Monday, December 29, 2008

Niman Ranch St. Louis Style-Pork Ribs

Pre-cooked AND St. Louis-style? This can't be good.

Niman Ranch St. Louis Style-Pork Ribs

These were a Christmas present. Meat as a Christmas present? Yes, my wife is that incredibly awesome. She transcends all ideas of swellness, of amazingingness. She's also a vegetarian.

That latter part is where the problem started. Vegetarians love things marinating in plastic bags at the health food store. My lovely wife went to a Trader Joe's and saw pork ribs marinating in a plastic bag, and thought of me. A great idea. Tofu is good pre-cooked and marinating in a bag, seitan, and every other vegetarian thing is good marinated in bags. Ribs must be good this way too. She brought them home and hid them.

I found them early, there's only so many places you can hide something in a refrigerator and my wife cleverly went for "in plain sight". When I went hunting for food, I would look right past the ribs. They were label down and looked like a pack of flavored tofu, sort of. Anyways, they were out in front of everything else so I couldn't possibly want them. The delectable treats are half-rotted in the back, waiting for my blind hand to come grasping after them, King Kong style. I pull out moldy grapes, they scream just like Fae Ray.

Is that how you spell Fae Ray? My spell check doesn't think so, but my spell check also fails to alert me when I write "fro" instead of "for".

But I found the ribs by chance, my eyeballs racked focus and I noticed them. Hurrah for me, spoiling Xmas.

The original plan had been for me to have them for Xmas dinner, that changed when we picked up two last minute house guests. I bought a big ham instead, and it was incredible. Heavenly. But that's another story. A happy story.

My wife kept pressuring me to make the ribs, both before and after Xmas, emphasizing that my food hoarding is an exceptionally bad idea and that the ribs will spoil on Jan 30th and 12:01 AM. Today, the 28th, she throws them in the oven as I'm on my way home.

She followed my instructions about how to put the ribs on balled up bits of tin foil, so one side didn't turn to meat slush. She followed the cooking directions for the conventional oven, right there on the package. I get home right as the time is up, I take a taste and they are disgusting.

If God had made Eve out of ribs like these,
Adam would've stuck to pornography.

There is a fundamental lie about "St. Louis-style" barbecued meat, and that is that I don't think there really is such a thing. I'm from St. Louis and ate barbecue with voracious abandon, there were a million different kinds of basted and grilled meat in the city. They were all barbecue, there really wasn't a unifying theme. I mean, there was VINEGAR and KETCHUP barbecue places within miles of each other, if that doesn't speak of an unacceptable level of bbq integration in the city, I don't know what is.

So the Niman Ranch ribs came sealed in a bag, soaking in "St. Louis-style" BBQ sauce. This is a disgusting barbecue sauce, thin and weak and not like anything I had ever eaten in St Louis except maybe a McRib. And the embarrassing thing is that I kind of liked McRibs. This was a foul, non-sauce, not worth covering any meat in, and I did not like it one bit.

I had a bite, it was inedible. Almost inedible. I swallowed it. Of course, I've swallowed rocks and plastic, so maybe I CAN call it inedible. It went in me, though I fought it, and it'll come out of me, and I'll probably have to fight it then too. Call that what you wish. Either way, the test bites were awful.

That steer on the label is so delicious someone ate its eye.

It was a bad situation, the ribs had to be salvaged. I had some Bull's Eye Brown Sugar and Hickory barbecue sauce handy, not as good as Olde Cape Cod, but still pretty high on the store bought sauce list. I basted the ribs, flipped them, let 'em cook, flipped and rebasted. Let 'em cook. A test bite (I mistyped "test" as "teste" on my first pass, how awesome is that? A teste bite.) and I could still taste the disgusting sauce that the ribs came in.

Another baste, then a run in the broiler to candify the sauce. It came out delicious, with only a hint of the foulness hidden within. Now I could tuck into the ribs themselves...

...which heightened the disappointment. The few test bites I'd had were a hint of what I got with the proper meal: grey, bland, greasy meat. It was fall-apart in the way a hamburger falls apart, not the way actual intact meat should. It split with any casual poke of the fork, needing little help from the knife, and the splits were any old random way, not along the grain of the meat.


These ribs leaked, too. The grey meat wept a clear, yellowish fluid. It pooled in the pan and filled my bowl as I ate. My suspicion is that the ribs were "injected" with some sort of marinade/saline solution. They were that weird and liquidy. This is only conjecture, nowhere on the label does it say that the ribs were treated in any way except for the BBQ sauce soaking.

The BBQ sauce, by the way, has a name - "Mad Will's BBQ Sauce". "Mad Will's" sounds like a discount, urban oriented lawyer service. It also sounds like a nickname for someone who is crazy and therefore shouldn't be allowed to prepare food. William is mad, therefore we should keep him out of the kitchen. We are probably lucky we got off with the stomach churning we got from his sauce, he could have chosen to poison us. I wonder how he prepares food without access to a knife?

So imagine a McRib taste on a public school cafeteria hamburger and you have Niman Ranch ribs as I had them in my kitchen this day, December 28, 2008. I've cooked a enough ribs in my time that I knew I could salvaged these with a coating of candied barbecue sauce. This particular trick can make anything delicious, up to and including the tinfoil that catches the drippings. My delicious band-aid worked, but there was still a jellied scab underneath, and I couldn't forget that. I could see it in the ugly grey meat and taste it in the ugly grey taste.

In fact, the only reason I trooped on through and ate the ribs was because they were from Trader Joe's and therefore very expensive. And that, my friends is some fucked up reasoning.

Bob: Tim, don't eat that sandwich. It's arsenic flavored with real arsenic.

Tim: You mean it's all natural?

Bob: No, I mean you'll die if you eat it.

Tim: Can I trade it for another sandwich which (Pause for laugh at "sandwich which") won't kill me?

Bob: No, the poison sandwich store is closed till Monday.

Tim: I paid eight dollars for this sandwich. I can't throw it away. Do you want it?

Bob: No.

Tim: Well, I guess I have to eat it then. (Tim dies.)

That's why I need a royal taster. Not to detect poison unknown, but to eat poisoned items that I wouldn't be able to bear to let go to waste.

A telling note though, "Niman Ranch" might not be a ranch at all. The package says "Produced especially for and distributed by: Niman Ranch..." That tells me that Niman Ranch is most likely just a label invented to sound all natural. It might be all natural, but it still smacks of a level of corporate fake that I don't approve of.

This whole thing sucks start to finish. The label on the ribs boasts that Niman Ranch is all about things I approve of: No antibiotics ever, no hormones, all vegetarian feed, humanely raised on environmentally sustainable farms... These are all good things. I approve and I want to eat things with these characteristics, but not if they taste like crap. And especially if they don't HAVE to taste like crap.

C'mon folks, shame on me for having a wife who bought pre-cooked ribs soaked in sauce, shame on you for putting out such a crap product geared toward fooling loving wives.

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