Friday, October 29, 2010

The Season for Braising

As the colder weather approaches, there is something very comforting about a dish that has been cooking for hours, infusing your home with the inviting aromas of wonderful things to come. Granted, it seems like a luxury to have hours to spend on such an endeavour, except on weekends, but in reality, with a braise the effort is all at the front end — in the preparation. Once it's in the oven you can carry on doing other things, and the wonders of the braise takes over. The results are meltingly tender! Many chefs become reverential when discussing the transformative effects of braising meat.

Essentially, braising relies on heat, time and moisture to break down the connective tissue of meat, which is why it makes it an ideal way to cook tougher inexpensive cuts of meat, like pot roasts, rumps, shanks and ribs. Most braises follow the same basic steps: The meat is first seared to brown its surface and enhance the flavour. Second, an acidic element like tomatoes or wine is added to the pot, often with stock. Third, the pot is then covered and left to simmer until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender and amazingly flavourful. A successful braise intermingles the flavours of the foods being cooked with the braising liquid, dissolving the collagen in the meat to gelatin. The gelatin enriches and adds body to the liquid, which produces an enormously flavourful sauce. 

One of our favourite recipes in the colder months, when we all crave warmer richer meals, is Braised Oxtail. It's not a particularly handsome cut of meat, but what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste. North Americans aren't as fond of oxtail as Europeans, but if you enjoy a meaty, gelatinous braise of flavourful beef, this is the dish for you. Served with a generous portion of the flavourful sauce and a dollop of mashed potatoes, it's no wonder it's one of our faves. 

Braised Oxtail Stew

2 oxtail, cut into 2" pieces
3/4 cups flour
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 cup tomato juice
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs (or 1tsp dried)
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, cut into 1/8" rounds
chopped parsley for garnish

  1. Pat dry oxtails and dredge in flour until thoroughly coated. 
  2. Heat oil in large oven proof cooking pot, and brown the oxtails well in several batches, setting each batch aside until all are browned; return all oxtails to pot.
  3. Add stock, wine, tomato juice and tomato paste. Stir in garlic, bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add vegetables, immersing them well in the liquid.
  4. Set the pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2 hours or until oxtails are ver tender. Taste and correct seasoning. Skim fat from the sauce. Serve the oxtails in a warm serving dish with some of the sauce on top, and garnish with some parsley.