Dec 01

With the start of December I start to notice signs that Winter is quickly approaching. Darkness begins to descend earlier, the streets are hushed as people bustle indoors, and the stark chill in the air is broken only by the distant smell of smoke coming from a chimney.  Instinctively I look for ways to create my own hibernation for the next few months, and nothing does this better than warm seasonal cooking.

While I still long for the crispness of fresh vegetables, and relish in the occasional salad, what I yearn for is slow, hearty cooking.  Braising is a technique that is made for these winter months. It refers to slowly simmering ingredients in a depth of liquid until everything is completely tender. The amount of hands-on preparation is minimal, but the cooking time on the stove or in the oven can last for several hours.  Patience is key here, since in addition to the wonderful aromas that will envelop your home during the slow cooking, you will also be rewarded with an immensely flavorful broth that over time has absorbed flavors from all of the elements contained in the pot.

IMG_1057beef340Typically with braising you start with a piece of stew meat, rather than a lean cut, the premise being that the fat marbling will create a more succulent, flavorful bite after the prolonged cooking.  Bone-in cuts are also desirable in this preparation because they impart tremendous flavor to the dish.

The meat, whether cubed or kept whole on the bone, should be evenly browned in a large dutch oven as the first step in the cooking process. This caramelization creates the base, or what the French call fond, upon which you will start layering flavors. After removing the meat from the pot, vegetables can be roasted in the remaining fat and aromatics such as spices and fresh herbs can be added. The pot can then be deglazed with wine, and the meat is added back in on top of the other ingredients. Finally, stock or broth is poured in just to cover the contents.  {Note: It is important that you use unseasoned stock here, and that no salt is added to the pot before cooking since the lengthy cooking process will cause the flavors to condense and become concentrated.  You also do not want to add too much liquid, as the end product will be more diluted as a result. You can always add more liquid later if you notice it is evaporating too quickly during the cooking.} The pot is then covered and either placed over a low simmer on the stove, or in a low oven for several hours until the meat becomes tender and falls off the bone.

It is important to check the braise periodically since cooking time varies depending on the cut you use, and to  ensure that you continue to have sufficient liquid to cook the meat. Once finished, the liquid can be reduced slightly or thickened with cornstarch slurry to create a sauce that coats the meat and vegetables.  Before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper.

turkishfireedit340When I was at the Worlds of Flavor conference two weeks ago I observed a demonstration on Turkish cuisine taught by Chef Musa Dagdeviren. The recipe he prepared was lamb shoulder braised over a charcoal grill with tomatoes, almonds, apricots and pomegranate molasses. Chef Musa is well known for his traditional Anatolian recipes that combine typical Turkish ingredients with slow, methodical cooking.  The dish he prepared is a great example of the magic of braising, since as I spooned up my first bite I immediately felt comforted. The chunks of lamb shoulder were meltingly tender, and its juices imbued a richness to the broth that was balanced by the tart-sweetness of the tomato and pomegranate molasses. Saffron, almonds and apricots enriched the sauce in a way that is distinctively Turkish, adding a complexity of aromatics and texture.

Delbir Lamb Kebab*

Ingredients:

1 lbs pearl onions, peeled

3 lbs boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 C pomegranate molasses

2.2 lbs tomatoes, chopped into ½” cubes

1 red pepper, diced

1 Tbsp Maras chili pepper

¼ C blanched almonds

7 oz dried apricots, sliced

1 C beef or lamb stock

2 tsp black pepper

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp saffron

salt to taste

Method:

1.  Skewer the lamb and onions, alternating

2.  Grill over charcoal just until brown then add to a claypot

3.  Add apricots and almonds to claypotIMG_1042davdegiren

4.  Add tomatoes, saffron, stock, pepper and chili then cover and cook for about 30 minutes

5.  Uncover, add pomegranate molasses and cook for another 10 minutes

6.  Season with salt and serve with parsley on top

*recipe courtesy of Musa Dagdeverin, as presented at the 2009 Worlds of Flavor conference

Whether you recreate this fragrant Turkish lamb dish, make the classical French beef bourguignon, or resurrect your Grandmother’s recipe for pot roast I hope you are warmed during these winter months with some form of braising. A composition of robust root vegetables can also serve as the base for an incredibly earthy, sumptuous vegetarian stew.  In either case, your stomach and spirit are sure to be comforted by the cozy radiance and delicious smells steaming from the pot this winter season.

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