Braising Meat: How to Make the Perfect (and Easy) Cooler-Weather Meal
Sebastian, the Chef/Owner of Planet Bliss, who has had a HUGE influence on my love of food, cooking, and my decision to go to culinary school once gave me a wise word of advice that I have been careful to remember. While I can’t remember his exact words, I remember the point. The way to a man’s heart, is not just simply through his stomach, it is particularly through braised meat. There is something about the tenderness, the concentrated meaty flavor, the warmth, the time put into it– he argued, that can not be beat.
After our braising class at the FCI yesterday, I really couldn’t agree more. Walking out into the brisk fall night after class, we all seemed to have a bit of a smirk, and the glazed over appearance of being full, contented, and somehow warm from the inside. We declared this evident effect of the dinner of Rabbit Ragout with Pommes Puree, to be a “meat coma” and crawled on the subway, eager to curl into our beds.
While there are many braises to try during the fall and into the winter, one of my ultimate favorites has to be Braised Lamb Shanks. Whether in a Moroccan tagine with chickpeas, raisins, and onions over cous cous (the best in the city in my opinion is at Cafe Mogador on St. Marks), or made more savory with a blend of herbs, wines, and stock over polenta or mashed potatoes, Lamb Shanks make an incredibly satisfying meal, and are surprisingly simple to make.
In class we served our shank over a pile of delicious herbed couscous made with preserved lemons, a staple of Moroccan cooking, that we had made last month. If you want to create a similar flavor and can’t wait a month, check out this great recipe from Mark Bittman for Quick ‘Preserved’ Lemons, that are ready in under 3 hours (around the same time a good braise should cook). To keep a Mediterranean profile, we made sure to use extra virgin olive oil, not butter, in our couscous. We also added fresh chopped parsley, mint, and topped the dish with cherry tomato confit. It was a colorful, yet simple presentation, that tasted really great as well.
Preparing the meat was simple. After trimming the shanks of some excess fat, we seasoned generously with salt and pepper. Then we sauteed all sides until the meat had a nice (and even) brown coloring.
We then browned a mirepoix of onion, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, and rosemary. When golden we added a blend of red and wine wines (about 5 oz each), once the alcohol had been cooked out we added tomatoes to the pan, as well as veal stock to cover.
The lamb cooked in a 325 degree oven for about 3 hours (until a paring knife slid in and out of the meat easily, and it was pulling back from the bone). We removed the shanks (wrapping in saran wrap to keep warm, and ensure no moisture was lost) and then strained the cooking liquid. We reduced the liquid to a sauce consistency and seasoned well. When serving we were instructed to always make sure our sauce covers the braised meat. When reheating, Chef stressed, a braise should always be heated in its own cooking liquid, or it will dry out immediately.
This recipe from Bon Appetit also looks like a great recipe, except I would exchange the chicken stock to veal stock for richer, more meaty flavor. You could also add wine for a little added flavor. I have had a very similar dish at World Pie in Bridgehampton served with Swiss Chard that is absolutely amazing.
If you are looking to impress your man, or find yourself in need of a little cold weather comfort food, try a braise. Look for Uphill Farms and 3-Corner Fields at the Union Square farmer’s market who both supply lamb from New York State.