First, the following five people (and their favorite braise) will receive a signed copy of my new book How to Braise. Congrats!
—Steve W.: Braised oxtail and pumpkin with chickpeas over couscous!
—Cindy M: Braised pork shanks…. yum!
—JAvera: Oven-Braised Corned Beef. Yum. Sliced thin and served on Kings Hawaiian Bread. (I know, I know. Just try it sometime!)
—Fran: I’ll pretty much take anything braised, but currently I’m loving chicken braised with carrots, leeks and sherry.
—Tom Abella: My favorite braise is Cheating Pulled Pork Shoulder, which is what I call it when I combine an hour of heavy smoking over a grill at night with putting the shoulder in a covered Dutch oven at 225 overnight. What emerges in the morning is a glorious fall-apart piece of meat complete with drippings for sauce or other applications. Best of all is the effort of it–effectively none, but still allowing you to get a good night’s sleep and have fresh homemade pulled pork for your lunch guests. Also, since it’s pork shoulder, it’s super easy on the wallet.
Tom is a cook after my own heart. I grill pork shoulder and then braise it as well, and I don't even call it cheating! We are often taught to sear the meat first. But you don't have to sear it; grilling accomplishes the same thing and more! It's an amazingly effective technique, and I'm glad he brought it up.
My favorite cut to braise is lamb shank. Each book in this series begins with an iconic recipe, and this was the one I chose for How to Braise. Just look at a raw shank and you see how much white and opaque connective tissue they have. You know from looking at this cut that you can't sauté it. Nor would you roast it. What you want to do is to transform all that inedible connective tissue into the gelatin, liquefy it, so that it will thicken and enrich the braising liquid that will be the finished sauce.
I define braise as a technique comprising two steps: searing (or setting the exterior with some form of dry heat), then cooking in liquid until tender. When you do this to a lamb shank, you're left with a very rich and delicious sauce and fall-off-the-bone-tender meat. Especially fine on cold winter nights.
It's easy if you plan ahead: flour and sear the meat in vegetable oil (this can be done up to three days ahead); cover with liquid (chicken, veal, lamb, or vegetables stock, wine, tomato sauce, or even water, though you'd want to include plenty of aromatic vegetables if using just water), bring it to a simmer, then put it in a 300˚F oven for 3 or 4 hours (covered, not covered if you want the liquid to reduce, or covered with a parchment lid—watch my how to video on this, love that one—which offers some reduction without keeping the liquid at a steady boil).
It's good to flavor that liquid with seasonings or spices, aromatic vegetables, curry powder, rosemary, whatever you wish. It's also a good idea to finish the dish with something that adds color and contrasts the richness of the sauce, such as gremolata (above I've garnished the shank with mint gremolata). Also, take time to appreciate the amazing aroma you are filling your home with.
As the next arctic blast descends, I will definitely be braising. It is the season of the braise.
If you didn't win but still want a copy, you can buy How to Braise on these sites:
© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.