Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Country Pork Ribs with Salsa Verde

OH lovely readers, let me tell you something. Big Mary is not the strapping, ever ready, bounding with energy, marathon groomed cheflet he once was.

OK… I never was strapping or marathon groomed or a “cheflet” for that matter. But bounding with energy? Of course! Ever ready? No doubt! And now? Geritol grabbing, foot soaking, ginseng gulping, moaning and groaning. I have returned to the realm of the freelancer.

For those of you uninitiated; there roams in NYC a tribe of freelance chefs and cooks who sell their skills to various and sundry caterers and restaurateurs in the city. These are a sturdy breed of different drumming knife wielders who for personal reasons have taken a path less chosen than the armies of sous and sub-sous chefs scattered about the city. They are also some of the most resilient, fire tested, ingenious, subversive, quick thinking and quirky kitchen comrades you could ever share a stove with. A mixed bag to say the very least.

It’s a lifestyle choice to be sure. A typical week of three double shifts in four locations, a 3 hour party in the Hamptons with 6 hours of travel time, a bar mitzvah for 200 with omelette, pasta and dim sum stations, followed by a week where NO ONE has work. And of course, no paid vacation, no health insurance and no personal days off.

But then again there’s minimal commitment, you can schedule 2 weeks in Mexico when the February slow down hits and you get to choose who you work with and when. And you make a significantly better wage than your average line cook. It’s not for everyone, but these days it IS for Big Mary. And let me tell you, those 14 hour days when they happen, set my feet to howling like a cranky beagle and sentence me to hours in the Epsom salted tub.

All of this is a long winded way of apologizing for my absence. You’ve never been far from my thoughts; it was all about dragging it out of the tub into the computer chair. Of course this was after my happily accepted daily duty whipping up dishes spectacular and spontaneous for the Handsome Venezuelan. Here’s a Mexican inspired dish we enjoyed recently. It’s minimalist, clean flavored and so perfectly satisfying on either a blustery late winter day or a sunny pre-Spring surprise of a Sunday.

As you might know, chilies are a known fickle commodity. Poblano’s are a typically mild chile, though I’ve known a few that could burn you like a bitter queen. Likewise jalapeno’s can fluctuate wildly on the “picante” scale. Taste as you go and adjust knowingly. Remember the fiercest heat is in the seeds and white membranes inside the chile.

Pork with Mexican Salsa Verde (serves 2 or 3)

1 ½ pounds Country style pork ribs

1 large Poblano peppers
1 pound Tomatillos, husked and rinsed
¼ large Yellow onion, cut in half
1 large Garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup Chopped Pecans, toasted and chopped very fine
1 medium Jalapeño (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

½ cup Chicken stock

½ large Yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons Fresh Lime Juice
2 tablespoons Cilantro leaves, chopped
1 pinch Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 300*. Season pork ribs with salt and pepper. Place on a broiling pan, or on a rack over a baking sheet so that the fat can render as the ribs cook.
Cook ribs for 30 minutes allowing the excess fat to run off.

Meanwhile, roast poblano peppers over a gas flame (or under a broiler if your oven is electric). Turn the peppers, allowing them to char evenly. When peppers are black and blistered, remove them to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a plate. Let cool. When cool peel away the blistered skin and discard. Remove stem and seeds as well.
In a medium sauce pot place the tomatillos, onion chunks, garlic cloves and jalapeño. Cover with water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes until the tomatillos change color from bright green to a muted grey green. Remove from heat and carefully drain. Separate jalapeño. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic and poblanos in a blender. Puree until smooth. Add the pecans and puree again until smooth. Remove stem and seeds from jalapeño and cut into 4 or 5 pieces. Season the tomatillo salsa with salt and pepper. Puree as much of the jalapeño into the salsa as you wish.

After the pork has cooked for 30 minutes remove the ribs from the oven. Increase the oven heat to 350*. Transfer the meat to an ovenproof baking dish. Add the salsa verde and ½ cup stock. Return the dish to the oven and cook another 30 minutes or so, until the ribs are fork tender.

Combine the sliced onion, lime juice, salt and cilantro. Serve on the side as a condiment to the pork ribs.

And THAT, my pretties, should open up the oven door of satisfaction for anyone lucky enough to grace your table. As always, there’s plenty room for experimentation. You know how Big Mary loves an upgrade. A little Mexican oregano on the ribs could intrigue…. Or think how sweet some chopped pineapple could be in the onion condiment… Personally I’d double or triple the salsa verde part and throw it in the freezer for a quick meal another day. Seared Jumbo Shrimp with Salsa Verde? Um hum, now you’re cooking.

This post is dedicated to all the freelancers past and present who make me proud. You know who you are, but especially Cesar, Sue, Peter, Reynold, David, Kevin, Gary, Sydell, Sui Lon, Nancy, Michelle, Jennifer and Mary.