I’ve been going to Moloney’s Meat Market in Jersey City since I moved into “The Heights” neighborhood 8 years ago. I love this place because the owner, Tommy Moloney, “gets it;” he knows how to butcher properly and passionately, and he takes the time to ask important questions when people place orders, like, “Have you ever cooked this cut before?”
Although I find myself eating less and less meat these days, when I have a craving, or am planning a dinner party, I call Tommy and place an order. He makes the absolute best Italian Sausage (don’t let his last name fool you; the man knows how to make salsiccia!); crazy-thick bacon, and can cut a steak just about any way you ask. He’ll even dry age it if you ask.
I wrote about Moloney’s, along with all of my other favorite artisinal haunts in Hudson County, in Edible Jersey last year.
I’ve been making this pork roast that Tommy cuts for me for years; it’s sort of become a signature of mine at big dinner parties, though I must give full credit to Sally Schneider, who inspired me to make it in her amazing, award-winning cookbook A New Way to Cook — especially because the secret and key ingredient is her magical “classic herb salt” that I slather all over the pork, using olive oil to make it stick.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we need the pork, and that’s where Tommy Moloney comes in. For years I’ve been ordering a six-pound center-cut pork rib roast, on-the-bone, untrimmed, chine bone intact, basically saying: “Do nothing to it, please(!).” Tommy has always reacted quizzically when I order this, wondering if I know what I’m getting into with this giant hunk of meat. I always assure him I do, but am never confident he believes me. So that’s how I found myself behind the counter this past Saturday.
I was preparing a huge feast for my father-in-law’s birthday party at our home, with 45 hungry Sicilians in attendance, and so I ordered two of those six-pound rib roasts early last week. When I went to pick them up, Tommy again asked me if I was sure he shouldn’t crack the chine bone (the thick bone that connects all the ribs). Yes, I was sure.” But he gave me a look, like, “what the heck are you thinking?”
When I told him how I was going to prepare it at home, he said, “Why don’t you come back here and show me how you do it.”
His fellow butchers — Erica, George and Danny — stopped what they were doing and turned to look at me. Then the other customers stopped chatting and turned to look at me.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“It’s never too late to learn a new trick,” Tommy said, and though he didn’t sound or look disingenuous, I had every doubt that there was anything I could teach him.
As you can imagine, this was kinda mortifying, given that I am not a butcher, never trained to be a butcher, but have found myself discussing cuts of meat with plenty of them here and there. So, I put on an apron grabbed a carving knife and showed Tommy a trick that I’d learned from a butcher in Paris that my friend Barbara Schulz took me to called Boucherie Robert on Rue Lepic. Here’s what he did:
First he glided the knife along the ribs, separating the meat from the ribs, until he reached the chine bone — and then he stopped, so the meat wasn’t completely detached.
Then he cut the meat away between the bones, a technique in English known, of course, as “frenching” the bones.
Then he seasoned the meat with salt and pepper on that newly-revealed surface that was attached to the ribs, and then rolled the meat that was attached to the ribs down toward the chine bone, creating a perfectly round cylinder, and began tying it up.
I’d never tied up any meat before, so I didn’t know the technique was unusual, but when I showed it to Tommy, he said he’d never seen it before, but that it reminded him of how Italian salumi are tied before they are dried.
Tommy has of course “frenched” rib roasts before, but he’d never seen a roast trimmed and tied this way. “That’s really beautiful!” he exclaimed.
I think I blushed.
While I tied up one of the two roasts, Tommy got to work on the other. When we were finished this is what they looked like:
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was pretty thrilled to actually impress the butcher whom I pretty much idolize.
When I got home I pre-heated the oven to 425-F. Then, I grabbed my jar of herb salt and a bottle of olive oil and got to work, rubbing both cuts with oil, then rubbing the herb salt into every nook and cranny. How much salt are we talking? I’d say at least a half-cup for each roast — using Kosher salt, not fine.
After I arranged them in a roasting pan, with ribs entwined, I sprinkled more of herb salt on top, a drizzle of olive oil, and placed in the oven.
Just under an hour later I pulled them out when an instant-read thermometer registered 130-F when poked just off-center of each roast. Here’s what they looked like:
After I transferred them to a cutting board and tented them, I left them to rest while I got started on the gravy.
Despite all of the amazing food that my mother-in-law Lucia prepared for this feast, we somehow managed to eat all of the delicious pork, too.
All of the bounty was washed down with a case of a juicy Grenache/Syrah blend from Spain that I found at my local wine shop, 2009 Celler de Capcanes Montsant “Mas Donis” Barrica ($11.99 here).
Moloney’s Meat Market is located at 627 Newark Ave., in Jersey City, just a few steps from the Court House. Tel: 201-653-1764