I was exactly a month into my 18th year when my mother suddenly died, so I spent much of my life like this little fairytale duck, wandering around looking for her mother. I am fortunate to have met many generous women who were willing to share their guidance and wisdom with me as I stumbled on my life journey.
One of my earliest mentors/surrogates was Harriet Robin, my childhood best friend’s mom. Excitingly, over the past few years, Harriet and I have become friends of our own, and I’ve also become close with them she lifelong best friend, Anna Leonard. Both ladies are experienced and passionate home cooks and together they enjoy a second career as culinary school teachers, most commonly at the New Orleans School of Cooking, where their classes sell out due to their mutually engaging style and cheeky, sparkling wit. It must be like making gumbo with Laurel and Hardy. These lifelong friends recently served as judges on the premiere season of Peacock/NBC’s Baking It, and they co-authored a cookbook/memoir, Across the Table: Recipes & Stories from Two New Orleans Friends (2017).
A few years ago I took Harriet and Anne, both born and raised with a Y’ats card, to Katie’s Restaurant, a shockingly good restaurant which shockingly neither of them had ever been to. We started our belt-busting lunch with charcoal grilled oysters halfway afloat in buttery goodness and toasted parmesan; and a crawfish fritter– a puff pastry filled with savory mud beetles, caramelized onions and Provel cheese, topped with a savory aioli. The highlight of the meal was the arrival of Scottie’s CNN Blackberry and Jalapeno Ribswhich are slowly smoked and drizzled with a gorgeous glaze of fresh blackberries diluted with jalapeño juice.
Harriet: Oh Mercy, oh my god! These are the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life! Wait, no, these might be the best Matter I’ve had evuh! I’ll bring some home for Maw-Maw!” Side note: Maw-Maw, Harriet’s mother, was still going strong and enjoying things like jalapeño glazed ribs at age 101.
Chef Scott “Scottie” Craig: “Let me tell you about the ribs: Katrina is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She changed my life.”
Days after the disaster, Scottie’s friend met a group of CNN journalists looking for a mobile kitchen. He linked her to Scottie, who had lost both his home and business to flooding. “I was desperate. I got them a mobile kitchen and they settled me on the deal. I would stick like glue.”
Scottie took up residence at the CNN outpost in a parking lot near Lee Circle. Among the high-connected individuals who were allowed to roam the city at will was inexplicably Arthur J. Robinson, also known as “Mr. Okra”. Notwithstanding waking up in a sparsely populated, totally decimated place, back in those dark days, Mr. Okra happily continued loading his pickup truck with fresh fruit and vegetables and driving it around town and through a bullhorn to sing what he had to sell.
“I have no idea where he got this stuff from – but every day it was like, ‘I have blackberries!’ He seemed to have blackberries straight out of his A–. So I bought blackberries. CNN headquarters was constantly sending out loads of baby back ribs. What to do? That’s it. I still get calls from CNN bureaus across the country asking about these ribs.”
Chef Scottie’s CNN Blackberry Ribs
2 baskets of baby back ribs of the best quality
Rib Rub (recipe follows)
Blackberry Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
fresh, whole blackberries, if desired
Rub the ribs evenly with the rib rub.
Smoke the ribs on a prepared outdoor smoker for 4 to 5 hours until tender. Chill the ribs until well chilled. See NOTES below for a method of oven smoking the ribs.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling. Brush the ribs generously with the sauce and grill until warmed through. The sauce should be thick enough to stick to the ribs.
Serve the ribs with other sauce and fresh, whole blackberries, if desired.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoons granulated onion
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
Blackberry Barbecue Sauce:
- 1 cup of ketchup
- 1 cup of honey
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 20 fresh blackberries
- 30 pickled jalapeño slices, finely chopped
- Jalapeño pickling liquid
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except the curing liquid, salt and pepper in a saucepan. Puree with a blender. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it out with a little pickling juice from the jalapeños. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.
NOTES: 1. To smoke the ribs in the oven, preheat the oven to 225ºF. Coat the bottom of a skillet with hickory or oak shavings, adding enough water to create a shallow pool that covers the bottom of the pan and moistens the shavings; don’t drown them. Place a wire rack over the fries and place the shredded meat on the wire rack. Cover the entire skillet tightly with foil and tent the top to allow smoky-flavored steam to circulate around the meat. Bake 4 to 5 hours or until meat is cooked through and tender. Carefully remove the foil from the pan. Brush the ribs with the blackberry barbecue sauce and cook under a high broiler, watching closely, until nicely crisped and browned, about 5 minutes.
2. Although Scottie uses this divine sauce to baste the juicy, tender ribs he serves at Katie’s, it would pair just as well with chicken, pork, duck or vegetables. “Damn, use it on tofu. But whatever you do, don’t put it on those awful, fatty St. Louis-style ribs,” the chef warns. “They suck. Only use slim baby backs.”