Some food, some drink.
When ribs aren’t ribs, and roast isn’t a roast
Abstract: Although “pernil”
literally refers to a leg roast of pork (that's a Spanish word, gringos), the recipes most often
associated with this cut of critter are perfumed with the bold
flavors of garlic and oregano. It's wonderful stuff, but preparing a
large cut of meat isn't always economical, or practical; especially
when you're a small family (like us).
Country-style pork ribs are thrifty, allow for easier portion control, and are impossible to screw up in the slow cooker. This recipe takes the up-front flavors folks associate with pernil, and makes it a weeknight-easy affair.
Purpose: County-style pork ribs are cut from the loin primal of the hog and are obtained from where the rib, loin and shoulder (also known as the Boston butt) collide. There really isn't any rib bone to speak of, as any you're likely to encounter is going to be shoulder blade from the butt. That's really ok; semantics aside, this is a cheap and easily managed cut of meat that loves to be cooked slow and low. Pernil-style pork roasts also do quite well with the same cooking methods, which is originally why I tried foisting these flavors on country-style ribs in the first place. The first time I took a stab at preparing ribs this way, I found two recipes in my research that seemed to fit well with respect to taste and ease of preparation. The way I do my “pernil” is a flavor mash-up of the two.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Using a mortar & pestle, combine garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, coriander and cumin. Work the spice mix until it becomes a coarse paste. In a small bowl, whisk together said paste paste with olive oil, 2 Tbsps cider vinegar and triple-sec. Cut the pork into manageable pieces if needed and place in a zip-top bag. Pour in the marinade, distribute evenly, remove most of the air from the bag, seal and marinate overnight in the fridge (a day would be better). Be sure to give everything an in-bag massage if you happen to be in the fridge for anything.
When it's time to cook, turn the crock to low and put in the ribs and marinade. Use the other 2 Tbsps cider vinegar to rinse the good stuff out of the bag, and add it to the crock. Cover and braise on low for 8 hrs. When complete, shred & serve.
- If you don't have a mortar and pestle to prepare the marinade, a blender or mini-prep will work. The idea is to make sure that surface area is maximized so that flavor is as well. Truthfully, I probably could have chucked the whole mess in the blender all at once and it would have turned out just fine; but there's something satisfying about using the mortar and pestle, especially after a stressful day. On the subject of the marinade, that overnight in the fridge is absolutely necessary. If you've got 24 hours, even better.
- You can leave the booze out of the marinade if you want, but you probably have a better chance getting your jag-on from a dose of cold medicine. I use the triple-sec for a bit of sweetness and the citrus zest flavors contained therein.
- If you're bringing your ribs out from the freezer, consider thawing them in the marinade. A second day at the flavor spa certainly won't hurt.
- Using a slow-cooker, crock-pot, et al. to cook at low temperatures in a small amount of liquid is defined as a braise. Most of the time, I like to sear before I braise, as I think that crust from the sear is fantastic. There is so much going on here already in the marinade that I don't think the sear is a requirement this time. Besides that, searing can add an element of 'fuss' to braising that isn't always doable when you're cooking a meal on cruise-control.
- I like to let the finished ribs cool a bit in the crock (usually about 30 minutes) before I de-fat, de-bone and shred for their intended application.
- Sometimes I'll julienne a couple of onions and throw them on top of the ribs for the last half of the braise. Bonus!
Results: We've still got a few years before our
rug-rats begin to eat us out of house and home. Even a modest meal
at our house guarantees surplus. However, since all the work's been
done up-front on this dish, sandwiches, salads and wraps practically
make themselves for subsequent weeknight meals. Although
country-style ribs have a significant amount of fat, it almost all
renders out during the braise, and what's left keeps everything
moist and juicy, even when its being reheated for leftovers. While you're making this one, stick
you finger in that marinade and take a taste (before
you add it to the meat, please). The flavors are intense!
Salty, pungent and herbal. Your dinner gets to spend the better part
of two days exposed to all that lovely flavor!
So yeah, it's not real pernil, and country-style ribs aren't even real ribs, but this preparation does do some great things to an economical cut of meat; and regardless of what it's called, it really does taste good.