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It's funny how we seem to know automatically the history and dates of some holidays. Thanksgiving, Presidents Day and the Fourth of July have obvious historical significance. Christmas, Hanukkah, Passover and Easter, are, of course, linked to religious celebrations to which we actively look forward.
But what about Father's Day? Most people can guess that it comes sometime in June. Fewer know that it falls on the third Sunday of the month: June 15 this year. Many, though, have no idea why it occurs when it does, let alone the fact that Father's Day, first celebrated in Spokane, Wash., back in 1910, wasn't even recognized by presidential proclamation until Lyndon Johnson did so in 1966. It wasn't officially declared a national holiday until 1972.
Why June, though? The plain fact is that the Civil War veteran and single father of Sonora Smart Dodd, the Spokane woman who first proposed Father's Day, was born in June. But I like to think that everybody was happy to go along with the date for another reason: The holiday falls near the beginning of that time of year when fathers most love to fire up their outdoor grills.
Many dads will be grilling this Father's Day. And, while standard fare like hamburgers and hot dogs are always welcome, I think many dads want to showcase their grilling skills with something more ambitious.
Which often leads to ribs. There's something robustly primal about cooking, serving and eating ribs: the slab-like racks; the savory-sweet aromas; the act of cutting the cooked racks into individual pieces; the pleasures of gnawing the tender meat right off the bones. That's why I think of ribs as an ideal thing to grill for Father's Day.
And there's another advantage, too. In spite of what you might think, ribs are incredibly easy to cook, especially since they don't require too much time on the grill.
That fact may surprise you, since ribs do need generous cooking time to reach tenderness. However, I find that the best way to achieve tender results is o do most of the cooking in the oven at relatively low heat. Only when the ribs have been cooked to tenderness in this way do I then finish cooking them over a hot grill, which adds a wonderfully crusty surface that's lightly glazed with the caramelized traces of the marinade you used to flavor the ribs.
Try my recipe for ribs this coming Sunday, or any time during the summer, and you'll see what I mean. Add a side of my simple coleslaw, maybe open a bottle of sparkling wine or some beers, and enjoy a classic meal any dad -- and his family -- would love.
CHINOIS HONEY-MARINATED SPARE RIBS
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds baby back ribs, in one or two whole racks
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce, or additional regular soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 scallions, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, deveined and minced
Start preparing the ribs a day before you plan to cook them. With clean hands, rub both sides of the rib racks with the black pepper. Place the racks meaty side down in a roasting pan.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the vinegar, soy sauces, honey, garlic, ginger, cilantro, scallions and jalapeno. When the honey has dissolved completely, pour the mixture over the ribs. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to marinate the ribs.
About 1-1/2 hours before you plan to serve the ribs, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Drain off and discard the marinade from the ribs. Put the roasting pan, uncovered, in the oven and roast the ribs for 45 minutes.
While the ribs are roasting, heat up the fire in an outdoor grill; or, alternatively, preheat the broiler.
Remove the ribs from the oven and transfer them to a platter to carry to the grill. Grill the rib racks directly over the heat until nicely browned and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning them with grill tongs. Alternatively, broil the racks until nicely browned on both sides.
Transfer the ribs to a clean cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut through the meat between the bones into individual ribs. Pile them on a platter and serve immediately, accompanied by coleslaw.
Serves 4 to 6
1 medium head green cabbage
1 medium organic carrot, trimmed and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted caraway seeds
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the coleslaw about 2 hours before you plan to serve it.
With a large, sharp knife, cut the cabbage vertically in half. Cut out the core from each half. Place each half cut side down on a cutting board and, with the knife, cut crosswise into thin slices, separating the slices into shreds and putting them in a large nonreactive mixing bowl.
Using a box grater/shredder over another mixing bowl, shred the carrot into long, thin strips. With a clean hand, pick up the shredded carrot in handfuls and squeeze out excess liquid, transferring each squeezed handful to the bowl with the cabbage.
Add the mayonnaise, vinegar, caraway seeds, salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of sugar to the bowl. Toss well to combine the cabbage and carrot and thoroughly coat the strips with the dressing. Adjust the seasonings to taste, if necessary.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Stir the mixture before serving.