One of the best things about winter is the turn toward heartier and richer foods. Heavy stews and braises are great for keeping you warm but an often overlooked advantage to winter fare is the low cost. Nobody braises filet mignon (although I did once put a pork tenderloin submerged in barbeque sauce in a crock pot for seven hours to see if was better than normal pulled pork – it wasn’t). You braise off cuts; tougher bits that if grilled or sauteed would take weeks to chew. Slow cooking breaks down sinews, infuses with moisture, and gives you a chance to build layer after layer of flavor. Still, the fact that it keeps you warm is important, especially considering that here in Birmingham, February saw temperatures dip deep down into the fifties.
1 lb. pork shoulder ribs
1/2 yellow onion
2 medium carrots
2 ribs celery
2 cloves garlic
1 bottle red wine
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
4 sprigs thyme
2 anchovy filets, packed in oil
Start with four or five pork shoulder ribs; roughly a pound of meat. Salt and pepper them and then lightly brown the outsides in a hot skillet. There should be enough fat on the cuts that oil or butter is unnecessary. When they are browned, pull the ribs from the pan and set aside. Rough cut carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and sweat them in a deep pan or stock pot (Dutch ovens rule the range). Put the pork and any juices that may have drained off in with the vegetables. Pour in the bottle of red wine, the chicken stock, the anchovies, and the thyme and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and cover. Simmer for an hour. Flip the ribs, cover, and simmer for another hour. The meat should fall from the bone. Pull the meat out and reduce the liquid. We didn’t use any flour as a thickener but I imagine that would be fine if you like a thicker sauce. Either way, pour the braising liquid liberally over the meat and serve.
Lots of liquid means that something to soak up the liquid is needed. We made cous cous with olives, peas, carrots, celery, onion, and corn though any grain would do.
A couple of notes: First, if you have never used anchovies in a braise before, it might seem like an odd ingredient to use. As the filets dissolve, they add richness in much the way bone marrow does. Trust me and try it. Second, I like slow cooking with Rhone reds for the spicy, earthy flavors they impart. Cheap Cotes du Rhone can be found for less than ten dollars and though that may be a bit more than most spend on cooking wine, it’s worth it. Finally, this is a pretty basic braise and works well with many other cuts of meat. Lamb shanks come to mind. Add anything that sounds reasonable: herbs, hot peppers, mushrooms. It’s a hard recipe to break.