients to the pan, and reduce until at the required consistency.
3. Marinade the ribs. The night before, dunk each rack of ribs into a bowl containing the apple juice. Coat the wet ribs with the spice rub- really rub it in to get the flavours into the meat.
4. Cook the ribs. Heat the oven to 130ºC and place the ribs in for around 3 hours. About an hour before you want to eat them, take the ribs out of the oven, coat the ribs in the barbecue sauce, then put back in the oven.

Baked Beans

Serves 6-8. Again, adapted from Jamie’s America.

4 onions
2tsp paprika
2-3 dried chillies
4x400g tins pinto or cannellini beans
2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
4 bay leaves
2tsp dark brown sugar
8 rashers streaky bacon
125g stale bread
100g grated cheddar
1tsp dried rosemary

1. Fry onions and bacon. Roughly dice the onion and fry in a pan with the paprika. Finely slice the chillies and add to the onion. In another pan, cut the bacon into small chunks and and fry until brown.
2. Make breadcrumb mix. In a blender, make breadcrumbs from the stale bread. Add the cheddar and rosemary and mix until homogeneous.
3. Bake the beans. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Put everything except the breadcrumb mix into a large casserole. Cook for around 1hr30, then sprinkle the breadcrumb mix on top. Return to the oven and cook for another 45 minutes.


Wild Mushroom Picking in Denmark and Oxford

During my recent trip to Denmark a friend and his father offered to take me mushroom picking. and I jumped at the opportunity. I’m a big fan of mushrooms in cooking, particularly the more prized varieties like morels, ceps, chanterelles, and of course truffles. Mushrooms like these add a lot to dishes, particularly in sauces, but usually come with a big price tag, and aren’t usually sold in supermarkets. So when we went foraging, I wasn’t expecting to find any truffles- just given the location we were in- but if I learnt to find some of the popular cooking mushrooms like chanterelles, I’d be pretty pleased.

Of course, one of the main things that makes foraging for mushrooms different from other kinds of foraging is the fact some of them are poisonous. Blackberries and lavender are very easy to forage. Even elderflower, for example, is fairly straightforward to recognise the smell of the flower and the shape of the leaves- and if you get the wrong thing, like cow parsley, it just tastes bad. But with mushrooms, something that looks slightly different- a yellow tinge on the stem, for example- can be the difference between edible and deadly poisonous. So this can make it difficult for beginners to start picking wild mushrooms with any confidence. One way to avoid this, as I was lucky enough to be able to do when in Denmark, is to go picking with people who already know what is safe and what isn’t.

But if you don’t have this luxury, there is still hope. I was told that you can pick a poisonous mushroom, take it home, identify it, and throw it in the bin, all safely (just don’t eat it). So if you get hold of a good field guide (I was recommended Roger Phillips ‘Mushrooms‘), you can pick with much more confidence. Similarly, if you can’t tell whether or not the mushroom you picked is edible, or can’t figure out the variety, just don’t eat it.

So how do you go about foraging for wild mushrooms? The most important thing to bear in mind is that mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees, that is that they help the trees, and the trees help them. So when you see a mushroom, it’s connected to some tree underground. Consequently, if you figure out which kind of trees to look for, and what kind of environment to look for, that’s the first part. Big, old trees are better, and woodlands, like forests, provide good growing environments. Mushrooms will grow in the same place year to year, so if you find a good crop in one place, remember where it is for next year. Most mushrooms are in season during Autumn and early winter, but a few, like morels, come out in the spring, or other times of the year. In picking the mushroom- pick the whole stem out of the ground- you are spreading the spores around, so helping the mushroom reproduce. Perhaps this is why they have evolved to be so tasty- being picked, then presumably eaten, helps them to reproduce.

In Denmark we drove out a little way into the countryside, and just pulled up at the side of the road running through a forest- clearly somewhere my guides had been before. We had to have a good look around to find the mushrooms, of which I would say around 1/3 were edible. Apparently, due to the weather, 2012 has been a terrible year for mushrooms, as it has for apples and other fruits. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t find the chanterelles and ‘horn of plenty’ that we were looking for. However, after a trip to a local park, we had a handful of mushrooms to bring back (see picture at top), probably enough for a sauce, but not enough to dry any to keep for later use.

Looking for mushrooms in the UK has yielded less luck. During a few trips around local parks in Oxford, notably University Parks, I’ve barely seen any mushrooms, let alone edible ones. When I was visiting my brother and his wife in Bournemouth recently, we took a trip into the New Forest to see what we could find. Here we found many mushrooms (including some really poisonous ones). We saw loads of a variety called ‘puffballs’, but as with Oxford, nothing that could be identified as edible. Perhaps the areas we looked had already been foraged over.

But recently, just on a walk around my local estate, we found some ‘shaggy inkcaps’ (also named lawyer’s wigs, picture above left). The field guide described them highly common, and with their unique shape, we felt confident we had got the identity correct- it really couldn’t be anything else. What’s more, the book had the magic word ‘edible’, and even said they were “good” to eat. So eat them we did- steak, wedges, and fried mushrooms- and indeed they were good, if the texture was a little wanting. But, as usual with foraging, don’t rely on finding your dinner out there, and you might not even find anything. You’ll always get a nice walk in the woods, if nothing else, so give it a go.

Simple wild mushroom sauce

30g dried mushrooms
100ml dry sherry or white vermouth
300ml double cream

1. Soak the mushrooms. Soak the mushrooms in 250ml water for 30 minutes. Keep the water you are soaking the mushrooms in, but strain it through a muslin to get rid of dirt.
2. Make the sauce. Add the sherry and mushrooms to the water. Bring to the boil, add the double cream, then reduce down to the consistency required.