Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Braising: The Long, the Low and the Tender

Cooking is about more than just following recipes. Almost anyone can follow directions, but learning technique is the way to really understand cooking. I try and present recipes as a means to learning a new technique. This time I am skipping the specific recipe and going straight to the heart of the matter.

What is it?

The word braise comes from an 18th century french term for coal, which referred to a method of placing hot coals on top of and below a cooking pot. The brilliance of braising is that you can take a tough, muscly and nearly unusable piece of meat and transform it into a melt in your mouth, fall apart on your plate, decadence.


You only really need liquid and meat to braise, but some spices and an onion certainly add to a more flavorful final product.

  • Meat - Short ribs, shank or shoulder are all excellent candidates for braising. You can use lamb, beef, pork or even buffalo if it is available.
  • Liquid - Have an unfinished bottle of wine sitting around or some beers in the back the fridge that you keep forgetting about? A good quality liquid doesn't hurt, but it isn't a necessity either. I suggest using up something you may have laying around.
  • Spices - Again, you probably have enough spices in your pantry to make something work. Mix some fine coffee grounds with cayenne pepper and brown sugar for a rub. You can try cumin, coriander, nutmeg and red pepper flakes for a middle eastern flavor. As long as the spices go well together they will work just fine. If you only have salt and pepper that is okay too.
  • Onion - Simple, just a regular yellow onion or two. You can even throw in some garlic or shallots if you want to get fancy.


First, give the meat a good rub down with your spices. You really want to put a good coating of spices on the meat. Heat some olive oil in wide deep pan. You want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil until it just starts to smoke.

Using a set of kitchen tongs place the meat into the hot oil. Be careful is will be really hot and the oil will splatter. You want to get a nice brown caramelized color on all sides of the meat. The oil should be hot enough that it doesn't take long to brown. Once the meat is browned remove it from the pan and set it aside.

Throw your sliced onion into the pan and let it cook in the olive oil and fat from the meat. Once the onion is well cooked and has soaked up most of the oil you can turn off the heat.

Place the meat back into the pan over the onion and pour in your liquid. (The picture above shows a pan right before the liquid is added.) The liquid should come to about the middle of the meat.

Place the pan covered in an oven set to 200 degrees. After about a half hour turn the oven up to 250 degrees, then in another 30 minutes increase to 300 degrees. The meat will cook for about three hours. It could be less or more but you don't really need to mess with it until you get close to three hours. To check the meat just squeeze it with your tongs. If it flakes apart or falls from the bone it is done and you can remove it from the oven.

Let the meat cool in the juices so it retains the flavor.


You can serve braised meat with just about anything. If you used Asian spices serve it with rice; middle eastern spiced meat might go well with cous-cous. I like to shred the meat and take it for lunch during the work week. It tastes great on a tortilla with some avocado.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuna in Jalapeño Escabeche

Canned tuna has long been the meal of last resort for collage students and those waiting anxiously for payday. Canned tuna is America's most popular fish, and like most foods popular with the masses, canned tuna gets a bad rep from food snobs.

It also gets negative press for mercury levels, but as long as you are not pregnant or elderly and don't eat the stuff everyday you should be fine.  Also, tongol and white albacore are the healthiest of the canned tuna options available. I happen to think the tongol works best for this recipe, but you be the judge.

On the the bright side even high end canned tuna can be had for under $3 or $4 bucks.

This one comes from Rick Bayless who's show on PBS is a must see for fans of Mexican food. It is easy and quick to put together.  I like to serve it with a squeeze of fresh lime and some avocado to temper the heat.

If you prefer to buy tuna packed in water just add more olive oil to the tuna when cooking.