What's Happening in Kelli's Kitchen

  • 2021-12-05, 10:30 AM
  • Kelli Kelly
What's Happening in Kelli's Kitchen

Over the years, I have noted a fondness amongst culinary professionals for the humbler parts of the cow. The ones that require actual skill and technique in preparation to unlock their best qualities. Give me some oxtail, short ribs, or shanks to braise and I am a happy gal. With a bit of attention, most people can grill a steak. It is not hard to learn what temperatures coincide with levels of doneness, or even to learn to differentiate doneness based on touch. Season your steaks, control the heat, monitor internal temperature, let them rest before serving, and you can’t really go wrong. But a cut that is streaked through with connective tissues and tendons, with meat nestled in crooks and crannies of cartilage requires an understanding of technique in order to unlock the rich unctuousness hidden within. 

With Thanksgiving firmly behind us, now is the moment for the braise. Preheat those ovens, strap on an apron, roll up your sleeves and let’s learn to braise. I promise I will keep this simple to avoid feelings of inadequacy and culinary failures. 

There is a ton of science that comes into play with a braise, but I will save the specifics as my favorite editor tends to make disgruntled noises when I exceed my word limit. But there are a couple of key points to understand when building a braise. First, braising is a combination cooking method that integrates high-heat, fairly aggressive searing with low-heat, gentle, slow-cooking in a liquid. This combination allows for the ultimate in flavor development and ensures that the sinewy connective tissue transforms into melt-in-your-mouth gelatin. Seasoning your meat early and thoroughly helps not just with seasoning but also with breaking down the proteins, and you will absolutely want to include an acid (like red wine) in your liquids. 

Braising is an ideal way to cook a large piece of meat, especially bone-in cuts like shanks, short ribs, and roasts. The first step is to season your meat liberally with salt and pepper. After letting your meat sit for a bit sear it in a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan coated with a thin layer of flavor-neutral oil over medium to medium-high heat. Please withstand the urge to check your meat while you are searing, step away and do some prep of your braising vegetables and aromatics. Only return to turn the meat after giving it plenty of time for the magical Maillard reaction. Searing your meat completely and thoroughly can take 15-20 minutes and should not be rushed. Your braise will also benefit from browning your vegetables, a step that can be completed in the Dutch oven that you will use to slow cook. 

Once your meat is deliciously browned, set it aside for a few moments, dump out the oil and any accumulated juices in your searing pan and deglaze the pan. This is a perfect time to add in an acid. Pour in some red wine and use it to scrape up all of the brown bits that have gathered on the pan. Let the wine simmer to reduce and concentrate flavors. In the meantime, assemble all of the braise ingredients in a Dutch oven. Make a single layer of seared meat and browned vegetables, pour over the deglazing liquid, add in any herb aromatics, and enough additional liquid (water or stock) to come about a third of the way up the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover, and put into a preheated oven (the lower the temperature, the gentler and longer you will cook the braise).   

Walk away and enjoy the increasingly delicious aromas that seep out of your oven. The braise will need to cook until a touch causes the meat to fall off the bone or is “fork-tender” for bone-out cuts.  While the braise is in the oven, check it periodically to ensure that the liquid is sufficient to reach one-third of the way up your roast. Once your meat hits a core internal temperature of 185°, the magical point where sinew turns into gelatin, take it out of the oven.  

For a thicker, gravy-like sauce, puree up some of the braising vegetables and reduce on the stovetop until you reach your desired consistency. Before you serve, season to taste with salt and pepper. I highly recommend some crusty bread to soak up all of the delicious juices that will certainly be all that is remaining in your bowl after you devour the mouth-watering goodness that is a successful braise. 

I will leave you with these braise-inspired words penned by Mark Strand from his poem entitled “Pot Roast” 

 

I gaze upon the roast, 

that is sliced and laid out 

on my plate, 

and over it 

I spoon the juices 

of carrot and onion. 

And for once I do not regret 

the passage of time. 

Kelli Kelly

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