Raising the Braising to a new level.

 

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As the leaves turn magnificent shades of red, yellow and orange, my mind thinks menu change! The cold New England winters make me long for warm, falling-off-the-bone meals. Actually, winter translates to hot and soothing meals that fill the soul. One recent Sunday I couldn’t stop thinking about lamb shanks. Most ladies dream of diamonds but I was contemplating gamey meats. Luck was with me when I nabbed the last three lamb shanks at my local Whole Foods. It can be difficult finding lamb shanks or short ribs. Most grocery stores don’t have real butchers as the meats come pre-cut and packaged. Whole Foods almost always has what I desire.

So humor me as I describe a fantastic way to cook lamb shanks. It involves one of my favorite condiments, balsamic vinegar. When I braise, I plan on staying home. I find a project, or a good movie that will fill the time. I never leave the house with anything running. Braising gives me a perfect reason to be a shut in stay home for a few hours.

 

¼ cup flour

½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

¼ tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

3 lamb shanks

2 tsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with flat side of knife

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

4 celery ribs, cut into hunks

1 tsp. dried thyme

½ cup of good balsamic

1 cup of white wine

4 cups of chicken stock, store bought works great

 

  1. Whisk flour, salt, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon together. Roll the lamb shanks in the flour mixture until they are coated.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven (4 to 6 quarts) over a medium-high heat and sear the lamb shanks on all sides until browned.
  3. Transfer lamb shanks onto a plate and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  4. Scrape any crusty bits from the lamb-searing, off the bottom of the Dutch oven. (don’t discard, just loosen them to prevent them from burning)
  5. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and cook until it has evaporated slightly and thickened further, about 10 minutes.
  7. Return the lamb shanks to the pot and pour the white wine and chicken stock over them. If you don’t have wine, water is a fine substitute. Season the broth to taste with salt, cover the pot, and place it in the oven until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones. This will take about 2 ½ to 3 hours of slow cooking.
  8. Remove the shanks from the pot, onto a platter or sheet pan, covering them with foil to keep them warm, and strain the liquid into a saucepan. Discard the solids.
  9. Cook the sauce over medium heat until it has reduced by about half. This should take about 15 minutes.
  • Season the sauce to taste and pour it over the lamb shanks.

I served it with polenta and Parmesan cheese. I like to take the meat off the bone when I serve it. It falls off the bone and your guests won’t even need a knife to cut it. I’ve served it over tagliatelle and butter, which is utterly delicious!

 

I’ve adapted this recipe slightly from Cara Nicoletti’s recipe. I hope you enjoy it! If you prefer, you can cook this the day before you plan on serving it. Braised meats taste even better the next day. Enjoy!

Braised to the bone

                         Braised Chicken

 

I’m sorry, did I just put you to sleep. Well WAKE UP. Braised chicken is one of life’s delicacies. It’s simple and full of flavor. The best part of this dish is you make it ahead. Make a lot. You won’t be sorry.

Now I like to think that the onions are the stars of this dish. I sauté the onions in olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. If you have the time to caramelize the onions, please do. They add a deep flavor to the dish. To caramelize onions, you cook them on a medium low heat and stir….for a long time. You don’t want them to burn, but caramelize and become sweeter. I prefer to let them cook down to almost a relish. If you don’t want to spend the time caramelizing them, that’s okay. Just cook them until they are translucent.

To braise you must have a liquid. I use some water with a bouillon cube or a product called “Better than Bouillon”. You can use chicken broth too. I also add some white wine first to deglaze the onions. This means you scrape up the yummy brown bits from the pan, and let the wine evaporate. All the flavor is right there.

So let’s talk recipe. I don’t have one.  Oops. I just always wing it. It’s really just browning, sautéing and braising. Easy peasy. This is something that I have made forever. There are some components and methods that we need to discuss. First, the chicken. I like to use 4 leg quarters. You don’t have to, but please use chicken on a bone. Chicken cooked on the bone will stay moist. Make enough for two meals. This dish does take time, so make it worth it. You also need a pan with a lid. When you braise, you cover the pan to keep the liquids from evaporating. I use a large fry pan that isn’t too deep.

Tonight I used four leg quarters and two VERY large onions. I don’t think you can have enough onions in this dish. You cook them down over a period of time. Since they are the star, I cut them in half moons. First you cut the tip of the onion off. Then cut the onion from the root down to where the tip was. Peel the skin from each half and cut thin semi circles of onion, with the flat side down on the cutting board. Always do this before you even take out the pan. Put the onions in the bowl. It makes cooking so much easier when you are prepared.

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So, the first step is to heat your pan over a medium high heat. Pour some olive oil on the bottom of the pan and let it heat. Put the chicken skin side down in the pan. Let the chicken brown for about 5 minutes. If you try to lift the chicken and the skin sticks to the pan, let it keep cooking. At this point we are only browning the meat. In a while, we will cook the meat through. What ever sticks to the pan is full of flavor and will help made the sauce very tasty.  After about 10 minutes, flip chicken. If the skin is still sticking, don’t worry. The world will not end. I like to sprinkle Lawry’s seasoned salt at this point on the chicken. Let the chicken cook for about 5 more minutes. Remove chicken from pan. I like to set it on a cookie sheet while I sauté the onions.

Now, I drain off any fat from the pan. Don’t scrape the pan bottom. Just pour the fat into a Pyrex measuring cup, or even a coffee cup. My “friend” poured the very hot fat into a glass once. Nothing like shattered glass and boiling hot grease on your kitchen counter. Said no one. Ever. Set it aside to cool. You will throw this out later. I let it cool on the counter and then put it in the fridge. It hardens and gets tossed into the trash.  Someday I’ll tell you how I learned that sugar burns blue. Right honey?

Put the pan back on the burner and add more olive oil to the pan. Time to sauté the onions. We talked about this already. Don’t wander away from them. Keep a watchful eye on the onions. When they are brown enough for you, add the chicken back into the pan.  If you listen, you will hear angels singing. Really.

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I add broth/water half way up the chicken. You want to braise it, not drown it. I also add the bouillon now. Put the cover on the pan, lower the heat, and let it simmer for about an hour.

See why I said to make enough for more than one meal? This takes time, but it’s very worth it. The chicken is done when it is falling off the bone. I take the chicken and put it on a CLEAN cookie sheet to cool. I spoon out the onions, with a slotted spoon, into a bowl. Let the sauce cool in the pan.

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Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, I pull the meat off the bones and put it in a container, with the onions.  This is easier to reheat and serve when you shred the meat off the bone. There’s more portion control too. I certainly don’t want a hunk of meat that Fred Flintstone could eat. Yabba dabba do. Being frugal, I put those bones go right into the freezer for  future chicken stock. I pour the sauce into a separate container. The fat will rise as it cools. By dinnertime tomorrow, it will have risen to the top and you can throw out the fat by scraping it up with a spoon.

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That’s it. The next day when you’re ready for dinner put the meat, onions and sauce in a pan and heat on low. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or noodles.  A simple vegetable like steamed broccoli pairs well with this dish. Ha! I said “pairs”.

I made this chicken tonight, while I was cleaning up after dinner, which I made Saturday. That’s how I roll. I like to cook ahead and serve another day. Flavors meld together and taste even better. That’s the beauty of braising. Try it. You’ll like it! Winner, winner; chicken dinner!