Southern Braised Country Ribs with Greens and Black Eyed Peas

Tony writes: For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been mulling another go at 10-for-4 (a $10 meal, all in, for a family of 4). Each successive pass by the meat case has pushed me a little closer to country-style ribs. These faux chops from the blade end of a pork loin have always fascinated me; cheap, tasty, and slightly maddening to cook just right (their different muscles present a funky mix of dark and white meat). My vision was  a one-pot braise with collard greens, peppers and (canned) black eyed peas, served with cheesy grits. And it was good (but a little homely). The dish might have been southern only in spirit, but it was intensely flavored and warming (and, yes, cheap).

The market: Usually you’ll see these chops simply labeled “country-style ribs”, but  I had a choice at my local market: bottom sirloin country ribs ($1.99/lb) or center cut ($2.49/lb); I bought 1 1/2 lb. of each to compare (note: I actually ended up liking the marbling and juiciness of the cheaper bottom ribs). The tally for the ribs was $6. With my remaining $4, I bought a red bell pepper ($1.24), a yellow onion ($.40), and some greens. I wanted to go with collards, but upon finding that bin empty, I called an audible and chose relatively thin kale leaves ($1.69) instead. A 15-oz can of Goya black-eyed peas ($.89) rounded out my spend at just a little over $10 ($10.22 to be exact). IMG_0002 The technique: One trick I’ve learned for braising country ribs is to dredge them in flour before searing; the floury film might not hold in moisture, but it does give the meat a protective coating and a measure of tenderness. I also like to braise the pork gently, for a relatively short time; just long enough that the chops cook through and some of their fattiness renders. After searing the chops, set them aside and saute the pepper and onion until softened and lightly browned. Then saute the greens until tender, add a cup or so of water, bring to a boil, nestle the chops into the broth, and simmer until the pork just cooks through and the greens are completely tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in a splash of cider vinegar (the tang will balance out the richness of the pork) and serve with grits (I used instant which I stirred together on the stovetop and finished with grated cheddar and thinly sliced scallions).

The recipe: Serves 4

1. Prep the pork: Sprinkle 3 lb. country style ribs (about 8), with 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper.  Add 1 cup all-purpose flour to a plate.  Dredge the pork in the flour and shake off any excess.

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2. Sear the pork: Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large, heavy based pot over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add half of the ribs, evenly spaced, and cook without disturbing until they brown and easily release from the pan, about 2 minutes.  Flip and brown the other side, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a large plate.  Reduce the heat to medium, repeat with the remaining chops, and transfer to the plate. IMG_0008

3. Make the braise: Add 1 Tbs. olive oil to the pot and then 1 red bell pepper (cut in 1/2-inch dice) and 1 yellow onion (cut in 1/4-inch dice). Sprinkle with ½ tsp. kosher salt and cook until the vegetables brown in places and soften, about 6 minutes. Add 1 bunch kale (washed, stemmed, and patted dry – see pic for stemming technique below) and 2 garlic cloves (smashed). Cook, tossing well, until the kale starts to wilt, about 4 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water (or chicken broth if you have some kicking around) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, return the chops to the pot along with a 15-oz. can black-eyed peas (rinsed and drained), cover, and cook until the chops cook through and the greens become completely tender, about 15 minutes. IMG_0012 IMG_0013

4. Season and serve: Stir in 2 Tbs. cider vinegar and season with salt, pepper and more vinegar to taste; the mixture should be intensely flavored. Serve with grits (below) or yellow rice.

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Optional: Cheddar and Scallion Grits: I was already at budget with the pork braise, but I had a couple packets of instant grits in the cupboard (who knew?) – you could use polenta, too.  So I whisked the grits with the prescribed water (1/2 cup per pack), cooked over medium-low heat until heated through, and then folded in some grated cheddar and a handful of sliced scallions; a 10-minute operation all in.

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