Finger lickin’ good: Sticky ribs and retro salads for a big get-together

Jess Murphy: Baby back ribs, Russian salad, and Cobb salad with ranch dressing

I love informal get-togethers. You know, the kind that involve putting your eating pants on, using tea towels as napkins, and any old wonky wine glass will do, along with a load of mismatched cutlery and crockery.

When you have owned a restaurant for a few years, like we have, your home ends up with a vast array of odds and ends, just like a car boot sale. I would like to think of myself as being a minimalist, but the truth is I really couldn’t be, even if I tried.

Ribs are ideal food for this kind of low-key entertaining and not so long ago we had a rib night for some friends in our tiny little terraced house. As it was early spring, we had a fire blazing, and a few candles for atmosphere. But so many people arrived that we had to open all the windows and doors as it got unbearably hot. My neighbours might have had their suspicions about us before then, but that night confirmed beyond all doubt that we are a bit mad – and they had a great laugh at our expense.

These ribs are ideal if you have ravenous young adults to feed, like we do when our three nephews visit. For them I would normally roast eight batches

For this recipe, there is no need to rush out and buy a fancy barbecue: you can roast these nicely in the oven too. These ribs are ideal if you have ravenous young adults to feed, like we do when our three nephews come over and visit us in the summer. These boys could literally eat you out of house and home, so for them I would normally roast eight batches of these beautiful, baby back pork ribs.


I like to serve them with Russian salad, a potato salad we first tried in Spain, but which was actually invented by Lucien Olivier, a Russian chef of Belgian and French descent. Who knew, right? My version relies on plenty of fresh vegetables for a bit of crunch and freshness, unlike most of the Spanish ones, which use tinned or jarred vegetables,

It’s quite similar to my all-time favourite hangover cure, herrings in fur coats – layered potato, herring, carrots, beets, lots of mayonnaise and grated egg – a much loved Russian dish that is popular at any kind of celebration.

Finally, add to the table a good old Cobb salad, with blue cheese ranch dressing. The Cobb is to the salad world what Neapolitan is to ice cream. A classic American Cobb salad is usually composed of crispy bacon, tender chicken and perfectly hard-boiled eggs arranged in rows on a bed of lettuce. After that you can add avocado, tomato, chives, basically whatever is colourful and happens to be in the fridge at the time.

All of these recipes serve four, but are easily multiplied up to serve larger groups. And that, my friends, is a party.


Serves 4

1kg baby back pork ribs (I prefer to use pork from pigs that have been allowed to roam free)
200g harissa paste
3tbsp wholegrain mustard
150g honey
3tbsp soy sauce
3tbp sherry vinegar
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Put all the glaze ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat together well with a whisk. Set aside half of the glaze for later.

Put the ribs in a large roasting dish and season generously with salt and pepper.

Pour the glaze on the ribs, making sure they are well coated all over. This can be done a few hours before cooking, but overnight is even better.

Preheat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius or equivalent.

Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven. Cook the ribs for 2 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow them to rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the reserved glaze in a small saucepan and gently heat until it is bubbling. Uncover the meat and pour the hot glaze all over, again making sure they are well coated.

Move the pork onto a chopping board and cut between each rib, using a sharp knife.

Serve with plenty of napkins.


Serves 4

8 medium Rooster potatoes, peeled and quartered
40g peas, fresh or frozen, blanched
2 carrots peeled, cut into small cubes
2 sticks celery, cut into small cubes
3 gherkins, cut into small cubes
3 scallions, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
300g mayonnaise
1tbsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and ground white pepper
Handful of fresh dill, chopped

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan until cooked but still firm, this should take about 10 minutes. Drain and allow to cool completely.

Add all the other prepared vegetables to a large mixing bowl with the hard boiled eggs.

Once they are cool, cut the potatoes into thumb size chunks and put in the mixing bowl also.

Now add the mayo, mustard and vinegar and mix together. Season with a generous pinch of white pepper and sea salt and garnish with the dill.


Serves 4

1 head of Iceberg lettuce, roughly chopped
100g cooked ham or bacon, roughly chopped
2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced
6 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 large carrot, grated
3 celery sticks, cut into chunks
Quarter of a red cabbage, thinly sliced
6 radishes, quartered

For the blue cheese ranch dressing
100g buttermilk
30g cider vinegar
10g Dijon mustard
120g blue cheese (we use Young Buck)
30g mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper

Start by making the dressing. Using a large mixing bowl or processor, add the buttermilk, vinegar and Dijon mustard and mix.

Crumble in the blue cheese. You can have it as chunky as you like.

Add the mayo, garlic and parsley. Season to taste. If the dressing seems too thick, add a bit more buttermilk. Set aside. This will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Arrange the ingredients into sections on a large serving dish or platter. When ready to serve, pour the blue cheese dressing generously all over the salad, or let your guests serve themselves.