Slow cookers retain heat better than pots and maintain a constant temperature for hours, just what you need to make pork neck bones useful. Neck bones need hours of slow cooking to melt their abundant connective tissue into the gelatin that gives stocks and broths their body and sauces and soups their richness. Give pork neck a few hours in the slow cooker with some tomatoes and aromatics and you'll be rewarded with tomato sauce that would make any Italian grandmother proud, or simply add water and mirepoix for broth that works with nearly any type of soup or stew.
Add 1 or 2 inches of battuto, or Italian mirepoix, to the slow cooker for a base flavoring. Battuto comprises minced garlic, onions, carrots, celery and green peppers in varying amounts depending on the mood of the cook or the ingredients on hand.
Lay a couple pounds of neck bones on the battuto and cover with a few cans of peeled stew tomatoes or a few pounds of roughly chopped fresh tomatoes.
Add aromatics to the slow cooker. You can add a couple aromatics or several; bay leaves, black peppercorns and fresh herbs to taste make the difference between mediocre tomato sauce and a signature tomato sauce.
Add few splashes of stock and a healthy spoonful of tomato paste to help everything homogenize then season to taste. Cover the slow cooker and set it to high.
Cook the neck bones on high for about 3 hours and remove the neck bones and bay leaves if you used them. Pick off any clinging meat from the bones and add it to the sauce.
Adjust the consistency if needed with stock and use the sauce as is if you like it rustic and chunky. Puree the sauce in a blender and pour it through a mesh strainer if you like it smooth.
Add a couple inches of mirepoix to the bottom of the slow cooker and lay the neck bones on it. Mirepoix comprises about twice as much chopped onions as chopped carrots and celery by volume. You don't have to chop the mirepoix neatly, as you'll strain it out later.
Cover the neck bones with 1 to 2 inches of cold water or stock per pound. For example, if you have 2 pounds of neck bones, cover them with 4 inches of cold liquid.
Add aromatics to the slow cooker. You can add a couple aromatics or several. Bay leaves, black peppercorns and fresh herbs give broths a backbone of flavor and aroma without getting in the way of the main ingredient.
Cover the slow cooker and set it to high. Cook the neck bones for about 3 hours and remove them.
Strain the broth through a mesh strainer and into a bowl. Let the broth cool to room temperature and place it in the refrigerator covered and let it cool overnight.
Lift the solidified fat off the pork broth the next day and discard it. Disturb the broth underneath as little as possible when removing the fat. Use the broth within 2 or 3 days.
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A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.