Friday, 30 November 2007

Braise be!

When people learn of my passion for cooking the inevitable question that follows is "do you have a signature dish?". I always say no, because cooking something new every day doesn't really allow me to do anything more than once. I do have a favorite method of cooking though, and that is slow braising.

Braising brings the best out of less fashionable cuts of meat, the slow cooking process rendering connective tissues to sticky gelatin and hard working muscle fibres to meltingly tender threads. The symbiotic relationship between meat and braising liquid is the key to the end result, with the meat imparting its juices to the liquid and the liquid sharing its flavour with the meat. Of course the most vital ingredient is time. After several hours, not only do you end up with tender meat you could cut with a spoon, but an unctuously reduced sauce to spoon over it. Minimal effort. Maximum flavour.

So many diners think of fillet steak, rack of lamb, or loin of pork as prime cuts and choose them out of habit whenever they are eating out. Of course when cooked rare these cuts can be exremely tender, but the leaness of the meat can leave them lacking flavour and the cooking time has to be very precise. I would urge people to go to the butchers and buy some shin of beef, pork belly, lamb shanks, oxtail, or even brisket. Your wallet will thank you for it too.

For non-cooks, braising is far less demanding than trying to cook something a la minute. It's the perfect dinner party dish requiring minimal preparation and stress with no compromise on flavour or impact. It could be a lamb tagine that you stick in the oven for a couple of hours and then serve at the table, or for something a little more fancy, try braising a rolled pork belly in white wine or cider and cut it into medallions before oven roasting and plating with some aubergine caviar and caramalised apple slices.

The biggest success of this week has been a shin of beef, braised for 3 hours in red wine. The only other ingredients were a mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery, tomatoes, herbs and beef stock. It would be a crime to not cook it again so I'm officially naming it my signature dish and next time I will serve it with horseradish pommes puree and wilted greens.

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