Braising is a cooking technique that is underused, and well-suited to winter menus. To braise means to cook with moist heat at a low temperature, the pan covered with a lid. Either at a low simmer on the stovetop or long and slow in the oven, this technique produces meat that is richly flavorful and absolutely fork-tender. Grandma’s pot roast, beef or chicken stew, or spicy pork green chile are examples of braises. In this day and age of “hurry-up,” long and slow holds little appeal for weeknight dinners. But it is a technique perfectly suited for less expensive cuts of meat, the superbly flavorful “working muscles” of the animal. These muscles of the legs and shoulders are tough if cooked too fast, becoming tender only when cooked slowly, moistened with wine, stock, or water to prevent drying. The muscles of the loin, sirloin and rib area don’t work as hard, lend themselves to grilling and fast preparations, and though meltingly tender, they sometimes need a sauce to punch up their flavor.
Cuts like chuck, chuck arm or blade roasts, shoulder, rump and round all do best in a braise. Try these cuts browned first in an oven-proof skillet with a lid, with a cup of stock, water or wine (or a mixture), some onions and garlic, then popped into the oven for a couple of hours at 325°. Or brown them in a skillet, deglaze the pan with your chosen liquid—even a can of diced tomatoes with their juice—and place into the crock pot to simmer all day while you head for the hills to cut the family Christmas tree.
As long as the oven is on anyway, why not cook double the quantity and serve leftover meat in enchiladas, chili, or in a hearty soup. I always serve the “pot roast” the first time with quartered potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, chunks of carrot and parsnip, even turnips or rutabagas added during the last hour of cook time. Fork-mashed with a pat of butter and some of the cooking liquid, these vegetables spell comfort food to me. The next day they aren’t as tasty, so I whirl them in a food processor with garlic, minced jalapeno, maybe some cilantro or parsley, maybe a dash of chipotle powder, and pat the mash into flattened “cakes” to flour lightly and pan fry in a little butter.
Braised Beef Pot Roast
3 lb. beef chuck, rump, cross-rib, brisket, round
salt and pepper
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
small onion, 1” dice
3 garlic cloves, mashed
Season beef with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in large skillet, and add the roast, browning on both sides. If too large to fit into your skillet, cut into workable size pieces before browning, cooking in batches if necessary. Add to the skillet the following: ½ cup chicken stock or water, ¼ cup red wine, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar. Cover with foil or a lid, and cook in 325° oven for 2-3 hours, until very tender. During last hour of cooking, add quartered potatoes, carrots, onions to the roast, and cook until done.