My ancestors were culinary innovators.
With the scraps from their owners, they reimagined the use of pig intestines and chitterlings. And similarly they turned oxtails, pig feet and neck bones into hearty, rib sticking entrees that remain the breadcrumbs to my past and the soul of my legacy.
My parents migrated from the great state of Alabama. Southern food was squarely in my mom’s wheelhouse. Black-eye peas, cornbread and collard greens were often on mom’s stove. These Southern favorites were interspersed with dishes like spaghetti and chili which Mom learned to cook as a Southern California transplant.
My brother Montie and I are the foodies in my family. We often talk about food and reminisce about some of our favorite dishes my mom prepared when we were children. Pork neck bones and rice is one of those dishes. Mom would cook them in a big pot on our stove top. The aroma was unmistakable rich and robust. As the meat cooked down, the bone marrow and connective tissue would dissolve and create the most amazingly luscious and flavorful broth. When the neck bones were completely fall off the bone tender, mom added rice and seasoned the pot with salt and lots of pepper.
That was good eating! Well at least we felt that way. And even today, the thought of eating Mom’s neck bones and rice makes me darn near euphoric.
A recipe reimagined
Recently I had a hankering for neck bones and rice. With all the events happening today, I needed to recreate a little culinary nostalgia to shift my mood. Neck bones and rice was the perfect remedy.
I picked up three pounds of pork neck bones from Buddha Market in South Los Angeles. The butcher cut them in the most perfect serving sizes.
When I got home, I rummaged through my less than organized kitchen cookware cabinet and found my pressure cooker buried in the back left corner. After closely examining it, it was in pretty good shape – so it was on and cooking.
I generously seasoned the neck bones with salt, pepper, garlic powder and chipotle chili pepper for a little smokiness. After dredging the seasoned neck bones in flour, I browned them in a skillet, then added them to the pressure cooker. I made a roux with the pan drippings which I poured over the neck bones.
After 35 minutes under pressure, they were done to perfection. I served them over brown jasmine rice cooked in chicken stock with a little turmeric. This reimagined version had all the delicious and satisfying flavor of mom’s version. The slight adjustments I made to the recipe elevated the dish a bit. I bet you never imagined that!
An unexpected result
I called my mom and told her about the dish. I was so anxious for her to try it. However she was not. In fact she confessed she didn’t like pork neck bones at all and was not interested in trying them. She also said the only reason she made them when we were growing up is because they were inexpensive and for a little of nothing she could feed her family something filling when money was tight.
I was stunned! I had no idea that she felt that way. I always thought neck bones and rice was something special. Mom’s revelation just underscores the power of food memories and feelings they stir up.
It was a very awkward moment between us. Sensing that, she agreed to try a small sample which I packed up and sent with my brother to give to her.
It’s all good
About an hour later, mom called me and said, “Girl, I don’t know what you did to those neck bones, but they were delicious! You can make them for me anytime.
And I have – several times since then – with a giant smile on my face.
If you would like to take a culinary trip and try my reimagined version of a time honored entrée that has fed generations, the recipe is below. Here’s to good eating!
Reimagined Neck Bones and Rice
This reimagined version is sheer comfort food.
For neck bones
3 pounds pork neck bones, cut in serving sized pieces
¼ cup unbleached flour for roux
½ cup unbleached flour for drudging coating neck bones
4 tablespoons oil (grapeseed used but can use canola, corn, vegetable)
1 32-ounce carton of chicken broth (Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth used in this recipe)
Chipotle chili pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped (for roux)
2 cups rice (brown Jasmine rice used in this recipe)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Preparing neck bones
Rinse neck bones and pat dry.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil to large skillet set on medium heat.
- Wash and pat dry neck bones. Place on a cutting board lined with waxed paper.
- Generously season all sides of neck bones with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Season all sides lightly with chipotle chili pepper.
- Add ½ cup of flour to a paper bag or large zipper bag. Add ½ of the neck bones to bag, shake to coat will with flour.
- Shake off the excess flour and add to heated skillet.
- Cook about 2 minutes on at least two sides until golden brown. Remove and add to pressure cooker.*
- Coat the remaining neck bones in flour (add more flour if needed) and place in skillet. Add more oil if needed.
- Cook about 2 minutes on at least two sides until golden brown. Remove and add to pressure cooker.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil to same skillet used to brown neck bones. Set skillet on medium heat.
- Whisk in ¼ cup of flour and mix well.
- Continue to whisk until roux is medium brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of chicken broth and chopped garlic. Reduce heat to low; simmer gently until thicken.
- Remove from heat and pour roux over neck bones in pressure cooker.
- Pour remainder of the chicken broth over the neck bones.
Cooking the neck bones
- Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring the pressure cooker up to full pressure. Reduce heat to medium high heat, maintaining full pressure, and cook for 35 minutes.
- Remove from heat after 35 minutes. Let stand about 30 minutes to let pressure naturally release.
*Cooks Note: While I used a traditional pressure cooker for this recipe, my brother followed the directions and made the recipe in an Instant Pot and achieved the same results.
- While neck bones are cooking, add 2 cups of rice to a sauce pan. Wash and rinse rice. If using white rice, wash and rinse at least twice to help remove the starch.
- Pour a 32- ounce carton of chicken stock over the rice. Add ¼ teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Bring rice to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook according to directions.
- When rice is done, let stand uncovered until cool.
Putting it all together
- Transfer rice to a large serving bowl or large casserole dish.
- Place all the neck bones on top of the rice. Pour some of gravy left in the bottom of the pressure cooker over the rice. Reserve any unused gravy for those who want a saucier serving.
- Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and grilled chopped red bell pepper if desired.