Saturday, October 28, 2006

Braised Beef

Most people like summer the best, but cold weather is for me, prime cooking season. Soups, stews, roasts, and braises are all things not best enjoyed in July.

Today we'll do braising. If you own a slow-cooker you've been doing this already. Low heat for long cooking times tenderizes even the cheapest, nastiest cuts of meat. Also, it makes for terrific sauce as the flavors of your aromatic vegetables transfer to the liquids, and the connective tissues of the meat breaks down and lends body to the sauce.

This will not be an exact recipe, and you really don't need one...braising is pretty fail-safe as cooking methods go, as long as you hit the few important parts correctly.

First, you can either do this in a heavy, lidded dutch oven, or with a slow cooker. If you're doing the slow-cooker method, you need to start off with a heavy frying pan and transfer to the slow-cooker later.

First, cut a standard mirepoix of 50% onion, and 25% each carrot and celery. You want enough so that mixed together it'll fully cover the bottom of your pot.

Take your roast, pat it dry with a paper towel, and dust it all over the flour and salt. Heat the dutch oven / frying pan to medium-high and put two tablespoons of vegetable oil in it until it just starts smoking a little. Using long tongs, place the beef in the pan and sear it really well on all sides. You want a nice brown crust on every not hurry though this part, this is where you develop flavor for the whole dish. Once the roast is well browned all over, set it aside.

Turn heat to medium. Add in the mirepoix and stir it around as it cooks until the vegetables soften. Add a spoonful of tomato paste and stir through, cooking until it's rusty brown and smells sweet. Add a spoonful of flour and stir to combine.* Now add one cup each of red wine and beef stock (more of each if your roast is large and feeding several). Scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, then return the beef to the pot.

Toss in two bay leaves, a spoonful of whole peppercorns, a clove of garlic, a sprig of thyme, and a couple pinches of salt. I put in some chopped shallots too. Turn heat to very low, cover, and simmer gently for 6-8 hours.

Remove the roast, set aside and cover with foil. Strain the solids from the liquid, discard solids. Return the liquid to the pot, and season and thicken as required (cornstarch slurry is fine) over medium heat to make your gravy. The solid vegetables you're throwing away are pretty much flavorless and it's all in the sauce, so I have other vegetables cooked separately that I serve alongside the beef. Enjoy!

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