How was your Thanksgiving? Are you all turkeyed out? After our dinner (do you call it dinner when you start eating at 4:30?), I made stock from our carcass – it’s nice and jiggly and nestled in the freezer, waiting for a starring role in my next soup.
The only rule in braising is to go low and slow. With a little (a lot of) patience, even the toughest cuts of meat end up spoon tender. In my former life as a medical student, the mantra “low and slow” referred to correcting a patient’s sodium when you’re in the hospital — too fast and you risk central nerve damage and lots of bad stuff. Good thing I left that world…these days if (when?) I’m impatient, I just end up with tough meat.
The basic techniques are (in approximate chronological order):
1) Sear the meat in a big cast iron pot (like an enamel-coated dutch oven, or, in French, a cocotte) – this seals the juices inside.
2) Deglaze – after taking the seared meat out, scrape up all the good stuff with liquid (wine, stock, etc.).
3) Add the meat back to the pot with the liquid and the “fond de braise” – aromatics (usually mirepoix vegetables, i.e., onion, celery, carrot) and herbs.
4) “Swiss” with tomato paste - swissing is a fancy way to say tenderizing, and the acid in tomato paste helps break down the meat.
5) Cover the pot tightly with “the inverted lid of foil” – in case you’ve never heard that term (I sure hadn’t), you first lay a large sheet of parchment directly on the food, letting the ends drape over the edges of the pot. Then put a large sheet of aluminum foil right on top of the parchment, again draping the ends over the edges. Then place a heavy lid over the layers of parchment and foil. Be sure not to place the foil directly on the food because it will galvanize (forget the science…the foil corrodes onto the food…not so appetizing).
6) Braise in a low set at 300°F – 325°F (you can also braise on low heat on the stove top, but using the oven allows for more even heating).
7) The meat is ready when it slides easily off a wooden skewer or toothpick; if it sticks, it’s not ready yet.
8 ) If you are thickening liquid for gravy by adding flour, make sure to boil the mixture so that the flour can expand, resulting in a smooth gravy.
Well, lesson done, let’s get on to the recipes Four recipes in fact. Short ribs. Ossobucco. Sea bass with fennel. And cabbage.
Cabbage? you ask. Yes, cabbage. You’ll see.
Braised shortribs with sour cherries
- 16 2-inch long pieces of beef short ribs (~5 lbs) – get ones with a nice amount of meat on them
- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of your pot)
- 1 1/2 C red wine – Côtes du Rhône or Cab
- 1/4 C flour
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 1/2 t salt (to taste)
- 8 garlic cloves
- 8 large shallots
- 1 1/4 C dried sour cherries
Prep. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Bring ribs to room temperature and season with salt and pepper on all sides. Peel garlic and shallots.
Sear. Heat oil in a cocotte over medium-high heat. In batches, sear the seasoned ribs on all sides. Remove meat and pour remaining oil out of the cocotte.
Deglaze. Add wine to the cocotte and scrape up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon, Don’t forget the sides of the pot. Reduce wine by a half down to 3/4 C.
Thicken. Add flour to the wine and stir to make a paste. Then add stock and bring to a boil, whisking until smooth.
Braise. Add ribs, meat side down into the pot. Cover with an inverted lid of foil (i.e., parchment and foil, as above) and then the pot cover. Bring to a simmer and then transfer to oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Add more stuff. Add salt, garlic cloves, and shallots, cover, and return to the oven. Cook for another 1/2 hour or so.
Add a bit more stuff. Add the cherries, partially cover (you can remove the inverted lid of foil and just use the pot’s cover), and braise another 15-20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the meat comes out with no resistance.
Serve. Arrange ribs on a plate. Strain the liquid and reduce it to concentrate the flavors if you’d like (we didn’t because we ran out of time). Cover the ribs with cherries, garlic, and shallots. Use a turkey baster to draw liquid from the bottom (leaving the layer of fat on the top) and drizzle the liquid over the top.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
- 8 veal shanks
- 1/4 C flour
- 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 C dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce canned tomatoes
- 1 strip orange rind
- pinch saffron
- 1 1/2 t dried basil
- 1/4 C parsley (flat leaf, not curly)
- 2 C chicken or veal stock
- salt and pepper, to taste
- orange and lemon for garnish (optional)
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 t parsley
- 1 lemon
- 1 anchovy (optional)
Prep. Heat oven to 325ºF. Finely chop the carrot and onion. Mince the garlic. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Remove a wide, thin strip of orange rind. For the garnish, remove rind from 1 oranges and 1 lemon and julienne. There should be no bitter white pith on the rinds.
Sear. Lightly flour the veal shanks. Heat 3 T olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of the pot) and brown the shanks on all sides. Remove the shanks and pour off any remaining oil.
Saute. Return pot to stove, cover bottom with the remaining 3 T oil. Saute the carrot and onion until soft. Add garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes (garlic can burn easily, so don’t add it until the end).
Deglaze. Add wine, scrape up the good stuff, and boil over high heat until reduced by half. Add tomatoes, slice of orange rind, saffron, basil, chopped parsley, and stock. Season with salt and pepper, and then return shanks to the pot.
Braise. Cover pot with an inverted lid of foil (including the parchment first, as above) and lid, and braise for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until skewer slides out of the meat easily.
Make gremolata. Finely chop garlic, parsley, and anchovy (or use anchovy paste). Zest half the lemon. Mix garlic, parsley, anchovy, and lemon zest.
Serve. Remove the shanks for the liquid and place in a shallow bowl. Reduce the cooking juices until thickened. Add half the gremolata and simmer for a minute. Pour reduced juices over the shanks. Sprinkle with remaining gremolata and with citrus julienne rinds. Don’t forget to dig into the marrow.
Sea bass over braised fennel
I am an anti-licorice kinda gal. I don’t like tarragon, strong basil, arak, or fennel. That said, this is the second fennel recipe that I’ve discovered that I actually like. Braising the fennel sweetens the bulb and removes some of that anise flavor.
- 2 large fennel bulbs (including fronds)
- 1 large onion
- 1/2 t anchovy paste
- 4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 C chicken, fish, or vegetable broth
- 1/4 – 1/2 t dried red chili pepper flakes
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 4 5-ounce skinless sea bass fillets (3/4 inch thick), bones removed
Prep. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Cut fronds (the green dill-looking ends) and stalks off of bulb. Throw out stalks. Quarter fennel bulbs lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Chop fennel fronds until you have about 2T (these will be for garnish). Cut the onion two different ways (you’ll be using it in two different parts of the dish: cut half into 1/4-inch slices, and finely chop the other half. Ideally, buy the fish already skinned. If you buy it with the skin and want to do it the hard way, place the fish skin-side down on a cutting board, slide a filleting knife (very thin and flexible) just above the skin and peel off a skin tag long enough to grasp. Hold on to the skin and slide your knife between the skin and flesh at a 45° angle to the board, almost scraping off the skin. Maintain the tension to help separate the planes. I wish you good luck – I’m not brave enough to try it!
Braise. In a skillet, stir fennel and onion slices and anchovy paste in 2 T oil over moderate heat for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add broth, and braise covered until vegetables are covered, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Uncover and boil. When the fennel is tender, uncover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated — about 10 more minutes. Transfer fennel mixture to a shallow baking dish (ceramic or glass).
Saute in parallel. While the fennel is braising, cook the chopped onion, red pepper flakes, and salt with remaining 2T oil in another skillet over moderate heat. Stir occasionally and cook until onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick. This should take another 10-15 minutes.
Bake. Arrange fish fillets on top of the fennel mixture in baking dish. Spoon tomato sauce over fish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, and then cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake until fish is just cooked through (falls off a skewer) – about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds.
Braised red cabbage
- 2 large onions
- 1 medium head red cabbage
-2-3 T unsalted butter
- 2 red wine
- 3 T brown sugar
- 2 C orange juice (ideally, freshly squeezed…but, really, who are we kidding?)
- salt and pepper
Prep. Quarter, core, and shred the cabbage. Julienne the onions.
Cook. Melt butter over medium heat and cook onions until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
Braise. Stir in cabbage, wine, sugar, orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until tender – about 45-60 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.