Day 15: Braise
This was an interesting section for me in more ways than one. First and foremost, Ruhlman does a nice job here covering exactly what it means to braise something – whether it’s vegetables or a cut of meat – because there can be a bit of confusion when discussing this type of cooking. In fact, he full-on admits to the confusion: “There is no definitive consensus among texts of chefs” (p.258).
While that can be a bit of a muddy way to start the conversation, it is true. Whenever I think of braising, I would think of cooking something in a pot, usually in the oven, using low heat and at least some liquid. The other thing I would think of when the term braising would come to mind? That it is a cooking method for meat…nothing else.
But I was wrong. It turns out that people braise vegetables all the time, and I never realized that. I know I must seem like I’m coming off more and more like a total amateur cook, seeing as how I claimed that I was at least halfway competent in the kitchen near the start of this endeavor. I’d like to think instead that there are plenty of home cooks out there who just never thought of things like tonight’s recipe, which involves braising a vegetable.
Braise is defined by several factors: what we braise is tough, usually a heavily worked muscle, which is why we need to braise it. The food is usually seared to add flavor to the finished dish and, important with meat, to set the exterior so that when you add the liquid, the meat doesn’t release a lot of blood, which would coagulate and rise to the surface. Liquid, usually stock, is added to the pot, along with any other ingredients…and the contents are brought to a simmer and then put in the oven, usually covered or partially covered. (p.258)
That’s a lot of information to take in, and you’ll notice the use of the word “usually” in that description. It shows that there really is a lot of “it’s-this-but-you-can-also-do-that” kind of thinking going on here. In the rest of the essay he does his best to cover the subject without making the section seem overly long or too confusing.
Recipe: Braised Fennel with Thyme
This was the first recipe that I prepared from this book where I think I might have screwed it up just a tiny bit. I’m not sure what went “wrong” (and I use that term very loosely here because it came out just fine), but I’m suspecting a couple of factors.
First, this recipe does call for the use of flour to coat parts of the cut fennel and browning (or, searing) in oil before liquid is added to finish the braise in the oven. I’m thinking I used a little too much flour when I coated the cut fennel. It’s an acknowledged weakness of mine when I dredge anything in flour that I tend to over-flour (if that makes any sense) and then it gets mushy later. Secondly, I suspect that the oil in the pot wasn’t quite as hot as it should have been.
It wasn’t a big deal, as the fennel still braised beautifully (as shown from the picture above), and it was quite good. I served it with some of the leftover roasted chicken, which was a good pairing.