Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Braised Beef

I have found that braises are among the best ways to prepare meat. It's a slow cooking process, but can be relatively simple. The meat acquires a rich flavor, becomes perfectly tender, and the braising juices make a nice sauce.

Recently, I prepared the basic beouf à la mode, beef braised in red wine, from MAFC. It was just at the end of Christmas break, and a few members of the community had returned to Ciszek, so it was just right for the group that had assembled.

The first step is a simple marinade of red wine, olive oil, and aromatic vegetables and herbs, into which goes a roast that has been larded, which means that you have the butcher cut strips of fat into the meat.

[Note: I have a saying: Always cook with wine. When called for, add some to the recipe.]

This is after almost 24 hours. The roast has absorbed the marinade nicely. In fact, it has basically turned purple, which was a little weird. But it smelled lovely.

When the meat has been marinated for 6-24 hours (this was almost at 24), the meat is drained and browned in cooking fat. I just used oil, since I'm not ready to render any fat for this purpose.

Into the same pot, the marinade is added back in and reduced at a boil, and some kind of other meat is added. MAFC recommends a cracked veal knuckle, a split calves foot, or a pork, ham, or bacon rind. I went with the latter. It's easiest to obtain from my butcher on short notice. And frankly, I love bacon.

MAFC provides a valuable tip to cooking with American-style bacon, and it's the kind of little insight that makes this book so valuable. The bacon is blanched for 10 minutes. American-style bacon is usually smoked. Blanching takes out the smokey flavor so that it's better for use in French cooking. That's the kind of thing that I would never have thought of as an amateur cook, but is characteristic of the attention to detail in MAFC.

Beef stock is then added, and then the whole thing is covered and placed in a 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

When removed, the roast is remove and sliced, and the marinade is boiled down (after removing any fat) to make a slightly thick sauce. I served it along with carrots and potatoes, according to the recommendation in MAFC.

It was fantastic! The meat was juicy and flavorful, tender to the fork, but not falling apart. The sauce was rich and perfectly complimentary to the meat. I might have seasoned just a little more as I made the sauce, but it wasn't so lacking that everyone was reaching for the salt grinder.

Overall, I have to say, a triumph! If you're looking to try out a recipe from MAFC for the first time, I highly recommend this one.

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