by contributing author Shomit Datta (the brother I’ll be talking too much about)
Braising is a cooking method that developed out of necessity. It has developed out of a need to cook tough cuts of meat and make them palatable. Long ago, when butchers made their money on the choice cuts, they brought the tough cuts and innards home to eat or else they would get thrown away. What evolved is what we now see in haute cuisine as they HAD to learn what to do with all the, as Anthony Bourdain calls it, “the tough, squiggly and unloved-the nasty bits.” Tough cuts of meat either have little intra-muscular fat (which gives quality cuts their tenderness and flavour) or a more sinewy muscle fibre. These cuts, through methods like braising, break down these tough fibres into much-loved dishes like Osso Bucco, Braised Short Ribs, Oxtail Ragout, Sauce Bolognese, Blanquette de Veau, Coq Au Vin, and many more. Lets move on from our history lesson and into the present.
Let’s get something straight from the beginning: Braising is not the same as boiled meats. First of all, and this is maybe a future topic, but you should never ‘boil’ your meat or stocks. It makes them tough and cooks the flavour right out. Back to braising…lesson number two: you do not boil when braising. You are coaxing flavour through a time-honoured tradition of gently simmering tougher cuts in a flavourful liquid that is studded with aromatic herbs and vegetables. You are creating levels and depth of flavour through a multi step production where the meats are first sauteed, then removed from the pan, then the aromatics are added, then herbs, then the braising liquid and then the meat is once again added to braise for anywhere from 1-3 hours. The result is a deep, soulful meal where a once tough, and flavourless cut of meat transforms into a texture and flavour that cannot be reached by the abomination that is microwave cookery (synonymous with murdering your food).
So how can the average person prepare such a time-consuming meal when the current trend of rush rush, eat your mush lifestyle invades our kitchens? It is easy and to prove it, I will show you how you can make a wonderful braised dish with 30-45 minutes prep time. The beauty of braising is that once the pot is on the stove to braise, you need not touch it. Actually, it is preferred that you not disturb the wonder that is happening inside of your dutch oven. Go spend time with your family, do some laundry, help your kids with their homework before supper or go downstairs and maybe make good on the promise that you were going to use your new treadmill as something other than a $1500 clothesline.
Lets get started with a generic, easy to follow method (I shudder when using the term recipe) that will give you the tools from which to improvise and create magic…all within our 30-45 minute window.
Dutch Oven (enamel coated cast iron is best when possible- go dig it out of the wedding gifts left unopened, you’ll be glad you didn’t regift this along with the rolodex picture frame) Hey, didn’t your sister give you one of those? -Yummy Mummy
Cutting Board (one for meat and one for vegetable is preferred but not absolutely necessary)
One sharp chef’s knife (don’t try to use a paring knife or a small utility knife – your knuckles will never forgive you)
One Pot Roast or equally tough cut of meat
Vegetable for mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery in a 2/1/1 ratio)
Bay Leaf (dried will do)
Rosemary (Fresh preferred)
Thyme (Fresh preferred)
Parsley (Only Fresh)
Kosher or Sea Salt
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
One bottle of red wine (go cheap but refrain from Boone’s farm…this isn’t college!)
Olive Oil (extra virgin)
Some flour for dredging
Let’s get cooking…
- Dice all of your mirepoix, set aside in a big bowl. HINT: Start with the onion (1 medium to large should do it), then dice up 1/2 the amount of carrot and same amount of celery. Half inch dice works, but you can experiment based on your taste. Then finely dice, or brunoise, 1-2 medium size cloves garlic. Set aside, apart from mirepoix. You can either chop herbs at this point or else use them whole, tied together as in a bouquet garni. You can also use a combination of the two.
- Put Dutch Oven on the stove and bring up to heat on medium-high setting. Do NOT add oil yet.
- Cut your meat into 2 inch cubes. Dredge with flour well seasoned with sea salt and cracked pepper. Make sure meat is throughly coated. Shake off excess flour.
- Add oil into pot. Add meat into pot. Do not touch the meat yet. Let it brown, leaving the tasty bits on the bottom of the pot (known as ‘fond’-the foundation of flavour).
- Once meat is browned on all sides, remove and put on a plate.
- Turn heat down to medium.
- Add mirepoix, tomato paste (2-3 tablespoons will do it) and bay leaf to pot. Stir slowly. You can add some salt at this stage (not too much as flavours intensify over time) to bring out the juices in the vegetables. Add Garlic two minutes into stirring. Once vegetables have sweated and their flavours have started to meld together into an aromatic dream…add the meat a and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Open wine, pour yourself a glass (you deserve it) and then pour enough wine to cover browned meat and veggie mixture that has already ignited salivary glands for a two block radius. Take your wooden spoon and scrape the bottom of the pan. Get those carmelized bits off the bottom and into the liquid. If using a bouquet garni, add at this time. If using fresh chopped rosemary, thyme and parsley in addition to the bouquet, reserve until the last 20 minutes before braising is complete.
- Make sure the pot is simmering, not boiling, and then cover for 2-3 hours.
20 minute before the end of cooking, add freshly chopped herbs and salt to taste if needed.
Serve with good bread, over rice or with mashed potatoes.
This was a VERY simple version of braised beef. I recommend saving braising for a Sunday meal so you can experiment with different cuts (veal shin bone, oxtail, short ribs, capon) all kinds of herbs, vegetables, mushrooms and things like anchovy (excellent in osso busso). You can also get your family involved. Sunday meals are a great tradition around the world and some quality family time can be spent as you create memories of cooking together for a big family supper. If you are planning this mid week…as you can see it still can be done and done well. Do plan for a later supper time than normal (8-8:30pm is a common supper time in places like Spain, India, Portugal so think of it as an international night for the fam.)