Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thrifty Cooking: Braised Pork "Short Ribs"

I've talked about various pork products as thrifty pieces of meat in the past but there's one excellent cut I haven't mentioned yet. That is country-style spare ribs.

Country-style pork ribs have probably been around for a long time but in the past few years, they've been showing-up a lot on the shelves of the supermarket. Unlike regular racks of ribs, these are cut into individual wide ribs with a heavy bone and a good chunk of meat still attached. They're incredibly cheap but most people don't know what to do with them. If you try to grill or bake them, they're just tough and gristly.

Country-style pork ribs are essentially the same cut on a pig that becomes "Short Ribs" on a cow. If you've ever paid $15-$20 or more for braised beef short ribs at a fancy restaurant, you know how delicious they can be. As a close cousin of the pot roast, there's just something about that sticky, tender meat and beefy flavor that is hard to resist. The slow, moist braising process slowly breaks-down the connective tissue in the meat, giving it this classic finger-lickin' texture and taste.

But why shell out all that cash? Most braised dishes were born out of thrift and anything braised cooks pretty much unattended after you toss everything into the pot. It's a busy American home cook's dream for a hearty weekend meal or even a weeknight meal if you're into slow-cookers.

Here's the recipe I developed:

Braised Pork "Short Ribs" With Root Vegetables
2-3 pounds of country-style short ribs
1 large onion cut into large 1-inch chunks or "frenched"
1 pound of carrots and cut into 3-inch sticks or thick 3/4-inch disks
2 beef bullion cubes or packets
1 cup of red wine
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
flour (for dredging)

1) Heat your oven to 300 degrees and move the rack to to a lower position.
2) Chop all vegetables and set aside. Pat meat dry with paper towels and generously season both sides with salt and pepper.
3) Using a dish with high sides (such as a 13x9 baking dish), dredge each rib in flour, creating a thin layer on all four sides. Dust-off any excess. Put ribs aside on a dry plate.
4) Pour the olive oil into a 5-7 quart dutch and heat it on high until the oil shimmers but isn't smoking. Using tongs, sear the meat for one minute or so on all four sides. Work in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan. Remove the meat and place it back on the plate.
5) Turn the burner down to medium-high and add more oil if it seems dry. Add the onions and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes until they start to soften.
6) Add the wine and, using a wooden spoon, scrape-up the bits from the bottom of the pan.
7) Nestle the meat back into the pan and add the carrots, onions, garlic, beef bullion, and bay leaves. Add enough water to just cover everything in the pot.
8) Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and move it to the oven. Bake 2-3 hours or until meat tests over 170 degrees with a thermometer and the vegetables are softened.
9) Remove the meat from the pot and let it rest for 2-3 minutes. While the meat is resting, remove the vegetables from the pot with a wooden spoon. Discard the bay leaves. Place veggies in a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap to keep them warm.
10) With the leftover juice in the pan, add 2 tablespoons of flour that has been thoroughly mixed with 3-4 tablespoons of water. Whisk the mixture well and bring to a boil. The mixture should thicken once it comes to a boil. If it's too thick, add more water and whisk. If too thin, add more flour-water mixture and whisk. Strain the gravy through a mesh sieve.
11) Cut the meat off of the bones if it hasn't fallen off and remove any gristle or fat still in tact. Cut it into large chunks. Serve meat and vegetables with mashed potatoes and the gravy.

Slow Cooker (Crockpot) Variation 1) Sear the meat as directed above in a large frying pan that is not nonstick.
2) Cook onions and deglaze the pan with wine as directed above.
3) Pour the wine-onion mixture into the ceramic insert of a slow cooker. Add the meat and other ingredients as directed above.
4) Cook 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low till meat and veggies are both tender.
5) Separate meat, veggies, and the liquid. Using the frying pan or a sauce pot, make the gravy as instructed above. Do not attempt to heat your ceramic crock on the stovetop.

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