Pigging out

pork neck bones

It’s pretty amazing to me that in a few short years I went from a person who was not a fan of pork (well other than bacon, of course), to someone who has it in fairly heavy rotation. Funnier still is the fact that Mike and I are making a real effort to seek out the “lesser” cuts and incorporate those into our cooking. After all, roasts and chops are great, but there’s a whole lot of pig left after those parts are gone, and if we’re going to choose to eat it, doesn’t it do justice to the animal to use as much as possible?

We still keep tabs on many of our favorite purveyors from our New York days, and when I got an email from Bobolink indicating they had some of their delicious whey-fed pork available, we quickly placed an order. Within days a cooler arrived at our door containing ground pork for the freezer, a bone-in shoulder roast for sausage-making, a pig tail, a bag of bones for stock, and a couple pounds of meaty neck bones.

I addressed the neck bones first, browning them heavily in a bit of rendered fatback (from our local favorite, Pat’s Pastured), pulling the pieces out of the pan briefly, then adding some shallots, carrot, garlic, a bay leaf, a whole dried arbol chile, a blob of tomato paste and a healthy glug of red wine, scraping up all of the “crud” from the bottom of the pan.

I put the meat back in, lidded it up and let the pan go over low heat for a couple of hours. When the meat was falling off of the bones, I pulled them out of the pan, let them cool enough to handle, then shredded the meat off and put it back into the pan. That mixture cooked for another couple of hours, at which point I put a pot of salted water on to boil for pasta, and scooped 2/3 of the porky ragu out to cool, divide in half and freeze for future meals.

Dinner:  September 28, 2008

I added a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley to the remaining ragu in the pan, as well as a ladleful of pasta water, and when my orecchiette was nearly al dente, I tossed it with the sauce, adding a bit more pasta water to loosen it up and finish cooking the pasta. I finished each serving with a little more parsley and, of course, some freshly grated cheese. I’m still kind of tickled that such a rich and luxurious sauce came out of $9 worth of meaty pork bones (and that there are two more meals worth in the freezer).

Mike did the heavy lifting for our next porky dinner, breaking down and grinding up the pork shoulder with more of our Pat’s Pastured fatback (most of which he turned into really spectacular breakfast sausage), and, over the course of two days, making an incredibly delicate pork stock with the remaining bones we had purchased.

I turned the ground pork that he didn’t use for sausage into tiny meatballs seasoned with scallion and finely chopped wood ear mushrooms, and served them in some of that delicious stock, along with somen noodles, carrot, scallion and shredded cabbage – not the sort of thing I usually attempt at home, but the result was so good we’ll definitely do it again.

17 thoughts on “Pigging out

  1. Ok so this might sound creepy but I really want to come to Providence and just sit and watch you cook. I need to take some serious notes. Everything you make always looks so delicious and I would love to attempt it but I just don’t think I have the skill.

  2. My sister worked at Bobolink this summer and she fed that pig!! Everything you made looks delicious…especially the pasta with ragu mmmm.

  3. tis the season to revel in cheap cuts of meat
    i love this post – you’re amazing
    the orrechiette had me at hello
    but the shot of the cooked browned bone in pork
    i just wanted to get all savage on it…

  4. Nadia Taylor says:

    Amazing! Not a scrap to spare!!! All looks so scrumptious. I’m joining heathercoo for the steakout. When does the bus leave!

    Seriously! I’m salivating. You are so inspiring!

  5. Jen,
    First of all, you are a better cook than any Italian grandmother with that gorgeous orrechiette ragu!!!!!
    You need to be the next foodtv star, and I am not kidding.
    Your photos are amazing and you put me to shame with your elaborate dinners.
    I also admire your love of cats and that you support local farmers and green markets in your new community.
    Your blog was the first food blog that I read a year ago, and inspires me to be a better cook!!!!! and those poached eggs!
    ok, enough!

  6. Liz says:

    So that delicious-looking ragu came from pork neck bones? I’m going immediately to my local butchers to demand some! I remember when I was a kid that my mum made the most amazing stew from lamb neck bones, but you hardly ever see neck of lamb any more (perhaps it’s a hang over from the whole BSE nightmare a few years ago here in the UK?) Thanks for an inspiring site with beautiful photography. Love, Liz

  7. Oh lord that sounds good! Just this weekend we went to visit a beef farmer that sells at Union Square but farms up near our new house, and he took us on a tour and then showed us his freezer. He has soooo many “interesting bits” that you never see at the market up there. I can’t wait to concoct something “interesting” with some of it over the winter. A ragu like you made here, and an asian-style soup could both be perfect. Thanks for the inspiration Jenn!

  8. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks, everyone! You guys are awesome. 🙂

    Amy, you’ll love it, I think. The neck bones were, to us, very akin to short ribs. The ragu was incredibly rich.

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