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.
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.