Braising is a cooking technique which combines moist-heat and dry-heat methods. The item is first browned over high heat and then both simmered and steamed in a flavorful liquid. Often the cooking liquid is then reduced or thickened to create an accompanying sauce. For braised foods, the final texture, rather than internal temperature, is the determining factor for doneness. The term fork tender is used to describe properly braised dishes whereby a fork passes easily through the finished product.
As braising is a long, slow process, the braised items should be tough cuts of meat or hearty vegetables capable of withstanding extended cooking. Delicate fish should be avoided as it would tend to disintegrate; likewise, vegetables that might discolor or break down shouldn’t be incorporated. Otherwise, most foods such as beef roasts, poultry, pork, and even vegetables like mushrooms, endive, and cabbage are all good candidates for braising.
Braising is done in a high walled pan with a tight fitting lid. The main item is first seasoned and then seared on all sides in a small amount of oil and removed. Aromatic vegetables are then added to the hot oil and cooked before the braising liquid is added. The braising liquid can be anything from stock to wine to water. The main ingredient is next submerged halfway in the liquid and simmered until tender. The long simmer can be accomplished on the stove top or in the oven according to the cook’s preference. Finally, the main item is once again removed and allowed to rest while the liquid is thickened, seasoned, and strained.
Pot roasts and stews are popular types of braises, although stewed items are usually cut into bite-sized pieces ahead of time. Bouillabaisse, fricassee, and goulash are all variations on this technique. Ossobuco is a popular item in restaurants, and for good reason. It combines the delicate nature of veal shanks with the full, complex flavor of an espagnole sauce. When shopping for veal shanks, be sure to select those with a high meat to bone ratio. Less expensive beef shanks can be substituted, but these lack the velvety tenderness of veal.
What you will need:
2 tablespoons clarified butter or oil
4-6 veal shanks
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart brown stock
1 tablespoon whole butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Truss each of the shanks tightly with a piece of twine to keep them from falling apart during the cooking process. Season each with salt and pepper and brown them on both sides in a high-walled sauce pan in the clarified butter. Remove the shanks from the pan and set aside.
Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the hot oil and cook until the onions just begin to brown. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux and whisk in the stock a little at a time. Bring to a boil while whisking occasionally, add the shanks back into the pan, and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1-2 hours over low heat until the shanks are fork tender and remove them once again.
Increase to moderate heat and reduce the cooking liquid while stirring and skimming as necessary. When the liquid thickens to a sauce consistency, remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Remove the twine from the shanks and strain the sauce over them.