Unexpected inspiration is often a good thing. A chocolate party is a perfect example.
My friends Gwen and Derrick have a chocolate party every year at their place on the South Side. Chocolate beer, chocolate chili, chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream — everything. And I always look at it as a challenge: How to make something a little different and maybe by combining ingredients that are a little out of my comfort zone.
I don’t don’t work a lot with chocolate. Not much of a sweet tooth. And I think it’s fun and the best kind of surprising to play with people’s expectations — in a good way. Chocolate need not equal powerfully sweet.
This popped up the first time when my wife wanted a chocolate party for her birthday a few years ago.
Another friend whose wife’s birthday was the same day also likes to cook. He tried a pasta with cocoa powder in the dough that didn’t turn out and a chocolate chipotle salsa that did.
My offerings: grilled chicken wings with cocoa powder in the dry rub, crostini with goat cheese, caramelized onions and a chocolate vinaigrette and roasted pork tenderloins in a chocolate and sherry glaze with shallots.
All of those turned out nicely, though the tenderloins were a needed lesson in anticipating presentation. If you’ve seen pork tenderloins and can imagine a dark brown sauce — well, there you go. They each looked irretrievably like a giant poo. I sliced them up before serving for obvious reasons.
Last year for Gwen and Derrick’s party I made those crostini again, mainly because I couldn’t remember how I made the vinaigrette and wanted to force myself to recreate it.
This year I started from scratch.
It would have to be savory — that was a must. And it would have to be a little nontraditional.
I settled rather quickly on pork because the easy richness of the meat holds up to the chocolate. The chocolate can overwhelm it but it isn’t too fine a line.
But what kind of pork? I became the Bubba Blue of pig parts. Pulled pork, roast pork, pork sandwiches. Belly, shoulder, shank.
And then. Oh yes. Ribs.
I got two gorgeous racks of babybacks at Strip District Meats. Made a rub, grinding up ancho and New Mexico chiles, pink peppercorns, cumin and fennel seeds and Chinese five spice and mixing it with a fresh-made garlic paste. Added that into a bowl of brown sugar and gray salt — maybe a 7-to-1 sugar-to-salt ratio.
Rubbed that all over the ribs, top and bottom, and wrapped each rack separately in two casings of tented foil with one end left open. Poured into that open end: a little malty beer.
Heated the oven to 250, sealed up the ribs entirely and let them cook about two and a half hours. Longer would have been better, but by then I was running late for the party.
While the ribs cooked, I made the sauce. Some stock and ruby port whisked together and reduced in a pan to a little looser than I wanted it, then I killed the heat and added a pinch of salt, chopped fresh rosemary and chopped dark chocolate, roughly 80 percent cacao.
Sauce done and set aside, it was time for the ribs to come out. I took them out of the foil and put them on baking racks on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Cranked the heat in the oven to 500 degrees — tossing them under the broiler would also work — and hard-roasted them to finish the outside. This part can be a little tricky with all the sugar and even the garlic in the rub because if it burns, you have to start over. No saving it then.
Ribs done and rested for at least five or 10 minutes, it was time to slice and pour over the sauce.
My friend Burgh Gourmand took this shot of them at the party: