The satisfaction derived from making other people happy is addictive. I truly believe it is that feeling that drives many chefs to work as hard as they do, always striving to make the best food they possibly can so that the people they are feeding experience intense joy while dining. For me, my greatest pleasure is found when I'm able to feed my family something they love so much that they can't contain their happiness, and it comes spilling out across the table in an infectious wave, making everyone around them happy as well. Don't get me wrong; as a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, I love wowing my students with my cooking, but that is more of an ego-feeding kind of pleasure, whereas cooking for family is all about the love.
It should come as no surprise then; I love the birthday request dinner from whichever member of the family might be celebrating their special day. Over this past weekend my dad turned seventy-two, and all he wanted for a gift was to come over to our house and have a home cooked meal. His special request was a slab of baby back ribs. And, I couldn't cook them just any old way. See, my dad is a true, birth until death Chicagoan, and to many people (especially north siders like him) that means ribs are either boiled or steamed until falling off the bone tender, and then finished on a grill while being basted with a sweet BBQ sauce. Normally, I would get the grill set up to do an indirect heat, hickory fueled, long and slow hot smoking session, but the birthday boy is king, and soft, sweet ribs were what he wanted.
My technique for achieving serious goodness in a slab of ribs cooked indoors starts with an initial rub of salt, spices, and herbs to get some flavor built in, and then a short session under the broiler to toast the dry rub and get some good Maillard reaction brownness going on. I then pour some apple cider vinegar over and around the ribs, cover them with foil, and let them cook for two to three hours at 300°F. To finish them off, the foil comes off, the BBQ sauce goes on, and they take another short trip under the broiler to turn the sauce into a sticky glaze. That's all there is to it, and I'll tell you what, my dad knows what he's talking about; those ribs are seriously good. And, most importantly, they made him very happy.