Review, Learn Anew: Improving My Braise
Monday, February 03, 2014
My favorite cookbook series is River Cottage by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, et. al., and from that series, my favorite single book is (the imaginatively titled) Meat. The range of recipes - from Asian pork belly to turkey mole - is as impressive as the resulting food. Even better, Fearnley-Whittingstall devotes pages to specific techniques for cooking meat: grilling, slow roasting, braising, etc. Before attempting my chicken and dumplings this year, I reviewed Fearnley-Whittingstall’s comments on braising, gleaning some important lessons. The results were my best by far.
Lesson 1: The Importance of Pork Fat
Whether it is simply fatback or something more flavorful like the PorcSalt smoked bacon I used here, the underpinning of flavor and textural contribution of the fat are essential.
Lesson 2: Pay Attention to the Vegetables
I have always thought of leeks as supplanting onions in recipes. It turns out that this view is rather simplistic. They can, in fact, compliment onions beautifully. A similar thing can be said for celeriac (celery root) and parsnips. Celeriac also makes a lighter and less starchy substitute for potato.
Lesson 3: Searing Meat Separately
Essential to a flavorful braise is soundly caramelized meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s suggestion is to sear the meat separately in a lightly oiled pan, add to the braise, then deglaze the pan with wine and then add that to the braise. Brilliant.
Lesson 4: Simmer Does Not Mean Boil
In a lengthy explanation that I won’t reproduce here, Fearnley-Whittingstall explains the importance of a very slow simmer in cooking the meat correctly. The meat cooks long enough to dissolve tough connective tissue without the tenderer pieces becoming. He even quotes Elizabeth David. What’s not to love?