These days, I’m spending a lot of time enjoying my protracted unemployment, as I wait for the 50 feet of snow we received here in Maine to melt and for the thermometer to creep above 40 degrees, so I can finally open the doors to our food truck. In the meantime, though, I’m using my time wisely, by shuffling around in dirty mismatched wool socks eating reheated manicotti, taking photos of the insides of burritos that I’ll never publish anywhere, drinking Allen’s Coffee Brandy (followed by teaspoons of baking soda for the heartburn that ensues), going grocery shopping every single day for absolutely no good reason, and spending at least 100% more time thinking about Rachael Ray.
Listen, I understand that she’s probably a divisive personality. I can hear the protests of some of you, right through my web box computer screen. Some find her eternal, unyielding perkiness a little grating. Her origins not as a celebrated chef, but as a food and cooking gadget demo girl in a department store. Her persistent introduction of cutsie terms for olive oil and sandwiches into the popular lexicon. I get it. Yummo, indeed.
But I’ve been paying a little more attention to Rachael Ray, lately, thanks mostly to having recent finished reading From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network. This 512 page volume answers every question anyone could have ever had about the launch of the network, including the personalities that helped transform it from semi-serious cooking channel, to a relentless, 24-hour rerun of Guy Fieri making up entirely meaningless catchphrases on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. And one of the things that gets mentioned, again and again, by nearly every single cap-toothed, rosy-cheeked, grinning personality connected to the network, is that Rachael Ray is really, really, really good at what she does.
Television is hard. Really hard. I’ve only tried it a few times, and every time, got so wracked with nerves that I’ve cut myself on food processor blades, flubbed ingredient descriptions, and generally carried on like a total spazz. What you hear about Rachael Ray, though, is that she is ridiculously godamned gifted, when it comes to making good-natured, effortless food programming. Where your Anne Burrells and your Robert Irvines bungle lines and challenge the patience of the crew, the line on Rachael Ray is that she breezes in, knocks it all out in one take, and makes it home to husband John in time for a batch of broccoli rabe sammys. Regardless of what you may think of her cooking, or her cutsie terminology, you have to bow down before that kind of effortless media-savvy ninjutsu.
The other thing I’ve noticed, since I’ve allowed myself to open my heart to Rachael Ray’s charms, is that sometimes, just sometimes, her recipes manage to produce some sort of black magic alchemy that is genuinely unexpected and delicious. Are these recipes innovative? Maybe not. Cutting-edge technique? Not here. But if you were wondering about a new way to cook, say, St. Louis-cut pork ribs and have burned yourself out on barbecue sauce, sometimes Rachael Ray will reveal a secret that will change the way you think about a cut of meat forever. That’s right.
I’ve never seen ribs treated this way, with tons of rosemary, garlic, oregano, and a splash of brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. They slow cook in the oven for about three hours at low heat, and then you unwrap them and blast them under the broiler for a few minutes to put a nice char on the outside. Served with plenty of lemon wedges to squeeze over the top of the whole glorious mess, these buttery, fall-off-the-bone tender ribs are unlike any I’ve ever had, and will probably become my new default preparation for this particular cut.
All of this, from an adorable five-foot package of perfectly perky charm, wrapped in a heaping helping of daytime television magic? I never would have guessed it, either.
- 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 2 red Fresno chili peppers, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- About ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 rack St. Louis-cut pork ribs (2 to 2½ pounds)
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- Lemon wedges to serve
- Preheat oven to 275°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy foil, matte side up.
- In a bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, chiles, garlic, herbs, onion, and olive oil.
- Season ribs with salt and pepper liberally, then coat both sides with dressing and arrange on the baking sheet (you may need to cut the rack of ribs in half). Top with any excess dressing, and cover with more foil to seal as a packet. Roast 3 hours.
- When the ribs are tender, remove top foil cover and transfer ribs to a second dry sheet pan lined with foil for easy clean up. Turn boiler on high and place ribs in the middle of the oven and cook to crisp.
- Pour juices over ribs on carving board. Serve with lemon wedges.