In Praise of Braise

chicken

Monday:          Braised Chicken and Rice with Chicken Meatballs and Crispy Chicken Skin

chicken-meatballs

Tuesday:          Leftovers with Chicken Meatball Starter and Salad

pizza

Wednesday:    Pizza – Asiago with tomato sauce, Prosciutto and Arugula; Asiago with Sausage and Shallots

oxtail-plate

Thursday:        Oxtails braised in red wine with celery root and carrots

tacos

Friday:             Seafood Salad Tacos / Corn and Black Bean Salad

stir-fired-eggs

Saturday:         Ox-Tail Soup / Stir-fried Eggs and Tomatoes with Grilled Bread

pork-shoulder

Sundary:          Fountainbleau Cheese with Crudites / Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Bacon Broth and Corn Bread (313, Gramercy)

This month (well for the few weeks we’re in town – this week and last two weeks of the month), we’ll focus on braising, closely related to the roasting we did last month.

Braising is a combination cooking method calling for an initial sear over high heat (essentially frying), followed by slow cooking in liquid.  Like roasting, it is good for breaking down collagen and connective tissue and the liquid is ideal for infusing deep flavor into meats and poultry.  So to the rather boring low-and-slow of roasting, braising adds an exciting burst of searing heat during which you will spatter your stove, your shirt and anything else in range.  But, hey, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, get out of the kitchen.  Besides, braising is ideal for tough cuts of meat and roosters – so you can save some money, once you’ve mastered this technique.

This past week we tackled – for the first time – oxtail which, there is no gentle way to put this, is that appendage extending from the behind of a cow.  It was not, you will understand, the meat ordinarily served to the lord and lady of the manor.  But the peasants, who did all of the cooking and everything else except the fighting (peasants ain’t dumb), got clever with this inexpensive piece of meat, often cooking it in a soup, but sometimes braising it into a deep, beefy meal that is perfect with the potatoes and other root vegetables they had on hand.  This is a very rich dish, and our theory is that you should have one of these dishes each week, usually on a Sunday, followed by a penitential meal of greens or lentils on Monday and a week of reasonably tasty, but light fare.

Of course, things don’t always work out that way, and this week we also had a wonderful slow-roasted pork shoulder with bacon broth, cabbage and corn bread that, if we were not focused on braising we’d share with you.  And, next week, because we’ll be vacationing again and eating out a lot, we might do just that.

Later in the month we’ll be reminding you of the mother of all braises and sharing a favorite recipe with you.  (You are welcome to guess what the mother of all braises is – as a reward we will come to your house bearing wine and flowers and our winning personalities and ask you to cook it for us.)

oxtail-platter

WINE-BRAISED OXTAIL

(Adapted from a wine-stained print-out that I think came from a recipe in the NYT Magazine, God knows when)

Timing:  Ideally – marinate oxtails over night or at least 2 hours.

Look, after that marinade, this takes 4 hours or more to cook,
but most of that time the oxtails are in the oven by themselves, deliquescing into a sort of essence of beef.  It takes some planning, but this is simple cooking.

Ingredients:                 Serves 4 – 6 (with a salad and starters)

5 – 7 lbs. Oxtails, patted dry.  Note:  If you can talk you butcher into giving you only larger pieces of oxtail, 5 pounds is plenty.  You will get no meat from the smaller pieces, but if you have to buy them in a package with the larger, get the large amount and freeze the smaller pieces to use in making stock at some other time.

4 large carrots, peeled and cut in 2-3 inch pieces
2 small or 1 large celeriac (celery root), peeled and cut into 2” pieces
4 shallots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into ¼” planks
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (we used 4)
5 parsley sprigs
¼ Cup chopped parsley leaves
2 rosemary branches
2 bay leaves
Torn celery leaves for garnish
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 bottle dry red wine
2 1/12 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, more as needed
2 teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon allspice

Prep:

Trim any hard or solid pieces of fat from the oxtail.  The more you trim, the less fat you’ll have to skim later.

In a large bowl, combine salt, pepper and allspice, add the oxtail pieces and rub all over with the mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours – better, overnight.

Chop shallots, carrots, celery and garlic

Bundle parsley sprigs, rosemary and bay leaves with twine

Cook:

Heat large Dutch oven or soup pot (8 quart) over medium-high, then add the oil and warm it.  When it begins to shimmer add as many oxtail pieces as fit without crowding in a single layer and sear, turning, until the meat is uniformly golden brown all over, including the sides.  Transfer the meat to a plate and repeat until all of the oxtail has been browned.

Reduce heat to medium and cook shallots until lightly caramelized – about 10 minutes.

Add carrot and celery root and cook 5 minutes

Stir in tomato paste and two-thirds of the garlic (you can save the rest for garnish – we didn’t, since we don’t like raw garlic).  Pour wine and chicken stock into the pot and bring to a simmer and cook over medium until liquid has reduced by about ½ – 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 325 F.

When liquid has been reduced, add oxtail back in the pot and nestle into the liquid.  Bring back to a simmer, cover the pot and transfer to the oven.

Cook, turning the oxtail every 30 to 45 minutes for about 3 ½ hours (I turned just 3 times) – until fork tender.

Remove oxtails to a plate and spoon off fat from surface of pan juices (there will be a ton of it and this will take some time – if you have one of those grease separating beakers with a spout – use it).

Toss the oxtail with the remaining pan juices.  Taste the juice and add seasoning if necessary.  Transfer contents of pot to a serving platter – or simply place pot on hot plate on the dining table.

In a bowl, toss the chopped parsley, raw garlic (we did not use), lemon zest and a pinch of salt.  Scatter this mixture over the oxtails and garnish with celery leaves.  Serve your family and friends the deepest, darkest hit of beef they have ever had.

 

bean-salad

Not oxtail soup – forgot to take a picture – this is the corn and black bean salad from Friday

EXTRA                                  Oxtail Soup

If you eat like us, you will have leftover oxtail and pan juices (and carrots and celery root).  Take this mixture out of the refrigerator and let it warm up a bit while you make a beef stock soup.  We don’t keep stocks in our refrigerator, so we’re going to suggest that you use a great product called ‘Better than Bouillon’ to create a quick stock.

The ingredients below are my idea – you can mix and match vegetables, toss in cabbage or greens (we didn’t).

Time:               Depending on how long it takes you to pick the oxtail meat from the bone and chop the vegetables, about 30 minutes.

3 Cups of beef stock (Dissolve 3 teaspoons of ‘Better than Bouillon’ in boiling water)
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 carrots chopped the same
½ pound of waxy potatoes cut into bite sized pieces.
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Fresh or dried thyme to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Left-over oxtail – just the meat, which you will have to pick from the bone.

Cook:

Put the oil and butter in a Dutch oven and heat over medium.  When the butter has stopped foaming, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, then add the celery and carrots and salt and pepper and thyme and cook for another 8 minutes or so.  Stir from time to time.

Add the potatoes, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring for 2 minutes (but don’t let burn).

Add the stock and bring to a good simmer.  Cook until the potatoes are tender.

Add the oxtail pieces (we did not add the left-over celery root and carrots, but served them on the side) and cook until hot.  Correct the seasoning, add the chopped parsley and serve.  We served this in mugs as an appetizer and followed it with stir-fried Eggs and Tomatos and Grilled bread.

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