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Praising Braising

October 22, 2009 By:
Linda Morel
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WHAT'S COOKING?

Braising is back in style. Dormant for decades, it's a skill that has become trendy on the Food Network and in cooking magazines. Yet it's a method that my grandmother used nearly every night when she made dinner. If she were still alive, she'd laugh at braising's new status.

Contradictory in nature, braising entails searing food in fat at a high temperature, and then slow-cooking it on a low flame in a covered pot containing some amount of liquid.

Preferably heavy-duty, the pot is either placed on the stove or inside the oven during the slow cooking segment. The best braising liquids are comprised of some kind of stock, which becomes more assertive by a dash of citrus juice, tomato paste or wine.

Sometimes, a gravy or sauce is poured into the braising pot at the end -- depending on the recipe or how fancy you want to get. But adding extra steps defeats the purpose of braising, which began as a one-pot dish.

Coq au vin from France and Italy's Osso Bucco are examples of braising at its finest. Brisket is the most famous Jewish contribution to the genre.

As the days turn cooler, I am turning to this type of cooking. It's a technique that I employ with a myriad of foods. Most vegetables, meat and fish braise well, with the exception of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, which turn into hockey pucks.

The advantages to braising are many. Braised foods can be made in advance, and they wind up melting on the tongue, no matter how tough they were at the start.

I believe wholeheartedly in experimenting with braising. You really can't braise food badly -- unless, of course, you burn it. I guarantee anything you sear and simmer will taste scrumptious.

My first leap into braising without a recipe entailed searing slices of new potatoes and onions in olive oil, before dousing them with beef stock and wine. What could be easier than that? I then graduated to short ribs.

Here are some recipes with specific instructions that I've developed over the years through memories of my grandmother playing around with the ingredients already in her fridge.

Braised Chicken and Vegetables
(Meat)

2 chicken bouillon cubes 
2 large zucchini 
2 parsnips 
2 celery stalks 
2 bunches of carrots 
5 shallots 
4 garlic cloves 
2 split chicken breasts with bones (four pieces) 
4 chicken legs 
4 chicken thighs 
1 cup flour, or more, if needed 
kosher salt to taste 
white pepper to taste 
1/2 tsp. ground thyme 
nonstick vegetable spray 
5 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed 
2 bay leaves 
1 cup dry Vermouth 
2 Tbsps. chopped parsley

Dissolve the bouillon cubes in 4 cups of boiling water.

Clean and cut the vegetables into large dice. Chop the shallots and garlic. Reserve in a large bowl.

Rinse the chicken pieces under cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Cut chicken breasts in half. (You'll now have 8 breast pieces.)

Pour the flour into a plastic bag. Place 3 to 4 pieces of chicken at a time in the bag and shake until coated with flour. Sprinkle these pieces with salt, pepper and thyme. Reserve on a platter.

Generously coat the bottom and sides of a Dutch oven with nonstick spray.

On a medium flame, heat 4 tablespoons of oil in the Dutch oven. Add enough chicken pieces to cover the bottom of the pot. Brown on both sides. Remove browned pieces to a clean platter, and continue until all pieces are browned and piled on the platter. Add more oil, if necessary.

Pour excess fat and oil into a heat-proof container. Discard when cool. On a low flame, add 1/4 cup of chicken broth to the Dutch oven and scrape to loosen any clumps that stuck. Discard this broth and the clumps.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of oil into Dutch oven, spreading evenly.

Place half of the vegetable-shallot mixture into the Dutch oven.

Cover vegetables with half of the chicken pieces.

Continue layering until all vegetables and chicken are in the pot.

Insert bay leaves. Pour in the Vermouth and enough chicken broth to cover ingredients three-quarters of the way up.

Cover the pot, and simmer on a medium flame about 20 to 25 minutes, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced at a joint with a knife.

Discard the bay leaves.

This recipe can be made to this point two days in advance, refrigerated, and then reheated.

Serve in a rimmed platter.

Cover chicken and vegetables with some of the gravy and pour the rest into a gravy boat.

Sprinkle parsley over platter.

Serve with rice.

Serves 6 to 9.

Braised Brussels Sprouts and Lemon Zest
(Pareve)

1 package Brussels sprouts, about 1 lb. 
2 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed 
kosher salt to taste 
3 cloves garlic, squeezed through a garlic press or minced very fine 
1/3 cup dry white wine 
1/3 cup water 
1 lemon for zesting

Cut off the stumps of Brussels sprouts and remove tough outer leaves. Rinse sprouts under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet.

Place sprouts in oil, sprinkling with salt. Raise flame to medium-high and sear until brown. Stir continuously to avoid burning.

Add the garlic and stir continuously, until translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in the wine and water.

Cover skillet and simmer on a low flame until most of the liquid disappears and sprouts are fork-tender, about 30 minutes.

Strain out remaining liquid and place sprouts in a serving bowl.

Zest the skin of at least half the lemon over Brussels sprouts and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Braised Red Potatoes and Onions
(Meat or Pareve)

2 bouillon cubes: beef or vegetable 
4 red potatoes 
2 medium-sized onions 
4 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed 
kosher salt to taste 
1/2 cup dry white wine

Dissolve the bouillon cubes in three cups of boiling water. Reserve.

Cut the potatoes and onions into thin (1/8-inch thick) slices and place in separate bowls.

With your fingers, separate the onion slices into rings.

On a medium-low flame, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot. Sauté the onion rings, stirring often, until they caramelize, about 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes to the pot and raise the flame to medium-high. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of oil, and add salt judiciously, as bouillon can be salty.

Stir the potatoes frequently and braise until slices begin to brown, about 20 minutes.

Add more oil, if needed.

Remove pot from flame, and add the wine and enough bouillon to barely cover the potatoes. Cover the pot and return it to the flame. Simmer on medium-low until potatoes soften, about 15 minutes.

Serve immediately in a bowl. Recipe can be prepared three days in advance, refrigerated, and then reheated.

Serves 4.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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