Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secret Sauce



I know a fellow, let's call him Sparky, a large black man with dreadlocks who would prance around in the living room of our shared apartment in his tighty-whiteys (or less) belting The Smiths at a full-throated drunken holler.

Sparky is an authentic product of Cleveland, easily spanning many different identities: inner-city hip hopper, skater, hard core scenester, hood rat and suburban dweller.

His papa was a rolling stone and mom - a Buddhist lesbian - would wake her son up with a broom-stick because he had a tendency to come out of deep sleep swinging.

Sparky could get a wide variety of contraband and cheesy combustibles easily.

And once in a while, I'd open the freezer and be greeted with an entire vacuum sealed beef loin primal.

In other words, Sparky is a cook.

A cook's cook.

A dirty rotten imbecile, criminally inclined, a drunk, carousing bastard and I love him for it.

One summer he let me in on his family secret recipe for BBQ sauce, and I'll share it here since the "secret" has already been told far and wide from Cleveland to San Francisco and beyond:

Gerber baby food. Peach, pear, apple or all three.

For me, BBQ sauce isn't about recipe per se but to quote Australian post-psychedelic alt-rockers The Church (also a favorite of Sparky's), "it's not a religion, it's just a technique."

Also, if I gave you the exact recipe, what fun would that be?

And, of course, the recipe is different every time.

These portions will make about 2 quarts.

Key components:
  • About 2 packages of Gerber baby food (I'm using the kind in plastic that come two per package)
  • A couple tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Garlic, fresh and powdered
  • Onion, fresh and powdered
  • Smoked paprika
  • Brown sugar and molasses
  • Spices.. this is a matter of taste, but generally I like a lot of cumin plus coriander and pepper
  • Braising liquid (from the ribs).. this is water, salt, more sugar, whiskey, onion, bay leaf, hot peppers, dried, smoked poblanos (the dreaded "chipotle"), thyme, white and/or pink peppercorns
  • Beer (tonight we are drinking the Chimay Reserve, any brown ale will do, or if you must, PBR)
  • More whiskey (get some in ya!)
  • Dijon mustard
Tips and tricks:
  • Strain the braising liquid and reserve, refresh a chipotle in the still hot liquid, use it to thin the sauce
  • "Rust" the tomato paste by letting it cook over medium heat with a little oil and the fresh garlic until the color deepens. Be careful not to burn it, you can't fix that.
  • Season in layers.. add spices over several hours of simmering
  • Keep tasting
  • Stop when the sauce is about the thickness of heavy cream, still thin enough to baste your ribs with on the grill
  • Taste often (see above)
  • Wait until the end to add most of the salt you want, and remember it will reduce further when applied to your ribs and grilled (especially if you smoke your ribs)
When is it done? Did you taste it? It's done when it's done.

Whatever beast you are applying this to, be sure to apply in layers and let it bake in.

Pro-tip: brush some on your hamburgers after a flip and before you add cheese. Works with strong, fishy fish: mackerel, salmon, even tuna steaks. Warm some BBQ sauce up in the morning to top eggs over easy, or drizzle on your home fries.

Bring your appetite and lots of wet-naps.

Fruits of our labors