I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

daring kitchen, march

This month's challenge was a perfect mid-winter one for me: braising.

"The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a.k.a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.

Braising is, basically, a combination of dry and wet cooking. Searing the meat ('dry' cooking - just done in some oil) gets that lovely chemistry going to carmelize, add texture and flavour to the meat and deepen the colour of the dish. Cooking slow in acidic liquid ('wet' cooking) breaks down the meat, resulting in a rich, flavourful, cut-it-with-a-spoon dish. There is a lovely homey, simple,rustic feel about making these, though the taste is complex and satisfying.

I decided to tackle this one early on in the month, and so made a red wine braise of short ribs, using the recipe provided with this month's challenge. The rib roast was cut into sections and these were dredged in flour, then browned in batches in the deep cast-iron pot.

The meat was removed as it browned, then onion, carrot and celery were cooked in the pot (the onion/carrot/celery combo is very like the classic mirepoix used as a basis for stocks in French cooking. I found this interesting and really, mirepoix is just such a fun little word) to caramelize and soften. The meat returned to its cozy pot, and then almost a whole bottle of a California Zinfandel was poured over the lot. Wow, that smelled good. It was a nice, fruity wine (how do I know? I did say almost a full bottle, didn't I?). Garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, brown sugar, and salt all joined in before the heavy lid was put on ajar and the pot hefted into the warm oven.

Then I had four hours off.

There is something of a warm fuzzy in having dinner mostly done at 1:30pm.

After time of working on projects with the kids, doing some music stuff, and just generally living and enjoying the smell wafting from the kitchen, it was time to get back at it. The meat all tender and delicious, was removed from the pot and the braising liquid strained, then the fat skimmed off the top.

Mushrooms were sliced and sauteed in a dry skillet, pressing on them with a spatula (this was a new technique - and I loved it! Nice texture). New carrots and celery were sauteed in butter until soft, then everything - meat, strained liquid, and sauteed mushrooms - was added back into the pot. Sounds like a lot of back and forth, which it was, but at the end there were only two cooking pots to clean!

Finished and served on mashed potatoes 
To finish off, I made a gremolata. I had never heard of a gremolata. And gremolata is another of those words like mirepoix that is just fun to say. It looked like a nice little garnish. Turns out, a gremolata is a little shot of fresh amazing that you put on top of something like this. Chopped garlic, lemon zest, and parsley. Sounds like a small thing not worth the time, right? NO. Worth it all the way.

The braise's flavour was deep, rich. Layers of taste that had a mellow feeling to them - and then the gremolata gave the palate that pop of fresh, bright flavour that set it off perfectly. A wonderful combination, served on a bed of whipped potatoes. The different techniques and parts of the dish added texture and taste that all came together in one united whole. Delicious!

We finished that meal with another bit of a first for me, as I flambéed for the first time with Crepes Suzette. Yum! All in all, a fun afternoon and evening in the kitchen.