Earlier this summer, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I burned two racks of ribs. I’d made a dry rub with lots of brown sugar and cayenne pepper, sprinkled it all over the ribs, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and placed them in the oven for low-and-slow cooking. This, however, was an unfamiliar oven in an unfamiliar kitchen (we were staying with our friends Harry and Cris) and when the ribs came out, hours later, they bore a closer resemblance to King Tutankhamun than anything you’d actually want to eat.
Thankfully, there was coleslaw. Not just any coleslaw: my coleslaw. What can I say? I’m something of a coleslaw whisperer. It’s something that I ate often, growing up. My mom would buy cartons of coleslaw from the deli, along with macaroni salad (remember macaroni salad?) and she’d keep them both in the refrigerator next to a pitcher of Crystal Light lemonade.
Admit it: we all watch “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” So we all saw it when Dina’s daughter derided the coleslaw set out for her going-away party to Cyprus. “Who ordered all this coleslaw?” she groused and we all laughed because that gloppy, mayonnaisey mound of coleslaw did look pretty nasty.
But take heart, New Jersey housewives: I give you a recipe for coleslaw so simple and so satisfying, I can type the whole thing in this paragraph. It comes from Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” and takes no time at all. Here, have your personal chef do the following: slice half a green cabbage really thinly and half a red cabbage really thinly. Toss together with one grated carrot and half a red onion sliced thinly. Now take half a cup of red wine vinegar, put it in a little pot, and boil until reduced by half (“Oy that smell!”) Add 2 Tbs honey to the hot vinegar and then pour over the cabbage, carrot and onion, along with salt and pepper. Toss and let sit 15 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup mayo, chopped chives and chopped parsley, toss all together and you’re done. Colorful, killer coleslaw! Enough to make your husbands go, “Fuhgetaboutit.”
We ask many things of our food. We ask that our food is clearly identifiable (anything strange and murky immediately turns us off); we ask that our food is reasonably healthy–even if that means laying a redemptive tomato on a greasy, heart-crushing 5-pound burger. We ask that our food is prepared in a clean kitchen, we ask that our food is served hot, or at least reasonably warm. We ask that our food is tasty, that it is filling, that it has good value ($20 for two scallops does not a happy customer make). Mostly, we ask that our food fills that very primal need for gastronomical satisfaction. What we don’t often ask is for our food to have a story.
What did you have for lunch today? Where did you get it? Ok, you got it from the sandwich shop, or you made it yourself, but what went in it? And where did that come from? What’s its story?
The plate you see in the above photo has a fantastic story. If I told you it’s just ribs and coleslaw, that might be enough for you–in fact, that’d be enough for most people. When I was growing up, a special treat was a trip to Bobby Rubino’s (A Place for Ribs) where the ribs and coleslaw were plentiful (and relatively cheap) and anyone who asked, “Do these ribs have a story?” would be socked on the head. I’m sure the ribs at Bobby Rubino’s have a story, it’s just not a story you’d want to know. But the story of the plate above is a story that should make you happy. Let me tell it to you.