“Country ribs,” as they call them at my terrible local grocery store, don’t really exist. All they really are are cut up blade pork chops, the weird pieces at the far end of the loin near the shoulder. Nobody really knew what to do with them, so they basically just said, “the hell with it. Let’s just cut them into pieces and pretend they’re ribs.”
Like real ribs, though, they have a lot of bone in them, and bone is a good thing when it comes time to braise things. One reason is the taste: bone tastes good. The essence of any kind of stew is stock, and stock is mostly bones. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a vat of homemade pork demi-glace lying around, or dark pork stock. I have country ribs that I got for $2.75 at C-Town. So those bones are about all I have to give porky depth of flavor to my stew. (Well, that and some chunks of bacon.) The other reason bones are so useful in a stew is that they tend to keep the meat they are attached to from overheating. People always think that if you cook meat in liquid, then it will naturally be juicy, but I’ve had a hell of a lot more overcooked short ribs than I have overcooked steaks or chops.
So you brown up the chops, hitting them as hard as you can without filling your house with smoke, and then you add some wine, or beer, or stock, or whatever else you have handy. (Since, as I say, I never have pork stock in the house, I don’t use chicken or beef stock. That would be miscegany.) I like braising things in dark beer, personally, especially the dark, thick, sweet Belgian ales, which are halfway to stew before you even open them. They have a sweetness that in tinged with bitter, and an acid that helps cut through all the fat in this. I added a whole bottle to the country ribs, threw in a couple of sprigs of thyme, a cut-up carrot, a few mashed cloves of garlic, and called it a day. I put the whole thing into the oven and went to go watch Caddyshack. By the time it was over, my ribs were done.
Or almost done. Nobody wants to eat bony hot meat, swimming in fat and beer. Or at least, nobody but me. I was making this for my wife Danit and her friend, and so I did the gentlemanly thing and took the
“ribs” out, letting them sit for a couple of minutes while I let some of the beer boil off. I planned on making a sauce with that liquid. I mean, why not? So I cut the bones off, cut up the meat, and put it on a big platter. I put carrots next to it, essentially as a garnish. And then once the liquid had reduced by about half, I worked a big chunk of butter into it over high heat, thickening up that dark sauce and eventually pouring it over the pork ribs. Now, if I had been smart, I would have put aside some thyme or something to sprinkle over the sauced ribs; the beer have given them a deep mahogany sheen, and little bits of fresh herb-looking green bits would have truly given it a touch of class.
Still, the dish was great – porky and rich, with a velvet softness and just an amazing acidic edge from the beer. The butter brought it all together, as butter always does, and I even had the self-control to cook some minute rice to serve it over. The whole dinner cost me something like $6, not counting the beer, and for the most part, it cooked itself. What more could you ask of a winter dinner?
2 lbs pork country ribs
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs thyme
1 large bottle Belgian abbey-style ale
A carrot (or two), hacked into big pieces
1. Brown the country ribs in the olive oil. Take them out.
2. push some tomato paste around at the bottom. It’ll start to burn right away. That’s OK. As soon as it does, throw the meat in, the beer, the garlic, the carrot(s) and the thyme.
3. Cover it and put it in a 300-degree oven for an hour or so.
4. Take the ribs out and the other stuff out. Let them sit there. Put the pot on a fire and let the meat-beer reduce. While that’s going on, the meat off the bones.
5. When there isn’t much meat-beer left, throw in a big chunk of butter and a little more fresh thyme if you happen to have some. Whisk it around until the sauce lightens and thickens. Pour it over the ribs and throw some chopped parsley on top. Eat it.