those expensive cuts and impress your holiday guests with
these slow-cooked secrets
a couple of steaks on the fire and you satisfy a primal gustatory
urge. In the snobby suburbs where I grew up, those steaks
were the sirloin or, better still, its augmented sibling,
the porterhouse. Ordering filet mignon in a restaurant was
the height of refinement. My parents had fled their working-class
families, where costly steaks were a rarely tasted luxury.
Conspicuous consumption is a mark of the middle-class arriviste,
and there’s no better forum for showing off than the backyard
grill. Which kept my childhood diet relatively pot-roast-free.
While saving money is one of the imperatives of the new economy,
enjoying even tastier meals is the luxurious by-product. With
steak, the brisket, flank and chuck are significantly less
expensive than the shell and tenderloin cuts, but the longer
cooking time and creative techniques required give those cuts
more fascinating flavors. This is where braising comes in.
It seems to have become one of the least-used cooking techniques,
but the premise is simple: Cook a tough cut of meat with a
small amount of aromatic liquid in a sealed container until
the tough collagen gelatinizes, rendering the meat tender.
The best-known braised dishes are osso buco (traditionally
veal, but more deliciously lamb), beef short ribs and Mom’s
old standby, pot roast. Other types of meat, including pork
and chicken, respond well to the technique, as do any number
of vegetables. Braised cabbage, for example, imparts a nice
texture to the rugged leaf.
about jugged hare?” you ask. Much the same preparation, it’s
true, but this style of game cookery typically also includes
the animal’s blood . . . and so we move on.
Add too much liquid and you’re making a stew. Use no liquid
and you’re either roasting or burning the item. Much of the
process is unattended, but you have to plan ahead. You want
your meat to marinate for at least a day, and the cooking
time will be reckoned in hours. Chuck and shoulder are the
favored cuts, particularly when dealing with beef and lamb.
Beef round is not recommended because of its coarseness.
in French, describes a bed of coals, and those coals were
distributed on any and all sides of a specially formed pot
called a brasière, a heritage of hearth cooking. You’re
probably not going to be strewing coals across the top of
your kettle, but you still want a tight, concave closure,
such as is provided by a Dutch oven. Cast iron and copper
are the best braising pot materials.
For much of the following, I’m indebted to Madeleine Kamman’s
superb volume The New Making of a Cook, as comprehensive
a guide to both recipes and science as you’ll find. “When
a piece of meat is seared and acquires a brown crust,” she
writes, “its natural juices travel toward the center of the
piece and concentrate there. After the meat is put to braise
in the oven, the pressure and the heat around the piece become
increasingly intense, causing the collagen to gelatinize.”
As the meat tenderizes, it also seems dry, but eventually
“the pressure of the steam . . . bears down on the meat fibers
and slowly pries them open; the meat juices now make their
way from the center of the piece to the outside, break through
the seared surface, and mix with the cooking stock.”
She recommends a red wine marinade that itself requires cooking.
Brown a mixture of sliced shallots, onion, celery, carrots
and parsley stems, add a bottle of dry red wine and simmer
for 20 minutes. Cool the mixture before adding the meat, then
let it sit in the fridge for a day or more, turning every
12 hours. Dry the meat, then sear it on all sides in a cast
iron skillet on the stovetop. Sauté a fonds de braise,
which comprises thick chunks of onion, carrots, garlic and
shallots. This forms the bottom layer of your braise assembly,
so you can do it right in the Dutch oven. Strain the marinade
and add the purple veggies to the fonds de braise.
Place the meat on top of this.
Kamman recommends reducing the marinade liquid by at least
half, although I had very little left when I used this recipe
recently. In any event, the liquid should be reheated and
sent through a fine strainer, then added to the braising pot.
Add some good stock—veal, chicken or, if you must, something
from a can or concentrate—to bring the liquid level halfway
up the meat height.
If your pot lacks a close-fitting lid, make one out of tinfoil
and put the lid on top of that. Set it in an oven preheated
to 325 degrees and cook for at least one and a half to two
hours, probably more, turning the meat several times. It’s
done when an inserted skewer meets no resistance.
Strain the cooking liquid and reduce it to make a sauce. Or
thicken it with a roux, which is a mixture of equal
quantities of butter and flour, one to two tablespoons of
each per cup of liquid to be thickened, cooked on the stovetop
until lightly browned, to which you add the still-hot braising
liquid, whisking until it’s a uniform consistency.
A lot of work? You bet. But the payoff is a meal more exotic
and flavorful than a costly steak, and one that will inspire
your guests to hail you as a culinary genius. At least, that’s
why I do it.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
World Bistro Bar (300
Delaware Ave., Albany) was one of only 16 restaurants
in the United States to win a 2010 Santé Restaurant
Award in the Innovative Food category. The 13-year-old
Santé Awards program is the only peer-judged national
restaurant competition in North America. Chef
consultant Ric Orlando previously won a Santé
Award in 2006 at his Saugerties restaurant, New
World Home Cooking. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland.