Stock Convictions and Ribs
There is no other cooking topic more likely to bring firmer opinions or die-hard convictions about cooking than the simple act of making stock. What could be nothing more than the mechanical act of combining bones, aromatic vegetables, herbs, water and spices into a cooked liquid becomes a fired-up conversation, a yardstick by which a cook’s mettle is measured. There is no prouder moment for a cook than to be able to show off a 10-gallon batch of perfectly clear, thick and fragrant stock. And the process of producing this precious liquid? Everything becomes a debate: what type of onion, white or yellow? Does onion skin turn the stock bitter? What about celery leaves? Is it a waste of time to peel the carrots? Crush or chop the garlic? Deglazing with wine? Parsley stems only, or leaves also? Blanching the bones? Roasting? Sweat the mirepoix (the name commonly given to the mixture of onions, carrots and celery, utilized typically at a ratio of 2:1:1, respectively)? Dry roast it? Don’t bother because it doesn’t make a difference? This conversation has gone on in kitchens around the world for ages.
The simple answer to the magic of stock-making, is that there is no simple answer, no one method to making it; there’s only personal preference, methods suited to your style of cooking and your skill. To some, a pale stock, or only slightly darker and with more body than water may be sufficient. My personal preference is for a roasted stock, light amber in color, deeply fragrant with garlic, with the depth of wine absorbed into the mirepoix, and gelatinously thick when cold is ideal. There are as many ways to make stock as there are cooks in the kitchen, but at some point, you’re going to have to decide that some of those cooks, well, they’re just plain wrong in their opinions, and carefully simmer your own.
Pork Stock and Oven-Braised Ribs
Use a sturdy roasting pan for these recipes. My own pan, a deep 13-inch x 18-inch anodized aluminum Calphalon model, has served me well over the years and is well worth the investment.
18-Hour Oven Pork Stock
Since the stock will cook for a period of 18 hours, I recommend starting this two hours or so before heading to bed, which allows enough time for roasting and ensuring the stock will cook at an appropriate temperature before leaving to cook on its own. This recipe can also be used to make chicken or beef stock.
4 pounds pork bones
2 medium white or yellow onions, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery ribs, leaves removed, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 head garlic, skin removed and slightly crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper, crushed
5 sprigs parsley
1 cup dry white wine
Cold water as needed
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the bones in the roasting pan, well spaced apart. Roast until the bones are a light golden brown, adding the coarsely chopped onions, carrots and celery. Continue roasting until the bones are well browned and the vegetables have softened and lightly caramelized. Add the remaining aromatics and deglaze with the white wine. Scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and allow the wine to evaporate by at least half.
Drop the oven temperature to 225°F. Add enough cold water to fill the pan and cover the bones. Cook the stock overnight, or for approximately 8 hours. Check the water level, and add enough cold water to bring the level back to the original volume. Continue to cook for an additional 8 hours. I recommend checking the water temperature from time to time with an instant read thermometer. 160°F is the target temperature; your oven’s temperature may need to be adjusted depending on how well calibrated it is.
Strain the cloth through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, discarding the bones and aromatics. Skim off the far and impurities, or cool off completely to solidify the fat making it easier to lift off. Your results should be a clear, gelatinous and richly flavored stock.
Oven-Braised Pork Ribs
The same roasting pan used to make the pork stock can be used to braise a full rack of pork spare ribs. Placing the pan over two burners provides a large enough cooking surface to allow the rack to remain in one impressive piece to brown both sides before placing in the oven to slowly braise.
1 rack of pork spare ribs, approximately 3 to 4 pounds
5-6 dried red chiles such as California or New Mexico, stems and seeds removed
2 medium very ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded
1 medium white or yellow onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon dry thyme
½ teaspoon dry marjoram
½ teaspoon coriander
Pork stock, warm
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a small sauce pot, place the tomatoes, chiles, onion, garlic, and spices, adding enough of the pork stock to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook until the chiles are soft. Working in small batches, puree the sauce until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Season the ribs generously on both sides with kosher salt and black pepper, searing on both sides over medium high heat until golden brown. Add chile sauce and enough warm pork stock to cover approximately ¾ of the thickest point of the ribs. Cover loosely with aluminum foil, and cook in the oven for approximately 4 hours, or until fork tender.
When ribs are done, carefully lift from pan, wrap in aluminum foil and keep warm. Pour the braising liquid into a small saucepan and reduce over high heat and reduce until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Coat the ribs with sauce to taste.