a home cook with notions & an appetite
Inspired by a the Cookbook of the Month thread over on Chowhound, I decided that a recipe from Jaques Pepein’s Essential Pepin was in order. How can you not love Jaques? He’s conversational, he makes you believe that you can do anything and he’s willing to show you what happens if you were to muss things up a bit. Your best teachers always work this way.
It’s January and this means that pork is on sale everywhere. Depending on your viewpoint, pork is lucky either because pigs represent forward progress (pigs move forward as they forage) or they’re an animal made of succulent meat that represents wealth and prosperity. Either way, it’s on sale. Specifically, country-style ribs are on sale.
Country-style ribs are not actually ribs. This does not stop people from trying to cook them like ribs and that’s a shame. Please buy either baby backs, spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs – actual ribs – if you’re going to cook ribs. Country ribs come from the section of the pig between the baby-back ribs and the shoulder of the pork. What does this mean? This meat is a combination of loin meat, fat and some gristle. If you have bone, there is the possibility that it’s rib bone, but it’s more likely to be shoulder blade bone than anything. Long story short, not the meat for rib cooking application, but perfect for braised chop applications.
Despite the “Puerto Rico” in the title and a point where you’re free to leave out cilantro, jalapeno or the Tabasco if you don’t like spicy food, this isn’t a spicy dish. It is, on the other hand, a tremendously flavorful dish with simple ingredients (the full recipe available on a PBS affiliate blog here):
Jaques biggest instruction upfront was to buy the leanest, meatiest ribs one could find. This meant zeroing in on the shorter cuts in the grocery that did not contain bones as I find the long cuts tend to be fattier and have the bones at the ends. Your mileage may vary. The cook time is long, but the actual work time is fairly fast after chopping veggies:
I browned the pork on all sides over medium-high heat in the oil until they were thoroughly browned. No seasoning. It was shocking to me as well, but I went with it. This process took about 15 minutes and I got a lovely sear. After that, all of the other ingredients were added to the pan except for the cilantro leaves and Tabasco. Yes, the beans were dry. The last photo shows the mixture just as it was coming to a boil – and the small amounts of foam that I was supposed to scrape out of the pan (I did a fine, fine job rinsing the beans!). At this point, it was cover and simmer for a bit over 2 hours.
At the end of this time, what liquid was left was nice and thick and my beans were perfectly tender. The pork was beyond tender. A small adjustment of salt and pepper and a bowl of fluffy white rice awaited. After a quick topping of Frank’s and cilantro leaves, I was in love with my country ribs thanks to Jaques.