A stew without vegetables? Sounded strange to me, but I know there are plenty of meat eaters out there who will love and appreciate this unusual dish. Ribs? Chicken? Sausages? All in one pot with a spicy mixture of tomato paste, garlic, onions and hot sauce. Sounds like dinner time in the man cave to me! I think this meat lover’s stew would make a great feast for an upcoming Super Bowl Party. It makes 4 to 6 servings, but with other goodies on the smorgasbord, it could easily stretch to feed 8. Unless, of course, I happen to be one of the guests.
I found this recipe on the New York Times Cooking web-site. If you have not already investigated this web-site, it’s a must do for foodies. It costs less than two dollars per month and is well worth it.
This recipe is Jim Harrison’s Caribbean Stew. I know nothing about Jim Harrison except that he was a “poet and epicure, hunter and fisherman, novelist and essayist and enthusiastic cook”, per the Times introduction to this recipe. If he writes as well as he cooks, I may have to check out his work, because of this unique stew. I’m not sure what is particularly Caribbean about it. It lacks the jerk spice combination that is typically associated with island cookery. But who am I to argue? It tastes great and you will love it. It’s one of those odd combinations that come together in a peculiarly delicious way.
There are a number of ingredients, but none are very difficult to procure, so this is something you can make without first visiting an ethnic or specialty grocery store:
1 ½ pounds pork spareribs, cut into single ribs (I used baby back ribs)
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed. ( Canola worked fine for me)
4 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 Italian Sausages, hot or sweet (I used hot Italian chicken sausages, but more on that later)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic ( or more, if you are my garlic loving twin)
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons of hot sauce, ideally one made with Scotch Bonnet peppers
1 cup Chicken Broth
½ teaspoon white sugar
4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
According to the many cooks who reviewed this recipe, step one is highly controversial. It requires you to place the spareribs in a pot and cover them with water and bring them to a boil, then cover the pot and cook them for 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the water and remove the ribs to a large bowl. Many reviewers just went nuts over parboiling the ribs. They wanted to roast or grill them instead. I followed the recipe and parboiled the ribs. Yes, they looked grey and unappetizing when I removed them from the water. But, the process rendered a lot of fat out of the ribs, which is a very good thing unless you enjoy ingesting a lot of pork lard with your stew. Also, it seems that parboiling also allows the ribs to absorb more sauce and, therefore, flavor. Also, a very good thing. Not to mention that it speeds up the cooking process. The end product is not grey, but a very appetizing red orange. Some reviewers also got upset about discarding the rib water and wanted to save it and incorporate it into the stew. Feel free to keep all the fat, lard-laced pork water you want. I did not do this. I have found the reviewers on this site to be a very opinionated bunch who like to argue about how the food should be prepared, even when they admit they have not yet made the recipe.
While the ribs cook, pour the oil into a Dutch oven over high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. When the oil is hot, brown them “aggressively” about 5 to 7 minutes per side. I don’t know how you define “aggressive” chicken browning. I just wielded my tongs in a threatening manner while growling at them. I showed my teeth, too. They responded by turning a deep, golden brown. At this point I removed them from the Dutch oven and put them in the bowl with the ribs. Repeat with the sausages, browning them on all sides for 5 to 7 minutes. Now is good time to say a few words about the sausages. I used hot Italian chicken sausages because some reviewers had noted that the finished stew was somewhat greasy. In an effort to cut down on the problem, I thought chicken sausages might be a good option. Somehow, the flavor profile just didn’t seem to meld with the other ingredients. It was the Italian sausage flavor I objected to, so I don’t know if it would be better with pork sausages or not. Some reviewers used andouille or chorizo sausage. I want you to understand that normally I love any kind of Italian sausage under almost any other circumstances. Thus, I am non-plussed. I would say that if you want to make this stew, use any sausages you chose. I don’t think you could do anything to make it bad.
Cook the onions and garlic in the remaining fat. Caveat here: one reviewer noted that after all that “aggressive” browning, her pot was so freaking hot that the garlic and onions burned almost immediately. Easy fix: after browning the meats, remove the pot from the heat for a few minutes. At this point, I poured off most of the fat (trust me, there is still plenty), leaving about a tablespoon for cooking the garlic and onions. It had cooled down a bit by then, so even when I jacked the heat back up, nothing burned. Cook the onions and garlic for about 5 to 7 minutes until softened and browned.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, chicken stock, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and paprika. Stir to combine and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the meats to the Dutch oven, then stir to make sure that all the meat is covered in sauce. Place the lid on the Dutch oven and place the pot in the oven to cook for approximately 90 minutes, until all meat is tender and the ribs and chicken are falling off the bone.
This seems like a good moment to talk about the hot sauce. Some of our OCD reviewers were adamant about using a Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce. Yellowtail, a Jamaican sauce was used by several reviewers, but there were others who admitted to using Cholula and one even used Frank’s hot sauce and loved it. I used Hoff’s sauce, because it is locally produced in my part of the world and I had recently bought some to try it. I thought it gave a nice smokiness to the dish. I also used sweet smoked Paprika. Some reviewers insisted on adding some traditional jerk seasonings, like all spice and nutmeg. In the grand scheme of things, just do what makes you happy. It’s all good. Don’t be like the New York Times Cooking reviewers who get utterly stressed out over parboiling and pork water. Be like me, relax and play some Bob Marley, confident that there is “no problem, Mon.”
Many reviewers also sweated over what to serve the stew with. I served it over black beans and rice and served fresh pineapple cubes along side to amp up the freshness. I do think it needs fruit, slaw or salad; something with a little acid to cut through the heat and the richness.
Verdict: We loved it! In our house it made 4 servings, not six, because we couldn’t stop eating this special and unusual dish. The ribs, despite parboiling, were my favorite. The next day I spent a lot of time fantasizing about dinner because I could not wait to eat it again!