I am finding myself too often left with country ribs. Since they are so useful, flavorful, tender and delicious, when I see this happening, I wonder if it is because they are a cut that is maybe not well understood.
When I first started working in a local butcher shop, our case was filled with a lot of items I was unfamiliar with. Often it was because I was raised by city-folk who do not like surprises in their food, and don’t know how to make use of a whole beast.
My mom is a good cook, but a rigid rule follower. Recipes are to be followed to the letter, no free-styling allowed.
So, a meal began with a recipe cut from a magazine or book, or shared by a friend. The listed ingredients were foraged and collected exactly as listed. The recipe was executed, the meal eaten, the leftovers were maybe eaten as a duplicate meal, and the next day, the whole process was repeated from the beginning.
Yeah, no. Not the way dinner happens here. Cooking is fluid in my kitchen, so a recipe calling for a braised cut that I happen to not have is just made with a different cut I do have that responds to a similar method of cooking.
Many of my decisions are made in order to avoid a store errand, which I hate. To me, if a “quick” recipe requires an errand, it is not “quick”. The time taken for the trip to the store needs to be included in the time savings comparison. But that’s just me.
Recipes for country ribs are not going to often be the flashy attention grabbing ones you see online or on cooking shows, so they are maybe not on your radar. But any recipe calling for a braise, crock pot or brine can work well for country ribs, and often country ribs are cheaper, so learning ways to make use of them is a great way to eat better meats for less.
Another reason country ribs aren’t so popular, is what are they anyway? They are a rural America favorite that a lot of city and suburban people don’t even know exists. I found this info-packed post from the website AmazingRibs(dot)com. Check it out – it’s a treasure trove of meaty details about all sorts of pork cuts.
They [country ribs] are cut from the front end of the baby backs near the shoulder and a tray of country-style ribs in the grocery store might contain a rib or two but more than likely they there will be a section of shoulder-blade. Because they vary in size and thickness, they are hard to cook to an even doneness. Depending on how they are cut, a serving will be one or two country ribs. For big hungry men, perhaps three. They respond well to brining before low and slow cooking.
So, since what I eat is mostly what you don’t eat, and/or items whose seals have broken, I had a few packages of country ribs. And I have to admit, I forget about them too.
There are different regional ways to cut them, so you may want to ask your butcher to explain the way he/she cuts them. Some will be more comparable to a pork chop, while others are like boneless single ribs or another confusing regional and marketing term, Western Ribs. Here’s a good description of that subtlety if you are a lover of these sorts of details. Mostly, western and country ribs are interchangeable from a cooking point of view.
Here’s how simple country ribs truly are. I took a package weighing 1.14#. It contained three boneless ribs. There is definitely more fat than I would have an a rack of spareribs or pork chops, but it is much more lean and balanced than say a typical pork belly.
That silky fat is what makes the country ribs so great with sauerkraut, spaghetti sauce (or Sunday gravy depending on where you’re from) and any saucy, brothy or crispy pickled veggie tossup like tacos.
So after my flood caused afternoon of third world schlepping, I was lazy and had no plan or recipe. I just tossed the ribs into my crock pot with a little water. Zero seasoning, zero effort. I slow cooked them on the low setting for honestly, I have no idea how long ’cause as soon as I sat down, I fell asleep and forgot all about them.
No harm, I was rewarded for my sloppy effort with tender bites of flavorful meat that paired perfectly with a peanut salsa I happened to have in the fridge, thanks to my Galentines Debbie and Pam.
Wonderful. Perfect for tacos, salads, served with rice or grains, just so tender and flavorful with absolutely zero effort. But after checking in with one of my favorite meat resources, the Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, I realize though that I made a big mistake. A mistake that I pride myself on rarely making.
See, I am a saver of fats and liquids and all sorts of other things most people throw away. But I got up early this morning, cleaned up that crockpot and gave the liquid and fat to the cats. And here’s the opportunity for greatness that I missed:
Another cut that most of you don’t think to use, or don’t know about are the jowls. The Applestone’s book includes a recipe that I could have easily made for those, using the braising liquid I fed to the cats when I cleaned the crock pot. The cheeks could have been braised in that luscious porky liquid from my ribs. Remove the cheeks from the liquid, patted dry and chilled until cool. Dredge the cheeks in beaten egg, than panko crumbs seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Repeat the egg then panko steps a second time, then deep-fry your cheeks in lard.
Oh well. No crying over spent broth, but next time, these cheeks are happening. The barn cats have been suffering through the rains too, so a little TLC was greatly appreciated.
Hopefully this motivates you to seek out some country ribs, or to remember that package in your freezer that you have been ignoring. If you have a special recipe, tip or trick to put country ribs to work, please clue us all in with a comment below.