When the weather turns cold here in the North East, one of my favorite cooking methods is to braise. Braising is the easiest cooking method, in that it takes only a timer to tell you when the oven or stove-top braising time is done and you can deliver a succulent result to your dinner table.
The cookware you need to braise meats, fish or vegetables is commonly called a "Dutch oven", Typically a heavy pan with straight or curved sides and a tight fitting lid that seals securely. Therein lies the key - not letting any air escape from the pan while the food is braising. Le Creuset pans are available in a variety of colors - my current favorite color is "Caribbean"
A very popular size of Le Creuset is the 5 qt. Wide Oval Dutch Oven (see photo below) Great for most stews, braised dishes, small roasts that yield four to six servings. I have prepared several meals using this pan. Note in the photos of the pork roast and the butternut soup there is a bag of fresh herbs. I use Melitta loose tea brewing bags to hold fresh herbs when adding to soups and stews - easy to remove the bag of herbs when cooking is done:
Why you will love to cook with Le Creuset
What to Braise
Meats: Veal, lamb or pork shanks; beef brisket, boneless pork loin, thick cut pork chops; short ribs,
Fish: Halibut, swordfish, whole snapper, whole salmon
Vegetables: leeks; fennel; celery; carrots, parsnips, shallots.
The Basic Method of Braising
Meat and/or vegetables are first stove-top lightly browned in butter or oil. A amount of liquid (water, wine, stock) that comes halfway up the sides of the meat or vegetables is added, the pan is tightly covered and then slow-cooked in a pre-heated oven at 350 ° F. for 2 hours or more depending on the cut and size of meat used. The slow braising gently breaks down the fibrous tissue in the protein or vegetables being cooked and the foods own juices are released. Alternatively, you can also braise on top of the stove over a low heat, but I feel that the long slow oven method yields a better braised dish.
The ever-popular Italian dish of braised veal shanks (Osso Buco - "bone with a hole") is my all-time favorite, traditionally served with Risotto Milanese. For Osso Buco, try to buy the hind portion of the shanks if possible because the hind shank is meatier than the fore shank and for those like me who just love to eat the marrow from the round bone, the hind shank bone contains more of it! Another favorite meat to braise are lamb shanks. Similar ingredients to those used for Osso Buco, but I like to use red wine with the lamb and white wine for the veal.
Professional chefs always have on hand beef, veal and chicken stocks, which they add to their dishes making them "restaurant quality" and superb tasting - especially when used in sauces, stews or braised dishes. You can have the same "restaurant quality" results without having to spend hours making home-made stocks and then reducing them to a glace. I have been using More Than Gourmet reduced stocks for many years. They are being sold in more and more specialty food stores around the country and are also available on their website at www.morethangourmet.com to see the complete line of reduced stocks.
In a Dutch Oven or other braising style pan (with a tight fitting lid) heat the olive until almost smoking. In the meantime, dry veal shanks with paper towel and then dredge in the seasoned flour.
When oil is hot, brown the veal shanks on all sides (lower heat slightly to prevent burning). When browned, remove from pan and add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic to the pan and sauté until the onion and celery are wilted but not browned.
Add the wine and herbs to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any stuck on particles. Return the veal shanks to the pot and distribute the vegetables evenly around the shanks. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaves and salt and black pepper.
Cover pan tightly and simmer over low heat on the stovetop for about 1½ hours. If you prefer, you can braise the veal shanks in a heated 350°F oven for the same amount of time.
Remove lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking time -- stovetop or oven method. This will help the sauce to reduce and thicken slightly. Remove bay leaves and fresh herbs. Serve each veal shank with some sauce and vegetables and sprinkle on Gremolata. Don't forget to enjoy the marrow inside of each round bone. A delicacy not to be missed. There are special "marrow spoons" for removing the marrow from the bone, but using your knife will work just as well.
Combine ingredients for Gremolata. Place in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate until needed. Sprinkle on each portion of Osso Buco just before serving - can be used for Lamb shank and other braised recipes.
Heat oven to 350° F.
Heat oil in a Dutch Oven or other braising style casserole suitable for the stove top and the oven. Dry lamb shanks with paper towel and then dredge in seasoned flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and brown lamb shanks (without crowding the pan) until browned on all sides.
Remove browned shanks to a plate and reserve. In the oil remaining, sauté the onion, carrot, celery, leek, fennel and garlic until the onion and celery are wilted about 10 minutes.
Add red wine and veal demi-glace to the pan and de-glaze, scraping up any of the browned bits. Return lamb shanks to the pan and distribute the vegetables evenly around the shanks. Add the crushed tomatoes and fresh herbs. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover pan tightly and place in the heated oven for 2½ to 3 hours.
Remove lamb shanks from pan to a plate. Remove and discard the sprigs of thyme and rosemary. If you'd like a smooth sauce, remove solids (carrot celery) and puree the solids and return to the pan juices. If you like a more rustic textured sauce, leave as is. If you allow the liquids to sit in the pan undisturbed, the excess fat will rise to the surface and you will be able to skim off any excess fat. Return lamb shanks to the sauce and re-heat if necessary before serving.
Classic White Beans
Soak dried white beans overnight in cold water. Drain and discard water.
In a 4 quart saucepan, add fresh water, soaked beans, onion, bay leave and thyme. Gently simmer covered until beans are tender. About 1½ hours. Remove onion and herbs and drain beans from liquid. Reserve until needed to serve with braised lamb shanks.
Recommended side dishes: If you don't like white beans, garlic mashed potatoes or mashed potatoes mixed with prepared horseradish to taste go well with the lamb shanks. Mashed Rutabaga also is delicious with the braised lamb shanks. As with the Osso Buco, a vegetable side dish is not necessary due to the vegetables in the braise. The Gremolata garnish is delicious on the braised lamb shanks as well as on Osso Buco.
Braised Beef Brisket
I like to use the first cut of the beef brisket - it's thinner than the center or end cut of brisket from which corned beef is usually made. An average thin cut brisket is approximately 3 to 4 pounds which is sufficient to feed 4 to 6 people.
Sear the fresh brisket in a heavy Dutch oven on both sides until well browned. Sprinkle one package of dried Lipton Onion Soup Mix on top and around the brisket Add one 14 oz. can of stewed tomatoes, and one medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced to the pan. Add 4 whole peeled garlic cloves, lightly crushed. Finally, add 2 cups of water to the pan; one cup of dry red wine, and one 1-1./2 oz. puck of More Than Gourmet Veal Demi-Glace
Cover the pan tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil so that no steam can escape while braising the brisket. Put in a heated 350°F oven, and braise for 2-1/2 hours to 3 hours - if the brisket is 4 lbs or more, add an additional 1/2 hour to the braising time.
Remove pan from oven, uncover and let meat rest in the pan juices for 20 minutes. Remove meat (scrape off any bits of tomato or onions into the pan) to a carving board and continue to let meat rest. In the meantime, purée the solids (along with some liquid) from the pan juices in a blender or food processor. Return purée to remaining juices in pan. Bring pan juices to a boil on the stove top; let sauce cook over high heat to slightly reduce and thicken for about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning balance - the sauce should be salty enough but I like to add freshly ground black pepper. Turn off heat.
Slice brisket into thin slices across the grain. Place sliced brisket into the sauce in the roasting pan. Serve immediately or let sit, covered in a low oven to keep warm until serving.
Recommended Side Dishes
Braised dishes are comforting and therefore require accompaniments that are just as comforting. Osso Buco is mostly served with Risotto Milanese, but when in Rome, I had Osso Buco served with white beans which was delicious.
Braised Lamb Shanks are delicious with mashed sweet potato seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper, haricots vert (French green beans) cooked for 4 minutes and lightly buttered.
Bitter Greens such as Broccoli Rabe, blanched and then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes go well with most any braised meats.
Garlic mashed potato with chopped chives and julienne of fried zucchini are also a favorite to serve with braised lamb, veal or beef dishes.
Braised Beef Brisket demands potato pancakes with home made apple sauce.