Every time I buy a pork belly from my local Asian butcher, it comes with about 6 ribs attached. I've tried using the ribs in soups and stews but they never quite had the savoriness that I wanted. This week I finally separated them from the belly, cured and smoked them with the bacon. I don't know why I waited so long to try it; they were so fantastic that I ate a couple of them within 5 minutes of being off the grill. The cure was the regular pink salt/kosher salt/brown sugar/maple syrup from Ruhlman's Charcuterie. The ribs were so salty, sweet and smokey and I couldn't eat just one...kind of like the ham popcorn of my dreams. I was planning on throwing them into the white beans in the slow cooker (just to get rid of them), but briefly considered hiding them from the family and eating them while everyone's asleep.
I've been making some version of this white bean stew for years now, and I feel like I'm getting closer to my ideal. They no longer feel like a dish of privation, something to be eaten only during the lean weeks. I've pushed the dish to an almost cassoulet-like heaviness. Here's the current recipe:
1/2 pound dried white beans (Great Northern or Navy) soaked overnight, then cooked until tender with water to cover, an onion, a bay leaf, a couple cloves of garlic, a carrot and/or a chunk of smoked pork skin from bacon-making (basically whatever I've got on hand)
After that, the drained beans go into the slow cooker with:
2 links of Italian sausage, sliced
a chunk of slab bacon, sliced
one 16 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes (crushed or whole are fine)
a few sprigs of thyme (if it's not covered by snow in the garden)
a bay leaf or two
some diced onion
a couple crushed cloves of garlic
chicken stock or water
smoked pork belly ribs (if you have them)
I cooked everything (but the ribs) in the slow cooker for a few hours but the dish was still too runny. I threw it into the Dutch oven and put it in a 325-degree oven, uncovered, for about 90 minutes. Garnish with some good salt (smoked salt is really good) or some grated Parmesan. Serve with crusty bread or toasted breadcrumbs or even croutons....some red wine...and a nap.
Grace had four helpings before she went to bed without complaint.
Thanks for writing, it sounds magically delicious; however I would advise not hiding smoked ribs from your pregnant wife.