In Praise of Braising…

I am itchin’ to cook while in winter hibernation.  On Fat Tuesday, instead of pancakes, I prepared gumbo which my husband adores (see previous post from February 1, 2013 ‘Creole or Cajun’  for my recipe).  I was disappointed in the dish as I did not feel it met my usual standards.  It is now the season of Lent and I do not believe in giving anything up or making resolutions for that matter.  I did promise myself though, that from now on I will not be such a harsh critic of myself in the kitchen.  Bob loved it and all that really matters to me is that food I prepare tastes good.

Winter is almost over ~ well, at least in the meteorological sense (March 1st) but I am still preparing comfort food to warm the heart and feed the soul.  Braising is simple and practically foolproof.  Plus your house will smell divine.  How to, you ask?  The term braising comes from the French word braiser that is a method of combination cooking with dry and moist heat.  Most braises use the same basic steps of first searing the food (meat and/or vegetables) to brown and enhance the flavor.  A cooking liquid like wine or vinegar is then typically added along with stock for additional flavor and the dish is slow-cooked over a long period of time.  Who hasn’t made Grandma’s famous pot roast or prepared a one dish wonder in your crock pot?  Certainly the concept…

Seven years ago my husband gave me a recipe keeper.  It looks like a photo album with pocket envelopes and laminated pages for saving recipes.  I tore out so many  delectable dishes from magazines without installing them in the book that the binder fell apart before I ever organized it!  So I have decided to either prepare all of them or organize them by tossing them in the fire pit like my dear, amusing friend Linda.

Let’s be real about this though.  I probably had a thousand recipes I wanted to try so I sorted through them and pitched those that I no longer had an interest in or were just a variation on another recipe.  I do keep notes as my brain no longer has the capacity to store that much information.  Two recipes are to follow ~ one is fairly new that I tried and the other is an oldie but a goodie that I have been preparing since 1990.  Both are all about that bass, no treble; I mean braise…

ALI’S SLOW-COOKER PORK

Ingredients:

  • 2 t. smoked paprika*
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. fresh ground pepper
  • 1 3-1/2 to 4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder roast
  • 1 t. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 T. soy sauce
  • 1 t. crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups sliced onion
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

*Smoked paprika will add an outdoor smoky barbecue flavor.  Paprika is a spice that comes from air-dried fruits of chili peppers.  Specifically, Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón) comes from chili peppers that are dried by smoke using oak wood then ground into powder.  Worth the find.

Preparation:

  1. Combine paprika, salt and pepper; rub evenly over roast.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add pork to pan, browning on all sides.  Place pork in a slow cooker.
  2. Add stock and the next four ingredients to skillet; bring to a boil, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits.  Pour mixture over the pork; top roast with onion and garlic.
  3. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.  You may find the pork bone floating in the braising liquid when it is done.

You may want to reserve the liquid and add other flavors as well as a thickening agent to create a barbecue sauce.  The pork will be so tender that it will shred beautifully for sandwiches or tacos the next day.  Making a slaw to go with it isn’t such a bad idea either.

My friends Sebastiaan and Ariel run a farm to table business called The Farmers Hands in North Carolina (www.thefarmershands.com).  I have generated interest in their website through facebook.  Please read and learn.  I am waiting anxiously for them to begin raising pigs as they have promised fresh pork for me.  You think bacon is good that you buy packaged from the grocery store…ha!…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

When Bob and I were first married, we often spent Sunday mornings pouring over the New York Times.  I loved the food section of course and the magazine in the paper.  As I said earlier, I have been making the following recipe for a long time and have adapted it so many times that I can truly call it my own.  I made it for one of my first dinner parties and a guest spilled sauce on a brand new upholstered chair.  Our poor friend was mortified but I loved that mark.  For nearly 25 years, I could still see the stain and remember the fun we had!

lambshank2

ALI’S BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 T. canola oil
  • 4 lamb shanks, about 1/2 lb. each
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup red wine (any variety that you will drink will work, I use a Cabernet)
  • 3 celery ribs, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 quart fresh Ali’s fresh canned tomatoes, slightly drained (San Marzano will work too)
  • 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. fresh thyme leaves
  • Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the oil on medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven.*  Add the shanks and sear on all sides until browned.  Remove and set aside.  Lower heat and add onion and garlic; saute until onion is translucent.
  2. Add wine, increase heat and cook until liquid is reduced by half.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.  Return shanks to the pan.  Partly cover and simmer over low heat for 2-3 hours until meat is falling off the bone.**
  4. Remove the bay leaf.  Divide the shanks among individual plates.  Spoon sauce over each.  Garnish as desired with a sprig of rosemary or parsley.
  5. Serve over mashed potatoes, polenta, white beans or couscous…whatever your heart desires!

*I have prepared this dish in both a Le Creuset pan and a cast-iron deep-frying pan with a lid.

**I have cooked this dish by both simmering on the stove and in the oven at 275 degrees, covered, for the recommended length of time.

The lovely bonus of these dishes is that the time consumption lies only in the short preparation long before your guests arrive.  Slow and low leaves time for you to enjoy drinking wine with your friends by the fire…and isn’t that one of life’s simplest pleasures?

Bon Appétit!

ALI

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One comment

  1. Willem Zijp · · Reply

    Wonderful! Very good to see you back after your “rest”.

    Like

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