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Three-Step Pig Tails

(Chef Dave DiBari of The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 4 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red chile flakes
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 ½ to 3 pounds pig tails or shanks baby back pork ribs or chicken necks*
  • 1 ½ cups rendered duck fat vegetable oil, olive oil or a mixture

Instructions

  1. To make the brine: Combine the salt, sugar, fennel seed, chile flakes and rosemary in a medium saucepan. Add 6 cups water. Stir and bring to a boil. Cool to room temperature.
  2. To brine the meat: Fit the meat snugly into a deep Pyrex baking dish or other nonreactive, ovenproof container. Pour in the cooled brine, making sure the meat is completely submerged. (If not, add more water and proportionately more of the other ingredients.) Cover and refrigerate. The length of time depends on the size of the meat parts and which animal it’s from. Pork shanks need about 12 hours; 4 hours is enough for smaller cuts like pork ribs and tails, and 2 hours will do for chicken necks. The point is to brine the meat long enough to absorb the seasonings, but not so long that it becomes too salty.
  3. To confit the meat: Preheat the oven to 300F. Pour off and discard the brining liquid, leaving the meat behind. Cover with the fat.  Cover with aluminum foil and set the dish on a middle rack. Check after 15 minutes or so, and adjust the heat so that the fat cracks a bubble every now and then. Cook at this leisurely pace until the meat feels fork tender. Just as with brining, the length of time this step takes depends on the size and nature of the animal part. Count on 3 to 4 hours. Cool the meat in the fat. You can proceed to the final step now, but it’s an even better idea to refrigerate the confited meat in fat for at least a day to let the flavors develop.
  4. To fry the meat:  If time permits, let the meat come to room temperature. Have a splatter screen or large pan lid on hand—because the meat has given off liquid during the confit step, there’s likely to be some splattering. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add enough confit fat to coat the bottom of the pan and fry the meat on all sides, using a splatter screen or tilted lid to block splatters.
  5. Serve the meat with polenta or as a soup topper.

Recipe Notes

* With the exception of pork ribs, it’s not necessarily easy to get your hands on random animal parts—which is ridiculous, because pigs still come equipped with tails and chickens with necks. Often these cuts are thrown out for lack of demand, but supermarkets with an ethnic or foodie clientele sometimes stock them. Ask your butcher—even if not considered worthy of a display case, they may be available either immediately or by special order. Farmers markets are another good source, although you may have to coordinate your cooking with a particular farmer’s slaughtering schedule.