I haven’t ALWAYS wondered what the Italians do with Pork Spareribs, but the puzzle has crossed my mind. I mean, what would you do with spareribs, other than make BBQ? Turns out, they do a lot of things with them. You don’t see Spuntature di Maiale Stufato on menus very often, that’s for sure. There’s at least one restaurant in Manhattan that makes it. I decided to go on another mission of representation, if not replication. Sous Vide syzygized, as usual!
I’ve got your Stufato right here.
- Stufato and Ragu translate literally from Italian to “stew,” and “sauce,” respectively. There are also regional/colloquial words for sauce in Italian, like “Sugo.”
- In French, closely related, the word for stew is “Ragout,” pronounced exactly the same as the Italian word “Ragu.”
- I have seen Ragu that looked like a stew, and Stufato that looked more like a hearty sauce, so we are going to relax our syntax and abandon the folly of trying to avoid the use of English.
- 1 side Pork spareribs, approx. 3 lbs.
- 1 onion.
- 1 head celery, root end removed.
- 2 carrots, peeled.
- 2 oz. chopped garlic.
- 1 can San Marzano tomatoes, or as close as you can get–28 oz.
- 2 teaspoons Nutmeg.
- Spices are entirely up to you. You want to put basil and oregano and marjoram in there, be my guest. I don’t. It will not effect the chemistry.
- S+P until it tastes good.
- Chopped parsley, as much as you can gather.
- Reggiano cheese, grated, as much as you can afford.
- I didn’t really intend to get this slightly more expensive cut, but the market was out of the standard model. This happens. It doesn’t mean we stop. It means we adjust.
- We start with 12 ribs. I removed 7 ribs, cutting as close to the bone as possible. Those ribs are going to be pan-roasted to make a caramelized stock, after which the remaining meat will be removed and incorporated into the Ragu.
- The other five ribs I cut so that there was a maximum amount of meat on both sides of the bone. These will be further processed and become part of the presentation with some bone still attached.
- Again, lightheartedly, I mention that I worked with a lot of Italian chefs over the years, many of them really, really, good. Actually, I can’t think of any that weren’t really good.
- But it’s not like Italian chefs agree with each other on everything–quite the opposite. Alcohol fueled debates over the size and shape of gnocchi could extend through the night and into the early morning, with no resolution.
- To my recollection, there wasn’t a single one of those chefs who would not recoil in horror at the idea of serving something with bone OVER pasta.
- We’re just not gonna think about that. They were usually good guys. I pray that they would forgive me.
- As I recall, they kinda had a tendency to bear grudges, but, well, I already bought the ribs, so, here we go.
- After shocking, I harvested the SousJus, and laid out the ribs.
- The ones on the left are the trimmed ones, we set them aside for now.
- Now we’re going to cut the meaty ribs in half.
Working in the SF Bay Area and Vegas, I encountered quite a few Chinese and otherwise Asian cooks and chefs. They tend to stick to themselves, but I sought them out, fascinated. I saw them do some pretty wild stuff, and always with a casual demeanor. Stereotyped as being infinitely patient while the hairy faced, self-important Westerners tumble towards self destruction, they seem content to gamble and smoke until they are the only ones left. My Chinese colleagues and friends always have that seemingly benevolent and yet bemused smile upon their faces, concealing what thoughts, we are but to ponder.
And so it was when I would watch them butcher meat, especially pork spare ribs, raw or cooked. Typically deft and well cross-trained, even the women seemed quite comfortable swinging a heavy duty Chinese cleaver. Standing right next to me at work, and in those open air butcher shops in Chinatown, they calmly worked their way through the bones, one at a time. Cutting long sideways strips out of the sides, and ending up with riblets less than 2″ long, they would be perfectly cut with nary a shard or shattered end. Holding that cleaver high and seemingly just letting it fall while they smirked at me, it didn’t even make the sound of hitting the bone that you would expect. It would make more of a sick, slorching sound when the blade would sever the bone as if there was a joint there — even though there wasn’t.
This mystified me then, and it still does. I have never been able to learn how to do that, at least not without an intent look and a drop of sweat on my brow. Those Chinese cooks had the 10,000 hour rule working for them, multiplied by the 6K years that their culture has been perfecting every little detail of its seemingly monolithic structure. They must know a thousand ways to take a pig apart. I’m reminded of their party style suckling pig, roasted whole, cut into 2″ pieces, and reassembled to its prior form and shape.
Consulting with the Ancients.
So, I approached the Chef at the Chinese outlet at Caesars Palace, Johnny Pang, sadly no longer with us. I simpered and wheedled and whined and begged that he instruct one of his cooks to show me the secret. Johnny conversed with a couple of his guys, and I did notice a few garbled chuckles as they commiserated. Johnny came back to me and said “Okay, he gonna show you how, you wait here.” After a few minutes the cook came around the corner with a rack of the spareribs, and these.
Every kitchen needs a hammer.
- Silently, he proceeded to place the heel of the cleaver blade on the farthest rib, very carefully, and then swung the rubber hammer on to the cleaver, and, swish, there it was. One by one, he worked his way down. Perfect. Not what I asked for, but I can only assume that they decided there was either no way I was gonna learn it, or there was no way that they could explain it. They felt sorry for me, so they showed me how a child might do it, I suppose, until he is grown up enough to do it right. I love those guys.
- It IS easier once the ribs are cooked, but probably only to me; certainly not to them, it seemed perfectly effortless to them either way. Same with the Peking Duck. Giant knife, tiny cuts. It seemed like everything they did was effortless, day after day, year after year.
- This is how I imagine the thoughts of a Chinese cook when he first wakes up in the morning.
- “Time to inflate the ducks, yawn. Later, we will carve carrots into the shape of a bird in flight. Then we make fifty different dumpling shapes.”
- Meanwhile, we college grads cringe when the chef asks us if we know how to make a radish look kinda like a flower.
- The meaty riblets are then slowly browned in a skillet, and then braised long enough to get that bone really loose.
- The resulting broth gets incorporated into the ragu, or even saved for another project.
- There’s more than we need to garnish the top of the dish, but that shouldn’t be a problem, we need to feed the cooks too.
Vegetables. 183Fx1 hour or so
- You don’t have to SV process the vegetables for the sauce, but I like to.
- I buy on a large scale but I produce on a small scale, so I SV process celery, carrots, onions, and potatoes to preserve them.
- In many cases, they can then be treated as raw.
- It is possible, but not necessary, to remove the fibrous outer layer of the celery.
- Just grab at one end with a small knife (not pictured) and pull it down.
- I use the fibers for stock, and then the celery doesn’t get caught in your teeth when you try to bite it. Like anybody actually eats celery.
- Into the mini processor, I use these things a lot these days.
- $20, wear it out, throw it out, buy another.
- Carrots, same thing, 183Fx one hour or so. Very forgiving.
- It’s easier to peel them before processing.
- In they go.
- Pulse, always pulse.
Everything has a rhythm.
- Don’t overload the hopper.
- No need to rinse it out between batches, either.
- One onion per quart bag, one hour, they make the best onion rings.
- No tears, will keep refrigerated forever until you open the bag. Well, maybe not forever. A long time. Weeks.
- About 1/3 of an onion, 3 oz.
- Into the hopper, pulse, Berber.
- Set this mixture aside.
- The meatless ribs go into a pot to braise, along with trimmings from the onions, celery, and carrots.
- The slower the better,
- the longer the better. Hot enough to softly sizzle, not hot enough to smoke or burn.
- Chop up some of this stuff, there are a million ways to do it.
- Couple of heads should do it.
- After a while, you will feel the love. You will SMELL the love.
- Add some water to cover, and the purge from the ribs, and simmer, DO NOT BOIL, for an hour or so. The longer the better, the lower the better. You can even do it in a Ziploc Gallon Bag via SV, 165F+.
- Strain through a basic screen, and then through a paper towel, cheesecloth, even a moistened clean kitchen towel–this will catch all the stray myoglobin and albumins.
- If you’re patient, you can get a nicely colored stock.
- I chopped the small amount of meat that was on the lean ribs, and fried it slowly.
- People want to call this braised, or sautéed, but it’s not.
- It’s slowly fried, and there’s enough fat in the meat to lubricate the pan. There is no shame in frying.
- Add the finely chopped vegetables from before, but DO NOT STIR.
- Sprinkle them over the top, and they will slowly brown.
- If you agitate them, they will turn to mush.
- Great cooking may have been invented by cooks who were just too busy to stand over everything and paddle at it.
- Some people call this Sofrito (Sp), or Soffritto (It), but it’s just celery carrots and onions cut brunoise, which is French for very small.
- *Sigh.* There is no word for it in English, but you can’t make sauces or stocks without it.
- The Cajuns call it the Trinity, replacing the carrot with peppers. The French, Mirepoix, but it’s cut larger. Whatever.
- So, as you can see, after a while, the vegetables will caramelize against the bottom of the pan.
- This adds a ton of flavor, and preserves their texture too.
- This is when recipes call for the addition of wine, which I either didn’t do, or didn’t take a picture of.
- A word about wine in cooking.
- Wine is good in cooking. Good wine is even better in cooking.
- Cooking does not make bad wine good.
- Some people seem to think that wine provides the volume of stocks, soups and sauces. It doesn’t.
- Water provides the moisture in sauces, even if is concealed as cream.
- Alcohol is not part of the flavor profile of sauces, etc.
Add the tomatoes. San Marzanos are the best. They are also crazy expensive.
- We’re not going to have the conversation about fresh vs. canned tomatoes today.
- Please don’t serve me tomato sauce with seeds and peel in it. Please.
- Add the stock. 2 or 3 cups.
- This looks good already.
- Add the nutmeg.
- Some people put oregano, marjoram, basil, and even sage into these types of sauces. Just depends on what you like. You want to put lavender in there, you go right ahead.
- You can simmer this for days, but an hour is really enough.
- If you’re not going to serve it right away, don’t just let it sit on the stove.
- Put it in a Ziploc Gallon Bag, shock it cold, and refrigerate.
You probably need a break by now. I know I do. We will explain the method for the Cavatelli in another post. In the meantime, this video is on the right track. My recipe differs from his in that I do not use eggs in my Cavadell’ Rigot’, and in a few other elements as well. No big deal.
Beyond that, you cook some Cavatelli, you heat up some sauce with a little cold butter in it, add a ton of parsley, toss with the pasta, sprinkle on some more parsley, parsley, parsley, and some Reggiano cheese. Please do not substitute sawdust.
And now, for the REST of the story…
- After the fact, we made a variation, a little bit wetter, with all the bones removed. I had to do it.
- What the heck, one with Angel Hair.