Good to the bone
Use braising to prepare a deliciously simple meal
After doing a few chores outside in the early afternoon this past weekend, I got a spring-like feeling and pushed my kids out the door while announcing we were going to walk the Colorado Riverfront Trail.
Temperatures were up, the sun was shining and winter thoughts were absent. My daughter elected to ride her bike, and my teenage son begrudgingly sauntered behind us.
The sunshine felt warm and wonderful on my skin and we walked for hours, longer than intended. As soon as clouds began filling the sky, the feeling of winter returned, and it was time to head home and think about dinner. The chill made me crave something warm, hearty and comforting.
While I have free rein to make what I want for dinner, I routinely ask for suggestions when my brain is idle and lacking creativity. Often the kids propose something a lot easier to prepare than what I would have created. So when my daughter requested a simple braised dish, I yelled, “Game on!”
I found her request amusing as it is one she makes quite often during the colder months. She doesn’t have a name for it, or know the cooking method, but always describes it as the dinner I make where I cook a piece of meat a long time in the oven in my favorite pot, then I shred the meat and serve it with its sauce over noodles.
It is an easy meal to prepare and can be altered quickly depending on what we have on hand at home. Its simplicity and consistent approval from my family produces a happy mom.
Winter is undeniably the best time to turn to braising because it brings out the best in many foods, warms the kitchen and those eating. Braising combines both dry and moist cooking methods, similar to stewing but even simpler in that it requires less prep.
Stewing in general, unlike traditional braising, entails chopping meat into large bite-size portions, searing the meat in batches to ensure even browning and then submerging and simmering it in some type of cooking liquid.
However, with most braised dishes that include meat, the selected cut is left whole or at least in large portions. The meat is seared as one piece, then cooked in a covered pot in just enough liquid to allow it to simmer and steam until it is mouth-watering tender and easily shredded or chopped.
The cooking time varies depending on the type of meat you choose to braise. With tougher cuts, an extended cooking time breaks down the connective, fibrous tissue, resulting in a moist tender dish.
Braising cannot be rushed. Yes, I have tried.
It also is not just a method for cooking meat. It’s an excellent choice for a lot of produce such as artichokes, cabbage, celery, carrots, fennel, potatoes, turnips and beans.
I discovered a wonderful braised celery dish a while back that is simple to make and concentrates the flavor of the celery uniquely well. The final dish is elegant and pairs beautifully with creamy mashed potatoes.
That being said, I was born a carnivore and love to braise meat. I grew up eating braised rabbit, however you can use any type of meat for braising including chicken, pheasant, turkey, pork, elk, bison, beef or lamb.
My favorite is beef chuck roast. This inexpensive, large cut of marbleized beef is centered around a bone. It becomes silky tender after simmering in wine, broth, water or a combination thereof for about 2–3 hours.
A few moments of gathering ingredients, preheating the oven and a little prep on the stove allows you a few hours of hands-off cooking and time to relax. The braising aromas fill the house, and the hardest part is waiting.
I have made this recipe dozens of times, maybe even more. I have substituted lamb, pork, beef shoulders and beef roasts for the meat and altered the wine, herbs and onions and garlic. Try this recipe once, then use it as a guide while substituting as you like.
Be sure to keep the amounts relatively equal to the original recipe to retain balance and the necessary amount of liquid. Always leave the lid on while cooking and be sure to check the level of the liquid every half hour or so to prevent drying out.
My family prefers this dish served on top hot egg noodles, but it is delicious on mashed potatoes, rice or creamy polenta.
Now, let’s get cooking!