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Monday 30 January 2012

Waitrose Slow Cooked Pork Loin Rack of Ribs with Red Eye BBQ Rub & Drizzle

There are two things I probably need to make clear about my experience of ribs:
  1. In the UK, they tend to have very little meat on them, most of which seems to be firmly bonded to the bone.
  2. What we call 'a rack' in the UK is called 'a half rack' in the US. I'm not kidding.
I'm actually quite surprised that I bothered to pick this up, considering I've never really liked ribs - or much of any 'meat on the bone'-type of thing - but that is based largely on my experience of UK ribs, or 'spare ribs' from the various dodgy Chinese restaurants and takeaways I've patronised in my chequered past. This, on the other hand, was the winner of The Grocer's 2011 Gold Award in the 'Own Label - Chilled - Beef, Lamb & Pork' category (for being "innovative, premium, succulent and tender") so surely it had to be worth a look?

Supplied in the same style of cardboard envelope as the Texas style brisket, the package contains the rack of ribs in one plastic bag and the 'drizzle' (sauce to you and I) in another. I have to say that the ribs at this stage don't look very appetising. There's clearly something coating the meat, but it's difficult to say what it is, even once it comes out of the plastic.

The cooking instructions say to place the rack on a baking tray but, since the sauce has to be added about ten minutes before it comes out of the oven, it's wise to add some foil to cover the tray and thus reduce the impact when it comes time to clear up. No foil means you have to spend ages scrubbing your baking tray. Foil means you can just scrunch everything up and chuck it away.

You know it makes sense.

They only take 25-30 minutes to cook (except possibly on an actual barbecue...) and, when it comes out of the oven and onto your plate, two things are immediately obvious: it smells amazing, and it's so tender, it's almost collapsing off the bone straight away. It's actually damn near impossible to cut the meat between the ribs as, at the first sign of pressure, even from a sharp knife, the meat separates from the bone. This forms a stark contrast to the picture on the packaging, which reminded me of every takeaway rib I've ever tried.

That's not a bad thing, though... The last thing anyone wants is to be gnawing away at a bone, trying to get those last scraps of meat.

As far as the taste goes, I must confess that I'm disappointed, both in the meat - which had very little flavour, and certainly did not suggest it had been on the receiving end of the 'Red Eye Rub' - and the sauce. The 'Red Eye Drizzle' looks so good, bubbling away in the oven and when the ribs come out and land on the plate... but there's barely any flavour to it. I was expecting something at least as strong as, say, HP sauce, or whatever junk food restaurants are calling 'barbecue sauce' these days, but it's mostly there to give you the 'sticky fingers' experience of eating ribs, rather than to supplement the taste sensation that isn't going on in your mouth with each and every bite.

Thing is, while writing this, I've done a little research into 'Red Eye Sauce', and it seems that Waitrose interpretation of that is about as accurate as their interpretation of Key Lime Pie. The ingredients listed on the box are sugar, water, honey, tomato paste, spirit vinegar, rapeseed oil, vodka, English mustard, molasses, cornflour (as a thickener), garlic purée, salt, smoke flavouring (listed as 'hickory smoke, alcohol'), paprika extract (as colouring), something described as 'malted extract' and black pepper. This is absolutely nothing like any recipe for Red Eye Sauce I've found on the interwebs during the course of my research. Some even involve coffee, but certain core ingredients - like bacon (for the 'smoke flavouring', perhaps?) - remain consistent. Really, Waitrose, you might be able to described it as 'Red Eye Flavour Drizzle', but it really ain't a Red Eye drizzle.

After the awesome flavour of the Texas-style beef brisket (which I'm now afraid to research, as that'll probably turn out to be hopelessly inaccurate too!), this was a huge let-down. There's a decent quantity of meat, and it's certainly very succulent and tender, but it's basically rather bland, and the sauce does nothing to perk it up. This might be worth trying on a barbecue, to improve the smokiness of it all, but as an oven-roast, this is a massive disappointment.

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