Friday, July 31, 2009

Asian-Cuban Fusion, By Way of Pork Rib Stew

I got some more pork ribs the other day. I love them. They're great, they make awesome stews (if you don't barbecue them), and they're usually, pound-for-pound, quite inexpensive. These were "country style," which apparently means "boneless, very meaty, and not the usual part of the ribs that I'm used to with ribs." I didn't cry. They were also scary cheap despite being fresh enough not to scare me (I checked the dates and felt the meat -- all was in order). I intended to use them to make a Cuban-inspired dish (which basically means that I would use a lot of cumin, bacon, and some brown sugar despite not really knowing what the hell Cuban food legitimately tastes like), but then my lovely wife saw them and bought Shiitake mushrooms. That could only mean one thing (she loves that stuff): but I had other ideas!!! Oh, the quandary. I decided to compromise and do both at once, figuring they were "close enough" together to be alright. It worked well. Everyone was impressed (including my mom who doesn't seem to like anything with flavor, which this had a lot of).

Despite what I say up there, I've followed some fairly reputable Cuban recipes before, so I had an idea of what I was doing. Cumin is important, brown sugar helps, and I had a hankering for something a little spicy and was using "Cuban" to open the door to "habanero." Other than that, I went completely stereotypical with it and just included black beans and bacon (borrowing from my favorite real Cuban recipe: Cuban-style black beans, which have all of the aforementioned ingredients in them and are beautiful, especially over cumin-crusted pork chops sitting on top of cumin-scented brown rice with mashed sweet potatoes nearby... wow... and yeah, that's an awfully heavy use of cumin, which ties the dishes together). Essentially, I stole some of the ideas from the black beans and added them to the Asian stew, sans cabbage.

My ingredients and how I did it:

  • First things first, I crushed and finely chopped five (yes, five) cloves of garlic;
  • Then I chopped up all of my veggies, listed below, and seasoned my pork ribs (as detailed below also);
  • For the cooking, I started out with some bacon (four thick-cut strips of applewood-smoked bacon, actually) in my Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cooked it up until it was crispy (n.b.: For my European audience, by bacon I mean "streaky.");
  • Then I took that out and added about a pound and a quarter of "country style" pork ribs, although I'm sure any style would be fine, seasoned lightly with coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and ground cumin -- I seared them on both sides in the bacon oil;
  • Next I took out the pork and added the following veggies, all chopped up: two carrots in largish chunks, two stalks of celery sliced thin on a bias, a red sweet pepper (actually four Nardellos) chopped up, four ounces of white mushrooms cut into quarters, six ounces of shiitake mushrooms sliced thin, half a sweet onion sliced into thin semicircles, one fresh cayenne pepper (red) chopped into little pieces, and about an inch of fresh ginger sliced thinly. I cooked them for a few minutes until they were getting a little soft, added some salt, and then added the garlic and four bay leaves, letting it cook in for a minute or two;
  • To deglaze the pan, I added a fairly large amount of red wine vinegar and about a tablespoon of soy sauce and scraped up all of the toasted pork bits (gramines, I think, is the technical term) and then put the pork back in with about half a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and several dashes of habenero hot sauce (to taste?);
  • I added about three cups of water at this point and stirred everything up;
  • Once the water boiled, I turned the heat down to a notch below medium and mostly covered the pot and pretty much forgot about it for about three hours (I think I wandered in to stir it about three times in that time);
  • About a half an hour before dinner time, I added a can's worth of prepared black beans (some of which I smashed with a spoon), rinsed well and a tablespoon of dark brown sugar;
  • To finish it, I took out the bay leaves, chopped up (pulled apart is more accurate) the very tender pork into bite-sized chunks, added about a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped up the bacon and put it in there, stirred everything around, and gave it a few more minutes to come together. I adjusted the salt and served it in bowls with a bit more freshly chopped (into small pieces) onion to a cheering crowd.
If I had wanted to, I could have stretched it over cumin-scented rice or served it with cumin-scented flatbread. The cumin-scented thing sounds fancy, but it's not. For the rice, add about a quarter of a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds to the rice when you start making it. For the flatbread, add about a quarter teaspoon either of whole cumin seeds or of ground cumin to your flatbread dough when making it (need a recipe for flatbread? Look here!). Now that I think of it... cumin-scented jalepeno corn bread might have been pretty good too... maybe sans the jalepenos.... Anyway, for more food I could have also served it with mashed sweet potatoes or, my favorite, sugar-and-dark-rum-glazed sweet potato home-fries (with just a hint of cinnamon -- whoa Nelly).

I don't know if the fusion was fair or not, but the dish came out very good and rather well balanced considering things. I liked it, at least, and so did everyone at my house. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I took one of the bacon frying, decided that was a dumb picture, and then forgot to take any more after that. Oh well... stew looks mostly like stew, even with black beans in it.

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Amy Jones said...

Just made this in my kitchen with a few adjustments (lacked a couple ingredients) and it is very nice. Thanks for posting the great description. I'll certainly be making this particular pork rib stew again!

Jim said...

Great, Amy! I'm glad you liked it. Doing it with adjustments is great: it's just how I do everything I do in my kitchen. In my opinion, recipes are suggested guidelines, that's it.