I love the chillier temperatures of late autumn and winter. The brisk air and snuggly sweaters make this my favorite time of year. I also especially love the food with the heartiness of big flavors and comforting textures. Cooking for my own family, for friends and clients is also great this time as everyone is actually hungry! People’s appetites are more timid in the warmer months, but when it is cold, everyone likes to eat.
This is the time of the year when long cooking dishes like short ribs, stews, soups and casseroles are a cook’s best friend. Not only can you create a satisfying, hearty meal, but long slow braises benefit from TLC. You can really tell when a cook has put some love into their braised dish; the end result has big succulent flavor and texture.
Here are some Chef’s hints to make your braised dish luscious and amazing. Braising is a term that describes a cooking technique. First the meat or sometimes vegetables are first browned in fat (olive oil, my favorite duck fat, or canola oil). Then the aromatics are browned, herbs, wine and stock are added to the mix and then the whole gorgeous concoction is covered in a heavy duty casserole or Dutch oven and cooked long and slow. Braises utilize the economy cuts of meat. These are the cheaper cuts that have a lot of connective tissue and are tougher cuts. They require a long, slow and low heat cooking session. The end result is a tender, richly flavored dish with meat that can be cut with a spoon.
The braising liquid is skimmed to remove the fat, and then reduced until it coats the back of a spoon. The flavors intensify and the sauce becomes a glaze. There are no short cuts when braising and the method will test any home cook's mettle, but there is big payback in flavor and texture.
Use aromatic vegetables. Onions, garlic, fennel and celery all have big flavor and add greatly to a dish. These aromatics are the back bone of a good braise. I like to add carrots, turnips and tons of fresh herbs. A bouquet garni is your secret weapon for a richly and deeply flavored dish. Fresh herbs are tied together and added to the mix. They release their flavor and add an earthy essence. I like to use a good quality wine when I braise. For heavier beef cuts of meat, I use red wine. For poultry and vegetables like mushrooms and root vegetables, I use white wine.
The important thing here is to only use a wine that you would drink. So called Cooking Wines are not palatable and not of good quality. Remember each ingredient going into the dish must be good unto itself. There is no amount of cooking time that will make up for inferior wine. I also only use homemade stocks. Richly flavored and with tons of body, I know when I use a homemade stock in a braise, the sauce will end up intensely flavored and delicious.
The most important step in braising is browning the protein. Browning the meat, poultry or vegetables creates deep, rich and intensely flavored food. The natural sugars caramelize and the surface of the meat becomes crispy resulting in a multi-textured dish. No, this step does not seal in the juices-it just makes it taste better.
Whenever I teach classes and demonstrate a braised dish, the first thing I am asked is if the browning step can be skipped. The answer is NO. You can certainly skip the browning and get dinner on the table, but the dish will not be deeply and richly flavored. Browning is essential and it may take a bit more effort, but it is worth it.
So, bring on the winter weather and the snow and the cold. I am going into the kitchen to make satisfying soups, stews and my favorite short ribs and Osso Buco.
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Osso Buco-with Gremolata (braised veal shanks)Serves 6
This is my absolute favorite cold weather treat. The rich veal combined with the bright-fresh flavors of the gremolata are a winning combination. The sparkly gremolata clears your palate and keeps you wanting more. Osso Buco can be made a day ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve the Osso buco with pumpkin risotto, garlicky mashed potatoes or smashed white beans.
¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms, processed into dust in a blender or food processor
¼ cup flour
Olive oil for sautéing
6 meaty veal shanks, tied around the middle horizontally
1 large Spanish onion, cut into large dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
1 large fennel bulb, fronds cut off, and diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups rich chicken or veal stock
Salt and pepperGremolata
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 300 F-148 Celsius.
2. Mix the mushroom dust with the flour. Season the veal shanks with salt and pepper.
3. Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven to medium heat. Lightly coat the
pan with olive oil. Dredge the flat sides of the veal shanks in the
flour mixture. Sear each side of the dredged meat until golden brown and
caramelized (about 10 minutes). Remove the veal and set aside. Brown
the vegetables in batches (add more oil if necessary) until all the
vegetables are browned (Be careful not to over brown the garlic).
4. Add more oil to the pan and brown the tomato paste (about 3 minutes).
Add the rest of the ingredients and the veal and vegetables back to the
pan. Cover the pan and braise the veal until the meat is very soft
(about 2 1/2 hours).
5. Carefully, remove the veal shanks from the pan. Strain the braising
juices into a saucepan and press on the vegetables to get all the
delicious sauce. Discard the vegetables. Reduce the braising liquid
until it is very thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
6. Remove the string from the veal and place the veal on a platter.
Spoon the hot braising liquid over the veal. Dollop with gremolataFor the gremolata:
Place the zests, parsley, garlic and olive oil in a food processor or
blender. Process until the mixture resembles a coarse paste.
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