I’m not sure whether this is a good thing, but unlike the usual 72 hours from “that sounds interesting” to research & cooking, I planned to cook this meal a few weeks in advance. The logic actually worked backwards: I had to be in NYC for a fantasy baseball draft Sunday, so we decided to hang in NJ with Tim’s smoker (and some people) Saturday, and THEN I found something to cook at the grocery store. Good old fashioned pork maws.
I’d recently seen the Bizarre Foods New Orleans episode that showed a sausage stuffed hog stomach that was smoked, braised and carved like a roast. Sign me up! It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the stomach and after finding minimal documentation online for how to make it at home, I was hooked on the idea of making it.
After purchase, the stomach spent a couple months in a vacuum sealed bag in the freezer before heading into a cooler with a half pork shoulder for the drive to NJ. Plan was to wake up Saturday, grind up the shoulder with garlic and onions, mix in some spices, prep the stomach, stuff it, and cook it. At least that’s how I thought of it; I clearly didn’t understand how big a step “prep the stomach” would be.
From there the meat, garlic, and onions were cut into cubes and, with Tim’s instruction (he helped too much this time to earn his usual mean spirited remarks) headed into the grinder. We used the handy meat grinder attachment for his new Kitchenaid mixer, an item I’ve also owned for a few years but have been too scared to use.
Once the meat, onion and garlic were all ground together, we stirred in a lot of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika along with some chopped arugala from Tim’s garden.
To test for flavor I pulled a bit out of the bowl and fried it in a pan. It was pretty freaking tasty, but I added a little more seasoning to be safe.
Welp, with all those pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to the main event and check out that stomach!
I’m not sure if it was feeling inadequate surrounded by such enormous stomachs and increased in size overnight, but this hog maw was way bigger than expected. Since the goal with ponce is to have the meat tightly packed into the stomach, I needed to make sure that it wasn’t going to be too big for the sausage we’d made. First step was stitching closed that large cut used to clean the stomach.
What to stitch with was definitely a hot topic at the Tim Ryan household for a solid hour, but we ended up going with whatever Kristi could find on her usual morning coffee/hog-stomach-stitching-material run. The final materials ended up being a standard thick sewing needle and some unflavored dental floss.
After finishing the stitch on the large cut, I found the other entry point to the stomach (yes, there are two of course) and attached it to Tim’s faucet. The questions I wanted to answer were how watertight the stitching was and how large it got when fully inflated. And the answers were, “holy MOLY!!!”
It was immediately obvious that the stomach was too large for the amount of sausage we’d made. So, using the same lethal paring knife, I made an unscientific judgement on where to cut, and stitched it up all over again. This go-round was 10x more infuriating since the outside was getting greasy as it warmed up and my fingers were full of holes from errant stitching. Meals like this are less a labor of love than a labor of stupidity.
With the stomach prepped, a quick change in attachments turned the Kitchenaid from a meat grinder to a sausage stuffer. Albeit a somewhat frustrating one that made sounds like a boot stuck in mud.
After a lot of shifting the meat inside the casing and moving the spout around to continue stretching the stomach, we finally got all of the sausage in. Quick stitch on the opening, and we were ready to go.
Well, I was glad the grossest part was over, though it really wasn’t too bad while we were in process since there were no funky smells. At one point the fully inflated ponce slipped out of my hands and slowly wandered across the counter away from me, moving further away with each botched grab. Offered a good mix of angered frustration and laughing hysterically at my own stupidity.
After a quick rub with some salt, pepper, and paprika the stomach joined the four racks of ribs that Tim had cooking in the smoker.
While that smoked, Kristi and I visited John and Julie’s place to find them in the midst of planting 36 trees around the property with the rusty backhoe that John bought on Craigslist and fixed up. While it was amazing how much they were getting done, let’s just say that we choose to spend our weekends a little differently.
Back at the other Ryan ranch, two hours into the four hour smoke, I found Tim pacing outside the smoker anxiously waiting to open it. For someone who preaches the patience of good BBQ cooking, he was remarkably antsy.
The lid went back down for another two hours of smoking in the 200F-225F range (total of just over four hours), before we finally had this:
From there the ponce headed into a beer braise. Well, not actually a beer braise, but a braise in the six pack of Odouls Amber that Tim had been trying to find a use for since our baby shower last May. Ended up working out pretty well since I would have hated wasting 6 dark beers on this.
The lid went on and the ponce braised for about 2 hours in a 300F oven. Despite not having a recipe to work with, I knew it should have braised for longer than that, but there was a mass of toddlers and the adults responsible for said toddlers arriving at the house.
At first they were tided over with a smorgasbord of kielbasa and Italian sausage along with some chicken liver crostini from Tim (just in case you needed a reminder of how much Ryans love liver). But, eventually we had to feed everyone dinner and that’s how the ponce ended up on the cutting board, even if we didn’t expect anyone to eat it.
While the ponce rested, I (over)cooked some white rice in chicken stock and reduced the braising liquid on the stovetop. Once it had reduced by half, I whisked in a couple tablespoons of roux to thicken it and we had a nice dark gravy to go with the ponce and rice. Speaking of the ponce, here’s some action shots of the carving from our crew of queasy photographers.
There were no funky smells, just smoked meat and what looked like a pork meatloaf. I was excited to try it, I just didn’t know who else would be. To my surprise, some friends started serving themselves slices of ponce so I made myself a plate and went to hide so I wouldn’t have to look anyone in the eye.
The ponce was interesting. It had far less flavor than I expected based on the piece of sausage that we test fried earlier in the day. The sausage was moist and had the consistency of meat loaf without any odd flavors coming in from the stomach, which basically acted as a gigantic sausage casing. The stomach itself could have used a couple more hours of braising since it was pretty chewy.
I was a little bummed out since I wanted a super dense sausage with lots of smokiness, but the gravy added some smoke and beer flavors and the rice was a solid bed for the meat. OK first run overall, but I need to put some time into improving my sausage making ability back in JP. As usual, Tim’s ribs and Erin’s slaw were both awesome.
The most surprising part was that most of the ponce ended up eaten (or partially eaten). I think the idea of it sounds a lot grosser than the actual final presentation, but generally I feel that way about most things I make. Thanks to the Tim for the hospitality and the Peapack/Far Hills/B’ville crew for their tolerance of my endeavor. Next week will either be more or less gross, I promise.