We often take the kids out for lunch on a Saturday – a day which I am trying, but not quite managing to designate as cook-free (there’s still breakfast and tea after all). Normally we just wander down to the local pub, but a few weeks ago we ventured up to Shoreditch to Red Dog Saloon, a Southern US-style diner famed for its chicken wings and long-smoked barbecued meats.
I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable meal I’ve had in ages. The menu is pure dude and dirty, the kind that makes carnivorous kids (and grown men) dribble, where you roll up your sleeves, get stuck in and leave worrying about your cholesterol until tomorrow. While we were deciding on whether to have wings, ribs, brisket or burgers (or whether we could manage the lot) we indulged in a spot of hipster bingo. (If the hipster is in demise in these parts there was no evidence of it here.) Full beard, tick, handlebar moustache, tick, plaid shirt, tick, nerd glasses, tick, rolled up jeans, tick, and is that a fixed wheel bike I see clamped to the railings outside? Tick.
We were soon distracted by a lot of whooping and hollering from the table behind us as two young chaps were going head to sweaty head in some sort of man vs food challenge. Mercifully I had my back to them, but the kids’ running commentary of the contest, in which I gather the two were racing to cram a towering heart attack of a burger, fries and a shake within 10 minutes, was almost enough to put me off my buffalo wings (heaven forbid).
Another larger group of lads – in the early leg of a stag we presumed – were being doled out bright blue vinyl gloves and signing what appeared to be contracts. ‘They’re doing the hot wings challenge,’ our waitress informed us, ‘so they have to sign a disclaimer.’ Apparently the heat in these wings is provided by the Naga Viper chilli, which is closer, in ferocity, to weapons grade pepper spray than it is to, say, tabasco. The challenge here is to eat six of them in 10 minutes with no drink or other food. ‘My colleague tried that,’ said my husband, ‘he only managed one, but was still off work for four days.’ Oh dear.
Meanwhile, a thin, pallid-faced couple sat down next to us. After spending several minutes scouring the menu, they called the waitress over. ‘Is there anything for vegetarians?’ they asked, timidly. Now, if I were vegetarian (and I once was – sort of) in search of a meal in the eaterie-flooded streets of Shoreditch, I don’t think I’d be drawn to a barbecue diner, especially not to one that celebrates so loudly all things animal (to eat and to watch). There were literally two veggie mains on the menu, and one of those was a salad. Even their veggie sides had the option of adding extra flesh. ‘We’ll have two bean burgers please,’ they said to waitress who was doing her best not to roll her eyes. Ten minutes later, presumably after much rummaging in the bottom of the chest freezer for the sad, unloved burgers, she returned to tell them there was only one left. Rather than cutting their losses, and hotfooting it to a more accommodating establishment, they ordered the one bean burger to share between them. We sniggered quietly into our craft beers. (Tick. Oh hang on. Full House!)
Over on the stag table, the wings challenge was well underway. Of the four participating members of the group, one had given up after one wing, another after only a nibble, and the other two were battling it out in uneasy silence. One was shaking, the other weeping, both were sweating quite profusely. ‘It makes me a bit sad when people order that to be honest,’ our waitress admitted, ‘They don’t realise they won’t be able to taste anything for ages after.’ I’m pretty sure the ruinous state of their tastebuds will be the least of their worries, I thought, particularly come tomorrow morning. ‘I hope the wedding isn’t too soon,’ my husband chortled.
So as I said, it was all jolly good fun. And the food wasn’t bad either.
Sticky ribs and wings
This is dirty food in every respect. It’s dark, sweet and smoky, not remotely healthy and will require an unlimited supply of wet wipes. But every now and then, there’s nothing quite like a slow cooked rib or sticky chicken wing to bring a smile to your face. They are a firm favourite with the kids and even their fussiest of friends, and the level of spicing can be adapted to suit the audience. If you wanted to reduce the amount of fat, you could swap the wings for skinless drumsticks, but to fret about such things would really be to miss the point.
I didn’t buy the ribs from my butcher because, somewhat bizarrely, he refuses to sell pork spare ribs unless they are still attached to the belly of the beast. If there is some logic to this – and it must be something to do with his bottom line – I can’t quite work it out. OK selling a slab of pork belly is going to make him more cash than selling the ribs alone, but what on earth happens to all those (literally) spare ribs, when the customer asks for a piece of boneless belly? (He doesn’t apply the same logic to chicken breasts – if you ask for a boneless chicken breast, you’ll pay for the weight including the wingy bit but if you don’t want it he’s more than happy to sell it on to other customers. Double bubble as it were.) Maybe Mrs Butcher has a secret rib habit that he has to feed on a daily basis. And who could blame her? When done well, they are extremely addictive.
Makes enough marinade for 1.5-2kg ribs (halve the quantities for 1kg chicken wings)
This is a mash up between the Ginger Pig’s rib marinade, Hugh F-W’s recipe from River Cottage Every Day and a teaspoon or two from me.
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 50g dark brown or muscovado sugar
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp smoked paprika (sweet or hot no matter)
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl and marinate your choice of protein for at least an hour but longer if possible, covered in the fridge. I usually do this first thing in the morning, so the meat is well flavoured by tea. Even if you don’t have time for any marination the end result will still be good.
To cook the ribs
Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan). Place your ribs and their marinade in a disposable foil tray (or normal baking tray if you LOVE washing up) in a single layer then cover with tin foil. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 190°C, remove the foil, toss the ribs around a bit and bake for a further 45 minutes, tossing a couple more times during this period in the thickening sauce. When cooked, remove from oven and serve, spooning over any remaining sauce.
And the wings
Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan). Place the wings and their marinade in one layer on your disposable tray (you have been warned). Bake in the oven, turning every now and then, for about 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has reduced and caramelised enough to coat the wings. (If the sauce is still too runny but the chicken is cooked, pour it into a small pan and reduce on the hob until it has thickened.)
I usually serve the above with jackets or potato wedges, or macaroni cheese, with slaw and corn on or off the cob.