bc-braises(sh)

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Braise a ruckus this weekend

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit the Toledo Blade

With photo/graphic: SH12B088BRAISES, SH12B089BRAISES

By DANIEL NEMAN

Toledo Blade

I'm not going to lie to you.

I mean, I could lie to you. I could say that in winter a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of braising. I could say that when it is cold out, braised foods warm you from the inside out. I could even say that the time spent braising a meal ensures that it will be made with love.

But here's the real story: On a recent frosty Sunday, I came across some veal shanks at the supermarket and decided to make osso buco. It turned out so well that my wife said I ought to share the recipe.

Hence, an article on braising.

Simply put, braising is the slow cooking of a tough meat or vegetable that has been submerged halfway or so in a liquid. The pot is always covered by a lid to retain the flavors and keep the liquid from evaporating, and it can be cooked either on top of the stove or in the oven.

Braises take a long time to cook, so they are good to save for a chilly weekend. But most of that time is spent with the food in the oven, so you are free to do other things. You don't even need to check on the pot while it cooks -- once you know it is simmering, it will continue to simmer if the temperature is right.

Osso buco is perhaps the ultimate expression of braising. The famous dish from Milan, Italy, is a bit of a paradox -- a hearty dish centered around the delicate taste of veal. Though it is often served as a high-priced feature at some of the best Italian restaurants in this country, in the country of its origin it is an inexpensive dish made from a cheap cut of meat, the sort of thing served toward the end of the month when money is tight.

That only proves there is not necessarily a direct relationship between flavor and cost. And it is so easy to make that neither does there seem to be a connection between flavor and the amount of labor required to make it.

The basic idea of osso buco is simple: veal shanks simmered until tender in a mixture of meat stock (chicken works best if you don't have veal stock) and dry white wine. Onions and garlic are always a help, and most cooks today add tomatoes, carrots and celery. The original version, which dates back to the 19th century, used cinnamon in place of tomatoes.

If you want, you can even go crazy and use cinnamon and tomatoes. Just don't forget to eat the marrow out of the bone for a true delicacy. Osso buco even gets its name from this cherished part of the meal; in Italian, "osso" means "bone" and "buco" means "hole."

For a braised chicken dish, we turned to an old Bon Appetit magazine recipe for a remarkably flavorful meal. Spicy Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Star Anise draws a bold, full taste out of relatively few ingredients. But that's the magic of braising; all the flavors have time to meld together into one exotic, homogenous whole.

So while the shiitake mushrooms provide an earthy backdrop, you don't specifically taste the licorice flavor of the star anise, or the pungent ginger or the sharp garlic. But they blend in with the sweet spices of the hoisin sauce and the tempering of the flavor-absorbing cabbage. Make it as hot as you like it with a hot chili sauce -- but don't go overboard, because you don't want to overpower the other flavors -- serve it over steamed rice, and you have a delicious Chinese-style meal for a family.

To make it more Western, and to save a little effort, you don't even have to shred the chicken before serving. Serve the pieces whole, and they'll still taste just as good.

Next, we decided to make a braised version of one of Julia Child's most-loved stews, her famous Carbonnades a la Flamande. The original is a Belgian dish in which beef is stewed in onions and beer. In Belgium it is made with Belgian beer, of course, but Child thought that a Pilsner would do just as nicely.

In adapting her recipe, we only made the changes necessary to turn the dish from a stew to a braise. In doing so, we cut back on the number of pans used, from two to one. More important, we ended up using only about half as much beer, because the braising liquid need only come halfway up the side of the meat instead of covering it.

It may be sacrilege to admit it, but we like our version better. Less beer means less bitterness, and because one large piece of meat has much less surface area than many small pieces, it also has a little less of a beefy flavor. That leaves the rich, mahogany sweetness of the caramelized and long-simmered onions to shine through. This braised carbonnade is meaty, sweet, and sour. What better dish to eat on a cold winter day?

And since we're talking about great braised dishes to eat on cold winter days, let us not forget our friends the vegetables. Braising works great for cabbage, and it's so easy it practically makes itself.

Take a head of cabbage -- try Savoy cabbage for its mild flavor and intriguing appearance -- core it and tear the leaves into large pieces. Put it in a pot with sauteed onions, a bit of vegetable or chicken stock, a hunk of butter and a drizzle of vinegar. If you're feeling daring, throw in a pinch or two of caraway seeds. Cook on a low simmer for 30 minutes or until the cabbage is as soft and tender as you want it, stir in another hunk of butter and serve.

It's cabbage that transcends mere cabbageness. It's cabbage made magical by braising. It's cabbage that has been dusted with goodness from heaven.

OK, I'm not going to lie to you. I'm overstating the case. It still tastes like cabbage. But it's far more tender and mild than most.

OSSO BUCO

2 to 2-1/2 pounds veal shanks

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 carrot, sliced thin

1 stalk celery, sliced thin

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken broth

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs thyme

For the gremolata:

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest of 1 small lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat the shanks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Put the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat, and thoroughly brown the shanks on both (or all) sides. Do this in batches if necessary.

Remove the meat from the pot and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 seconds. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, wine and chicken broth, and deglaze the pot by stirring up any brown bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the bay leaf and thyme, and return the meat to the pot. The sauce should come at least halfway up the side of the meat, without covering the meat entirely. If not enough sauce, add more tomatoes, wine, and/or broth; if too much sauce, remove some with a ladle until you can see at least the top of the meat.

Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Cook until fork tender, about 1 hour for shanks that were sliced by the butcher and up to 2 hours for a whole shank on the bone.

While the veal cooks, make the gremolata by combining the parsley, garlic and zest in a small bowl and stirring to mix well. When the veal is done, stir half the gremolata into the sauce, and sprinkle the remaining half over the individual servings on the plates.

Yield: 3-4 servings

SPICY BRAISED CHICKEN WITH MUSHROOMS AND STAR ANISE

1 tablespoon peanut oil

4 chicken-breast halves with skin and bones OR 4 leg quarters

12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps quartered

2 cups chopped green onions, divided

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger

2 (14-1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

4 whole star anise

4 cups Napa cabbage cut in 3/4-inch strips (about 1/2 small head)

1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha or sambal olek)

Heat peanut oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken; saute until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to bowl. Add mushrooms, 1-1/2 cups green onions, garlic and ginger to pot. Saute until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Add chicken broth, hoisin sauce, cabbage and star anise. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes for breasts or about 35 minutes for leg quarters.

If desired, remove chicken from pot, cool slightly, remove skin and bones, and cut meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Return to pot.

Stir in chili sauce. Transfer to bowl. Discard star anise. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup green onions, and serve with steamed rice.

Yield: 4 servings

-- Adapted from Bon Appetit

BRAISED CARBONNADES

1 (3-pound) chuck roast or rump

2-3 tablespoons cooking oil OR rendered fresh pork fat

1-1/2 pounds (6 cups) sliced onions

Salt and pepper

4 cloves garlic, mashed

1 cup beef stock

1-2 cups Pilsner-style beer

1-1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar

6 sprigs parsley

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1-1/2 tablespoons arrowroot OR cornstarch

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Put a thin coat of oil or fat in a Dutch oven and heat until almost smoking (the oil will seem to shimmer). Brown the beef well on both sides, and remove from the pot.

Reduce heat to moderate. Stir the onions into the oil in the skillet, adding more oil or fat if necessary. Brown the onions lightly for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the garlic and cook about 1 minute.

Add the stock and use the wooden spoon to scrape up coagulated cooking juices, if any. Return the meat to the pot and add enough beer to come about halfway up the side of the meat. Stir in the brown sugar.

Place the parsley, bay leaf and thyme in a piece of cheesecloth, if you have one, and tie them all together with twine. Place this herb bouquet under the surface of the sauce, or stir the spices directly into the sauce if you don't have the cheesecloth. Bring the pot to a boil, cover and place in the lower third of the oven. Cook at a very low simmer for 2-1/2 hours, until the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the herb bouquet or bay leaf. Bring the pot to a simmer on top of the stove. Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch with the vinegar, and stir this mixture thoroughly into the sauce. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.

Serve with potatoes or noodles.

Yield: 6-8 servings

-- Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

BRAISED CABBAGE

1 head cabbage, preferably Savoy

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 onion, sliced thin

1-1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 cup vegetable OR chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the core and tear or cut the leaves into large pieces. In a large pot, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat, add the onion and sautee until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the cabbage, vinegar and stock, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the temperature and cook at a low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is soft. Check to see that the liquid does not entirely evaporate -- if it does, add 1/4 cup more stock or water.

Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and serve.

Yield: 6-8 servings

(Contact Daniel Neman at dneman(at)theblade.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)