Home Cooking > Praising Braising

Filet mignon is tender and elegant, and veal scaloppine can be cooked in a flash, but when I want juicy, intensely flavored meat that is literally falling off the bone, I head right for the “tough cuts” at the meat counter. Why? Because cuts like veal, beef shank, lamb and beef shoulder are well marbled with enough fat to produce juicy, delicious results. Anyone who has ever eaten ossobuco (veal shank) will attest to that.

While these cuts are inexpensive, knowing how to cook them is key. For these cuts, braising is the answer. Braising means that the meat is first slowly browned in some type of fat. I prefer olive oil and bits of pancetta (Italian bacon) for added flavor. The browning process is important so that the surface of the meat is well caramelized; this helps to develop a delicious sauce as the meat is cooking.

Use heavy duty cookware, such as an enamel-coated Dutch oven, which gives even heat retention and also allows you to serve the meat directly from the pot. After browning, small amounts of liquid are added to prevent scorching. During cooking, keep the meat moist and create flavorful juices that can be spooned over the meat just before serving. Liquids can include broths or wine; puréed tomatoes or tomato sauce; or even beer. I am partial to using wine and find braising a good way to use up opened bottles. Plus, wine imparts a nice depth of flavor and gives a rich color to the meat and juices. .

The seasonings used are important, too. Make a bouquet garni, a small bundle of herbs—such as sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary — with added spices—such as whole peppercorns and cloves. Wrap these in cheesecloth, and add it to the dish as it cooks. Vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, chunks of onion and fennel can be added and give marvelous flavor to braised dishes. My preference is to cook the dish covered in a low — temperature oven around 275ºF until the meat is fork-tender. But stovetop cooking is fine, too, if the dish is kept at a simmer. And the best part is that once you have the dish in the oven or simmering on the stovetop, you can pretty much forget it until it is ready.

When the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot to a cutting board. Carve against the grain in thin slices and serve with some of the pan juices. Braised meats are great do-ahead dishes that taste even better the day after they are cooked. When made ahead, don’t carve the meat until the day you plan to serve it. Then, carve the meat while it is still cold, return it to the pot and reheat slowly over low heat until it is heated through. Braised meats are perfect for winter cooking because they exemplify the perfect comfort food—hearty, filling and perfect with winter vegetables such as butternut squash.


Mary Ann Esposito’s Recipes for Stews and Braises

<h2>Ossobuco Tre Visi (Veal Shanks with Tomatoes and Porcini Mushrooms) </h2>

Serves 4

3/4 cup (about 1 ounce) dried porcini
3/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 carrot, scraped and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2½ pounds veal shanks
O ne 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
3/4 cup dry red wine
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
A grinding of black pepper
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt

2¼ cups of water
¾ teaspoon of salt
¾ cup coarsely ground cornmeal

1. Preheat the oven to 300&deg;F. Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl, pour the hot water over them and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-duty, oven-proof 12-by-3-inch saut&eacute; pan. Stir in the pancetta, carrot, onion, celery, parsley and garlic, and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften.
3. Push the mixture to one side of the pan and add the veal shanks. Brown the shanks on both sides, then redistribute the vegetable mixture around them.
4. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes and wine together. Pour the liquids slowly over the veal shanks. Add the thyme, black pepper and salt. Cover the pan and bake the shanks for 1&frac12; to 2 hours.
5. Halfway into the cooking, stir in the porcini mushrooms and their liquid. Cover the pan and continue cooking until the meat is forktender.
6. For the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a large heavy pot. Add the salt. Add the cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring vigorously all the while with a wooden spoon.
7. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture thickens and begins to leave the side of the pan, about 15&ndash;25 minutes, depending on the coarseness of the cornmeal. Immediately pour the polenta onto a lightly oiled wooden board or platter. Let it cool for 15 minutes, and then cut it into slices.
8. Serve the ossobuco over the polenta.