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Classic Mexican cut of meat meets French technique: Braised pork ribs

Mexican pork short ribs are given a classic French comfort food treatment.

By Blue Kitchen / January 16, 2014

French braising methods transform Mexican pork ribs into a comforting wintertime meal.

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Our neighborhood is rich with little Mexican groceries, each with a small produce section and dairy case (that shuns anything low fat), aisles of canned goods and imported candy, and – no matter how tiny the store – each with its own fresh meat counter, presided over by a living, breathing butcher.

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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The other night, during one of the rare breaks in the snowfall, I was walking around looking at stuff in the neighborhood and remembered we were out of, well, everything fresh. So I clomped across Diversey Avenue to the store we now like the best.

The butcher counters at these little shops are minute and, while they do offer some conventional American products, such as chicken parts and straight-up ground beef, they primarily feature cuts aimed at the Hispanic market – often, very thinly sliced, marinated beef and pork. Everything is always fresh and the butchers are always helpful and happy to see us. What caught my eye on this outing was the costillos de puerco – pork short ribs. They looked so fresh and inviting and soon I was walking out the door with two-plus pounds, wrapped in paper.

What to do with my impulse purchase? A quick trip through the Internet suggested classic treatments with Mexican spices and peppers, but instead I went for what felt right at that moment – the country French comfort approach: oven braising with aromatic vegetables.

There’s something about oven braising in the winter that always soothes me – the way the apartment warms up and fills with the luscious aroma. Simply the perfect antidote to days of polar vortex.

This country French treatment is a great thing to have in your vocabulary. You can swap in boneless pork shoulder roast (or “stew meat”), cut into 2-inch cubes, beef short ribs, chuck roast also cut into cubes, or even pieces of chicken or duck. Just be sure to adjust the time accordingly – way more for beef, way less for fowl.

Finally, you can also play with the herbs and spices. Next time, instead of black pepper, I am going to use grains of paradise, powdered in our ex-coffee grinder. Grains of paradise are very like black pepper but more aromatic and citrusy. (You can also mix them with whole black peppercorns in your pepper mill.)

And finally – finally – I made this rather lateish the other night – I started cooking at 9:30 p.m., aiming to serve the next night. That worked out really well for two reasons: It was easier the next day to skim and discard any fat that rose to the top, and overnight, everything had mellowed together and become even more meltingly luscious. This is one of those wonderful cold-weather dishes whose flavor deepens and expands with a night in the fridge.

Braised costillos de puerco, French style
Serves four (see Kitchen Notes)

3-1/2 to 4 pounds costillos de puerco, or 2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Flour

Olive oil

4 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)

4 medium carrots, peeled, topped and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces

8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup parsnip, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch diagonals

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/2 bottle red wine (may substitute cooking wine)

1-1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup amontillado sherry (optional, see Kitchen Notes)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pork ribs on a plate. Salt them and then thoroughly grind black pepper all over them. Put about 1/3 cup of flour in a clean paper bag, then add the meat pieces, fold the top closed and shake shake shake until everything Is lightly coated. Discard any flour that doesn’t stick to the meat.

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