I’ve been a little busy of late, traipsing around the French countryside the last few weeks but before I left, I had friends over for a really great Sunday lunch. A little over a month ago, July 15th in fact, it was Bastille Day. Admittedly not one of the bigger holidays in the States, but it holds a special place in my heart. Last year, on Bastille Day, I exactly where I’m sitting at this very moment: at the kitchen table of my friend Kate’s lovely home in Southwest France.
Since there were a lot of friends about – mainly Americans, but a few Canadians for good measure – she decided to throw a big party to honor the occasion. A Franco-American Bastille Day BBQ. There was food everywhere – swiss chard and fresh tomato tartlets we had made earlier in the day with her two students, plenty of chacuterie, saucisson and foie gras of course – remember this was Gascony. Cold drinks were flowing and fat sausages were sizzling on the grill. It was perfect.
One of the guests brought a cote de bouef, the single largest steak I’ve EVER seen. At the market that day, he tried to buy three steaks but the butcher refused. He said one was enough for 18 people and wouldn’t budge. And he was right. Such a French thing.
Earlier, Kate had picked up some pork ribs from her good friends, the Chapolard’s, and she proceeded to cook them until tender and slathered them with her homemade Fig BBQ Sauce. It was a match made in heaven – the ideal combination of sweet, spicy and salty with the perfect char. It was easily the best pork I’ve ever had.
This summer, sitting around Kate’s enormous table, we’ve enjoyed them twice; each time with ribs the Chapolard’s have gifted us. Kate told me that the French don’t really eat ribs, that grandmere’s typically buy them cheaply to make soup so sometimes Dominic will throw them into her bag, gratis. I’m fairly certain these folks don’t know what they’re missing. Hey, their loss, my gain because these are some high quality ribs. The last batch we had were enormous and unbelievably flavorful due to a carefully raised pig and an old one at that. Kate estimates it was at least 5 years old before slaughter, giving it plenty of time to develop that amazing flavor. That kind of aging rarely happens in the States. I can get some quality pork but not like this.
For my 2012 Bastille Day Lunch, Chicago style, I did a tribute to that summer BBQ. I made those ribs and some chicken too, slathered in that amazing figgy sauce, that tomato tart and some festive popsicles to commemorate the occasion. And I threw in a few other, wholly American things too: grilled corn on the cob (they don’t eat that either. I think there’s an aversion to eating with your hands), sour cherry pie, potato salad. We drank a lot of cold wine, talked a lot and laughed even more. I didn’t round up a cote de boeuf bigger than my head though. I wouldn’t even know how to go about finding that. But I’m sure if I asked around …
Bastille Day Sunday Lunch Menu:
– Ribs & Grilled Chicken with Figgy BBQ Sauce
– Fresh Tomato Tart
– Salad with Goat Cheese & Roasted Beets
– Vinaigrette Potato Salad
– Grilled Corn
– Sour Cherry Slab Pie w/Sour Cream Ice Cream
– Bastille Day Bomb Pops – raspberry, yogurt, blueberry
Below is the recipe I put together based on Kate’s email and her blog post about her sauce. She uses it as a sort of catchall, a way to use up not only her prodigious fig crop from an overproducing tree, but whatever else she may have about the house. I used sherry vinegar, white wine and piment d’espelette because a) I had a lot of each and b) it seemed fitting but you could vary this in 100 different ways. I bet, since fresh figs are sometimes hard to find, it would be good with dried figs as well. More liquid and a longer simmering time but you’d get there. Given that this area is big on prunes, I bet a few thrown in to sweeten the sauce would be good too.
I used a spice rub to add an extra layer of flavor then baked the ribs first, to make them nice and tender. Finished on the grill with the sauce to get a good char and you’re ready for a great party.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SUPER! (caveat: must be said with that fantastic inflection only the French can really pull off properly.) I’ve said this numerous times: cooking for other people, especially those you care about, is the greatest feeling in the world. Sharing a favorite memory, especially a food memory, only increases that feeling. Make the sauce, cook up some ribs, pour some cold rosé and have people over. That’s the rather simple makings of a great evening.
KATE’S FIGGY FRENCH BBQ SAUCE – based on Kate’s recipe here
Makes about 6 cups
For the figgy bbq sauce:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds fresh figs, stemmed & chopped fine
1 cup sherry vinegar (or other strong vinegar)
2 cups light brown sugar (or granulated sugar)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon ground piment d’espelette (or substitute hot paprika)
1 Tablespoon ground pepper
1 Tablespoon worstershire sauce
2 ½ cups white wine (or red, or even water)
- In a large saucepan over medium high, heat the olive oil until hot.
- Sauté the onion over medium high until golden brown, about 6-7 minutes.
- Add the chopped figs and stir to combine.
- Add the vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, piment d’espelette, pepper, worstershire and salt; stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently as it reduces to a thick paste. The idea is to caramelize the mixture as much as you can stand it, adding liquid (wine, water) to keep the mixture from scorching – 1-3 hours.
- Let the mixture cool a little, then puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
- Return the mixture to the pot – it will have a thick, jam-like consistency – and add the wine to thin to a sauce-like consistency.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- You’ll need about 2 cups for the ribs, freeze any extra sauce up to 3 months.
FOR THE RIBS:
For the spice rub:
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup black pepper
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¾ teaspoon ground piment d’espelette (or hot paprika)
2 slabs St. Louis cut or baby back ribs (about 4 pounds total)
2 cups Kate’s French Figgy BBQ Sauce (recipe above)
- For the ribs: combine the salt, pepper, brown sugar, granulated garlic, mustard powder and piment d’espelette. To make it easier, I cut each rack into 3 pieces.
- Rub the ribs evenly on all sides with the spice mixture.
- Double wrap each rack with foil and place on a sheet plan.
- Refrigerate as long as possible, minimum 2 hours or up to 8 hours. (Overnight is really best.)
- Pre-bake: preheat oven to 300°F and line two sheet pans with foil.
- Place the foil-wrapped ribs on sheet pans and bake for 1 ½ hours.
- After 1 ½ hours, remove the ribs from the oven, gently open the foil (watch the steam) and transfer the ribs to a clean sheet pan, meat side up.
- Measure ½ cup of the baked rib juice and stir into the 2 cups of figgy bbq sauce to thin. Set aside.
- Finish on the grill: For a charcoal grill: Open vents on bottom of grill and on lid. Light a heaping chimneyful of charcoal and pour it on one side of the grill (for grilling over indirect heat). Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5” above rack for 3-4 seconds. Place the rack in place over the coals. For a gas grill: Preheat burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate.
- Place the ribs over the non-coal side of the grill (or directly on a gas grill), meat side up and brush with the figgy bbq sauce.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes until sizzling and dark spots begin to appear then turn (meat side now down), brush with BBQ sauce and cook until browned and caramelized.
- Flip, brush again and repeat the process until golden brown.
- To finish, give the ribs one more generous brush, cook for a minute or two and transfer to a sheet pan, covering with foil while you cook any remaining ribs.
- Serve in slabs or cut into individual ribs for easy serving.