It seems kind of meat-centric around here, I know, but that’s partly because the camera was out of town and partly because some of the meatless things I’ve made lately haven’t been super photogenic. Despite what it may seem, our life is not all bacon all the time. Sorry to disappoint you. This post, for example, has no bacon in it at all, and will instead feature massive amounts of smoked and simmered non-belly pig parts in two sequential dinners. See? I’m all about the fair and balanced.
First, to celebrate the return of my family from Vermont, I bought, brined and smoked some country pork ribs. To accompany, brown rice, green mash (frisée and endive with umeboshi, garlic, and olive oil) and braised red cabbage. I usually make the cabbage with cumin, coriander, fennel, and mustard seeds plus wine, vinegar, and a little soy sauce, but this time around it benefited from the addition of the roast chicken drippings I saved from the two birds the week before. Since I didn’t have the time to make gravy for that meal, I just put the liquid in a container in the fridge and forgot about it. Poking around this time, I found it, and scraped the fat off the top (saving it, of course, and using a dollop to get the cabbage going). The quivering jelly of roasted chicken juices made for the perfect braising liquid after I deglazed the browned cabbagey goodness with white wine. It simmered low for three hours, getting silky and deep. And I made more BBQ sauce, this time based on our homemade applesauce and spicy peach-habañero chutney; I added tomato paste, maple syrup, vinegars, and wine to those and let it all bubble and reduce while the ribs smoked, brushing it on from time to time.
It was perfectly good, and made for a happy homecoming. But I had bigger plans, and bought more ribs than we needed to ensure plenty of leftover meat. The next day, I took the remaining meat- 2 whole cuts, plus a half, plus two big bones- and just covered it with red wine, trotter gear, and water and let it simmer low. I pulled the quart of shredded meat from the making of the trotter gear out of the freezer and defrosted it in a saucepan with the rest of the BBQ sauce and some leftover white wine. Once the whole ribs were tender, I shredded them off the bone and added that meat back into their now-smoky cooking liquid along with the defrosted shredded hock meat and a can of tomato paste to help thicken it all up a bit more. It bubbled together for another hour or so. The addition of the unsmoked hock meat from the freezer was key; it helped cut the heavy smoke flavor and reduce it to a level where it mingled playfully with the other flavors. And doubling down on the unctuous pork broth is always a good idea.
The result? Not at all fancy, but man oh MAN was this a pleasure to eat: sweet, sour, smoky, super-rich from all the reduced stock, and with the soft, falling-apart texture that only comes from cooking low and slow. I put it on the same brown rice and cabbage, so it was literally a remix of the night before. Best of all, that very same quart container is back in the freezer, but this time full of gorgeous, fully-flavored shreddy joy. Whenever it comes back out, I will make cornbread.