Friday, April 3, 2009

Today's tip: Cooking a braise

Although they need a relatively long time to cook, braises are easy to prepare and are perfect for what I call Pantry Day- the day you spend a few hours more in the kitchen preparing pantry items for use during the week or later. During the two to three hours the braise needs to finish, you could for example, be making roasted peppers, marinara sauce or a stock.Plan ahead. As for the braise itself, you will need a meat which is well marbled with fat and sinew. The reason for this is the fat and sinew slowly melts during the cooking process keeping the meat moist and flavorful.You should never use a more expensive cut for braising. Fillet Mignon for example, comes from a part of the animal which doesn't build muscle and therefore has little toughness. This type of meat would dry up and be tasteless in a braise. Instead, try shoulder meat or shanks (Your butcher will help especially if he/she has a relationship with you.)Pat the meat dry, salt it and cook it in your heaviest pot (dutch oven). Get the pot hot, add extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. (Don't add too much at once to the pot-you don't want to steam the meat)Then, put the meat aside, empty the oil but keep the brown bits on the bottom, and cook (with a little more oil, and at a lower temperature) some onions, carrots (parsnips?), maybe some celery till the vegetables soften (8-10 minutes), add garlic-cook it just till fragrant- then mix in three tablespoons of flour-cook that for 3 or 4 minutes and put the meat and its juices back in the pan. Add a little wine and enough stock to cover the meat 3/4 of the way, and cook at a slow, constant bubble partially covered. You may want to skim fat off the braise before serving or chill it for another day and remove the fat from the top before heating it up. The longer you cook it, the more tender it becomes and the thicker the cooking juices get. Try it with short ribs, lamb shanks, beef blade steaks, or bottom round. It's great for a main dish and the leftovers are great in sandwiches or ground up for ravioli.

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