Tales of the Kitchen
Baby it’s cold outside, it is the perfect time to BRAISE
The new year is upon us and we are all settling back into our regular routines, trying to lose those few pounds we all seem to put on the during the holidays. It has been so cold lately, I personally just want warm food, not quite ready to commit to just having salads for dinner. Warm food to me translates to comfort food and with trying to keep it easy, braising comes to mind. The term “braise” is French, but it is basic physics. Braising is what happens when a tough, inexpensive cut of meat is cooked long and slow in a pot with a small amount of liquid. Inexpensive cuts of meat are best as their tough connective tissues melt away while cooking. The end result is a tender, flavorful mouthwatering piece of meat. Braising is one the simplest cooking methods, the protein simply absorbs the flavors you have chosen. Onions, carrots, leeks and/or fennel are called the aromatics. Along with herbs, wine and stock it will make one mouthwatering sauce. If you choose to make a reduction out of your sauce at the end of the cooking process it would only complement the protein you have chosen. The only issue is time, all the aromatics need to be removed and then strained. The best part of a reduction is not really necessary if you are in time restrictions, just simply skimming the fat of the top and serve with your aromatics.
Owning a Dutch oven is essential in braising—that is why I own three. If you are planning on feeding a large group (I come from a large family) you are going to need at least two. They should be heavy based, and nonreactive, meaning shallow and wide enough for when you brown your meat. This should be done in steps, because you should not crowd the meat, do not rush this process. The meat will start to sweat if too many pieces are in the pot and you will not get the color you are looking for. Make sure when you are done browning your meat that you scrape up all the pieces of soot on the bottom of the pan. The lid has to fit tightly so your liquid does not evaporate. If you are making a brown sauce, you are going to brown the meat on the stove and once all is assembled it will go into the oven for at least 3 hours. There are white braises, which just means you will not brown, but just cooking the meat when you are simmering and adding your aromatics.
If you are going to make a brown sauce, it is important to brown the meat first to help produce the flavor and color for the braise. The sauce should be intense and browning the meat will help with the flavor. If you use a different pan other than your Dutch oven make sure you deglaze the pan with some liquid and add it to your sauce, so you will not lose all the flavors. I personally have never finished a braised dish using meat on the stove; I always finish in the oven. You can finish the dish on the stove, the oven offers a more uniformed form of cooking not having to worry about regulating the heat. If you are braising vegetables, it is probably best to finish on the stove so they do not become too soft. I have learned that finishing braised vegetables on the stove gives you more control and better results.
The best braised recipe I have is a Martha Stewart favorite (yes I am a fan), which has never failed me. I use short ribs: It is an easy recipe which calls for:
1/4 cup flour,
Salt & pepper
16 pieces of short ribs, about 4 oz each
1 tablespoon oil
4 carrots cut into chucks
2 onions quartered
1 bottle of decent red wine, (merlot or a cabernet, don’t be cheap this is your flavor)
14 oz of chicken broth
4 springs of thyme
28 oz of whole tomatoes, pureed
Preheat your oven to 400°. Put the flour, salt and pepper into a bowl, toss the ribs in the flour until well coated, shake off excess.
Heat oil in the Dutch oven and brown the ribs about 10 minutes per batch.
After you brown, hold the ribs on a plate and in the same pot add the carrots and onions. Cook and scrape up the good brown bits until the vegetable are lightly browned about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine broth, thyme and tomatoes. Return the ribs back to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to the oven and cook for about an hour then reduce the heat to 350° or until fork tender.
Once they are cooked, this is where you can make your choice reduce or skim. Both are good. If you chose to reduce, remove the meat and keep warm. Strain the liquid removing solids, return liquid and cook until slightly thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, about 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a nice creamy polenta, wide noodles or some warm creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Like I said: comfort food.
Chef K. Marie Paulk