January 30th, 2011
Ok. Here it is. I’ve been promising this one for a long time, and have finally gotten around to it.
Braising is a great thing to know how to do, and once you get a feel for the general technique you can apply it to all sorts of meats and even veg. There are lots of different attitudes about braising. Michael Psilakis has a recipe for braising goat that involves LOTS of liquid. To me, braising is a pretty dry affair though. Quite distinct from stewing, which is another way to slowly slowly make tougher meats fall apart and be delicious!
That is the crux of the thing. Braising allows you to render otherwise tough meats completely tender. Lamb shanks are the perfect first thing to try, because there’s really very little else you can do with them!! They are simply some of the nicest meat on the lamb, and yet are super cheap here in the U.S., because no one seems to know how to cook them! We WIN!
So here’s how it goes. Don’t blink, it’s pretty simple.
Liberally salt and pepper the lamb. In a nice heavy pan, brown the meat in some oil. Pull it out and reserve. Immediately, toss garlic and mirepoix (that’s french for celery, carrots, and onion) into the oil. Saute the veg until it gets a little tender. You’ll notice that JUST the liquid from the veg goes a long way to deglazing much of the meaty bits that are browned onto the pan. Deglaze the pan properly by adding some red wine. Arrange the meat in the pan. Salt and pepper. Add herbs (in this case I used thyme and rosemary). Cover it up and put it in a nice slow oven. 275 or so. 300 maybe. I don’t know, my oven dial isn’t accurate.
That’s it. You’re done. Now you just wait. I suggest napping with your dog.. or perhaps taking a nice bath with a glass of bourbon. Doesn’t matter. You’ll find something good to do. One of the great things about braising is that it really does the work on its own. You can get it going, and then have plenty of time to clean up the kitchen, and do prep work for whatever else you’re eating, without having to worry too much about the last minute timing of the meat.
How long it takes will depend on the size of the piece of meat, and the actual temperature that you landed on! But count on three hours or so. Nice and slow.
Once you’ve got a handle on this technique, you can start inventing.. Sometimes for a nice mexican braised pork, I’ll brown a shoulder rubbed with cumin, and braise it over celery and onions, using Lime and Tequila as the liquid. Same technique, totally different outcome.
Short ribs love to be braised. Brisket! DUCK LEGS!!!
So, the fundamentals are.. browned meat, some sort of veg content (usually some variation on mirepoix), and a little liquid (it helps if the liquid has some acid content), heavy dutch oven type pot with a tight fitting lid. Low low temperature, for a long time. That’s it.
I won’t go into the potatoes and chard here. Pretty self explanatory. But I will just mention the mint pesto. Last night was the first time I did it this way, and it was really pretty wonderful. Mint, fresh lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and *gasp* a little sugar. Zizz it up in a food processor and eat. Do this right before you serve so that the pesto doesn’t go all dark and unappealing.
Let me know if I left anything out.
OH, as a side note: Sam Amidon stopped by while I was editing this, to talk about some music videos that I’m going to make for him. We decided to throw “Way go Lily” on the top to see how it felt. He loved it.. thought it had the vibe of a Kanye remix. Sam is a tremendous artist, and you can listen to that track and others on his website. (Once you’re there, if you follow the videos link, you’ll find a video that I made for him YEARS ago).
UPDATE! Holly asked if there was anything worthwhile to do with the leftover mirepoix/brazing liquid. There is, for SURE. If you skim off some of the fat (no all), and then toss the whole mess into a food processor, you can zizz it into a really tasty sauce. Return it to the pan after processing, pour in a bit of cream, put a little heat under it, and let it reduce just a little. Refresh it with a little fresh thyme. It’s not the prettiest stuff in the world.. Sort of an orange brown gook. But SUPER tasty.