Once upon a time, many moons (ok, weeks) ago, I wrote a little blog post about neck bones and gravy.
Who would have guessed what a stir it would cause!! As it turns out, more than a few people I know have a strong opinion on the subject. There are a couple of my friends who couldn’t fathom the concept at all (and the idea of eating something’s neck pretty well grossed them out).There’s my Italian buddy, Mikey, who grew up eating them with cabbage instead of gravy...sometimes. There’s my southern friend, Whit, who had a similar experience and couldn’t imagine them being served with gravy, or pasta. And, along with Whit, there is her dad, (whom I will call “Papa Joy” - just because I think it’s fun) who was so enthralled with the idea of neck bones being served in this way that (from what I hear) he had a bevy of his co-workers gawking at my blog post in sheer wonder.
Papa Joy – this one’s for you.
And so, I vowed then and there, that the next time I could get my hands on some neck bones, there would be a throw down in my kitchen. Last week, while browsing the meat counter at my local grocer, I was delighted to see a large supply of gorgeous, meaty neck bones on display for a mere 69 cents a pound. You all know how cheap I am, so that made me plenty happy. I promptly scooped up four packages (about 14 pounds worth) and made my way home with my treasures.
That was the beginning. From there, I enlisted a few of our friends to come judge the resulting Smorgasbord of pork and all the little tidbits I set out with it.
I had Whit call home for her daddy’s recipe. I made a trip to St Louis’ Little Italy (aka, The Hill) for gorgeous olives, prosciutto di Parma, fresh parmesan cheese, some good wine, and a treasure trove of other delights.
At about noon on Sunday, I began. Two trays of neck bones in front of me, they both began the same, seasoned with salt and pepper. The Southern Style bones also got some garlic powder and red pepper flake. Both batches were caramelized separately. The Italian bones were then removed and I sautéed onion, garlic and basil in the same pan, then deglazed with some Pinot Noir, tossed the bones back in and covered with crushed tomatoes, then set to simmer.
The Southern bones were covered in water seasoned with more salt, pepper, garlic and red pepper (disclaimer – I took a little creative license with Papa Joy’s recipe, but considering his daughter’s response to them, I don’t think he’ll mind.) On the same note, based on everything I’ve heard about him from Whit, I figured a little “grease” was in order, so I dipped into my supply of bacon fat for both the browning and the water. Later, when I told Whit about it, she said nonchalantly “well, yeah, that kind of goes without saying”, so apparently I was on the right track. And being on the “right track” was sheer luck, since my instructions consisted of “Season the water with salt, pepper and red pepper flake until it tastes like its right”. Since I had absolutely no experience with this, it was a crap shoot.
Both pots then go on to simmer until the meat starts to fall off the bone, which in this case was about three hours.
Near the end of the cooking process, I boiled some bucatini pasta for my Italian Bones,
and cooked some thick slices of cabbage in water (seasoned just like the water for the neck bones) to serve alongside the Southern bones.When Whit arrived, it looked like the scene of a catering job gone bad. The kitchen was a riot of smells, flavors, and....well....stains. The gravy was all over the place (my new stove only has one “simmer” burner, and the others just won’t stay low enough to keep sauces from boiling). However, the moment of truth arrived and her eyes lit up as she smelled the simmering bones.
“Oh man, I think you got it!” she said.(I may not have mentioned it before, but my dining room is "Hershey Bar" brown, walls and ceiling, so getting decent photos in there isn't easy. Its like being in a constant state of "mood lighting". That's my way of apologizing for the poor quality of these shots.)
That was all the encouragement I needed. I summoned the other judges (Mikey, JoJo, Feather, and the hubs) to the dining room and we tore into that buffet like we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from.
A whole roll of paper towels (and a fair amount of noises that would have been considered obscene under other circumstances) later, and none of us could decide which version we liked better. The devastation that was left at the end of the night made it look like there had been a war between an angry Italian woman and her kitchen. Oh...wait a minute.....that actually happened!
I wish I had been able to move afterward so that I could present you with the image of my kitchen table that will haunt me for the rest of my days (or, at least, until the next dinner party I host).
And so, in the end, the jury is still hung on which version is better. My personal opinion? Just serve both!
Special thanks to Whit’s dad (also known as Papa Joy) both for the recipe, and for putting up with me calling him “Papa Joy” throughout this post. I hope you enjoyed my rendition of one of your old favorites! (oh, and thanks for loaning us your girl...she’s a keeper!)