After being disappointed by several new highly regarded, cheffy cookbooks over the winter, I decided to pull in the reins a little and look to some of the classic teaching cookbooks – I mean, I could not stop buying them altogether. In an earlier post, I referenced the Good Cook series as great resources, so I picked up a rare UK only edition on Game. Searching for old cookbooks reads a bit as I was record collecting and it is not entirely far off. There is a collection aspect to it. There is the thrill of the hunt, like record collecting. And like collecting classic records, the content is, in many cases, timeless when you hit on some great books. When I was searching for the Good Cook “Game” book, the Foods of the World series kept coming up in searches. Like the Good Cook series, it is a Time-Life series, but from earlier on - the late 1960s/early 1970s. When I looked into the books, it seemed the be encyclopaedic – 54 volumes with narrative and recipes. I found a used complete set online for a few bucks per book and picked it up in short order.
When it arrived in late February, I did not know where to start. With Fat Tuesday upcoming, I thought it would be interesting to mine a classic dish from the American Cooking: Creole and Acadian book. Knowing if this series was anything like The Good Cook series, I would not be disappointed. I had high expectations and was not disappointed. The book is split into sections and my eyes were fixed on the Boucherie section. The ceremonial communal hog butchering was outlined in vivid detail in text and with lovely Olan Mills-esque photos. The chapter was enthralling and featured a laundry list of to do’s for any whole animal enthusiast. The one which caught my attention was chaudin, a haggis-like treat (alas pig stomach is a hard get), but the one which held my attention was backbone stew. It looked so blasted simple – meaty browned pork bones, a quick roux from the residual flour from the browning, aromatics, and stock. Made with great pork, the chance for a simple, delicious stew was too much to pass up.
Thankfully, I have a good source for fantastic pork and two sharp cleavers. I studied the recipe over a few days like a man sizing up a bear. I’d read a few words and step back. I didn’t want to get too close. The next day – those words and a few more. The simplicity was intimidating. I stuck to the recipe for the most part. The recipe indicates loin with backbone attached, but it seemed logical to use meaty backbones instead. If I was butchering a hog, I would save the loin for someone fancy. I had pork stock, so I subbed that in for chicken stock.
When I was ready to cook, the active time is extremely quick. Cook the aromatics, brown the meat, a quick stir, add the stock, then add the cooked veg with the browned bones, and simmer. About 20 minutes of active work, if you work deliberately and brown the bones a few at a time. As you simmer the stew, it becomes clear why this is a popular meal served at the boucherie. It requires very low effort and very few ingredients.
The resulting stew is an exercise in brown. Brown meat in brown, lightly-thickened stew. What it lacks in photodiversity, backbone stew makes up in flavor – both depth and intensity. It was deeply porky, but with the limited slate of ingredients this flavor is hardly surprising. Without any context outside of this book, I grabbed the backbones, dipped them in the stew and gnawed my way to a delicious Fat Tuesday meal. With crispy edges and super-tender meaty bits, the textures were great. The stew was thick enough to use as a sauce, but as in the wise words of the great Cousin Eddie :It works just fine on its own:. Adding the scallions and the celery leaves gave a bit of brightness to the flavors and a little color to bowl. You could never mistake it for tweezer food however. This meal requires a nearby roll of paper towels and a place to lay the gnawed vertebrae.
With another hundred or so Acadian and Creole recipes along with a few score more books similarly packed, I feel lucky to have found the Foods of the World series. How many beet salad recipes must we read? I understand you made pumpernickel croutons and they sound delicious, but without the background of why the pumpernickel makes sense or why the author finds beet salads important in the first place, why? These old books start from square one, give you the background, alternate perspectives, the recipe, techniques and context.
3 pounds pork backbone – get ‘em meaty and hack them into pieces
1/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup neutral oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
3 cups pork stock
3 cups water
Scallions, sliced, and celery leaves
Step one: Rub salt and cayenne of hacked backbone.
Step two: Dredge the pieces of backbone in flour being careful to knock off excess flour
Step three: Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a dutch oven on medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and sweat veg until they begin to brown. Spoon into a mixing bowl.
Step four: Add remaining oil. Heat oil over medium-high heat and brown pork. Do not crowd pan. When pork is browned move to mixing bowl.
Step five: When all pork is browned, scrape bits from the bottom of the pan and whisk any flour into the remaining oil to form a roux. Add stock/water a half cup at a time.
Step six: Add veg and browned pork, bring to a boil, partially cover, and lower heat to a simmer. Cook for two hours.
Step seven: Serve with sliced scallions and celery leaves. Add hot sauce as needed.