On Bones and Braising

Karl Wells
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Moist, low, slow, covered cooking

After I left home in my early 20s, I began to cook for myself. It was either that or live on whatever a tin might provide: beans, bully beef, Vienna sausages, Spam or Campbell's 100 plus soups. (Today they make 237.)

My parents were both fine cooks whom I'd often watch in the kitchen, so the idea of preparing my own food didn't intimidate me. I was a little shocked, however, to learn how big a bite good food can take out of one's finances. That lesson taught me two things: buy less expensive cuts of meat and learn how to make them taste wonderful. (In other words, learn how to cook them properly.) Spoiling food through incompetent cooking is a shame, not to mention wasteful.

Karl's chicken thighs in Riesling. - Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

After I left home in my early 20s, I began to cook for myself. It was either that or live on whatever a tin might provide: beans, bully beef, Vienna sausages, Spam or Campbell's 100 plus soups. (Today they make 237.)

My parents were both fine cooks whom I'd often watch in the kitchen, so the idea of preparing my own food didn't intimidate me. I was a little shocked, however, to learn how big a bite good food can take out of one's finances. That lesson taught me two things: buy less expensive cuts of meat and learn how to make them taste wonderful. (In other words, learn how to cook them properly.) Spoiling food through incompetent cooking is a shame, not to mention wasteful.

Meat that comes from the area near the head and tail of an animal can be less expensive: shoulder (chuck,) blade, rump and round. Meat on the bone is good because bones add more flavour to the finished dish. In her book, "Bones - Recipes, History & Lore," Jennifer McLagan writes, "Chicken soup is a simple example of the importance of bones. With only a chicken, a few vegetables, and water, you can make a rich, nourishing broth that jells as it cools. Why? The chicken's bones. Those bones add body and substance to the soup, as well as taste."

My first attempts at cooking the less expensive cuts of beef were not completely successful. I remember trying to grill round steak that was very chewy - I'm being charitable - and not all that tasty. I didn't understand that the cuts of meat close to the extremities of the animal have less fat in them, meaning less flavour, and that the flesh tends to be much tougher. Therefore they need to be marinated (to tenderize and flavour) before grilling, or they need to be braised. What is braising? It's not, as some believe, light frying or sautÉing. Here's how "Larousse Gastronomique" defines braising:

Low temperature

"A method of cooking food in a closed vessel with very little liquid at a low temperature and for a long time. Braising is used mostly for the tougher cuts of meat, certain vegetables, artichokes, and large poultry. Braising is also a method of cooking certain firm fleshed fish: the fish is poached in the oven, in a small amount of liquid containing herbs, and basted during cooking."

The discovery of braising opened up all sorts of cooking possibilities for me. I'd not only discovered how to make tough meats tender and succulent. Braising, I realized, was the method for preparing one-dish meals. All you had to do was add some vegetables to the pot and you had a complete meal, bathed in the rich, flavourful juices of the braising pan.

An example would be osso buco. It's a classic Italian dish of braised veal shank where a piece of the lower leg of the animal is cooked with the bone intact. In "Bones" McLagan cooks hers with blood oranges, fresh fennel bulbs and carrots. Before you attempt a braise, here are some tips to keep in mind. Make sure you brown the meat in oil first, be it round steak, chicken thighs or pork hocks. The caramelization of the meat will add a tremendous amount of nutty flavour and colour to your dish. Use lots of aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, garlic, celery and peppers. Add some liquid (wine, stock, water, juice) but not too much. The meat shouldn't be swimming in it. Make sure the dish is properly covered and set the oven temperature from 300 F but not exceeding 350 F. Finally, have patience and allow the dish to cook for at least one hour or more. The longer it's in the oven the better and the meat will be the tenderest you've eaten.

KARL'S CHICKEN THIGHS IN RIESLING

Ingredients:

16 skinned chicken thighs

2 cups Riesling wine

2 cups low salt chicken broth

1 tbsp. Pernod

1 cup chopped celery

2 tbsp. chopped garlic

3 cups chopped carrot

3 cups finely diced onion

2 tbsp. rosemary

Bay leaf

Canola oil

Salt and pepper

Method:

Over moderate to high temperature heat a few tablespoons of canola oil in a frying pan. Salt and pepper chicken thighs and fry until slightly browned on both sides. Drain and remove to a roasting pan. Fry onions in same oil until soft. Stir in carrots, celery and garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Add chicken broth, Pernod, rosemary and bay. Sprinkle with a few grindings of pepper and stir, being sure to scrape any brown bits off pan into the mix. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer a few minutes. Pour vegetable mixture over chicken in roasting pan.

Add Riesling, cover and cook in a pre-heated 350 F oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve with potatoes, rice or couscous. Be sure to pour some braising liquid over the thighs. Serves 8.

KARL'S BRAISED ROUND STEAKS

Ingredients:

8 round steaks

4 medium onions (thinly sliced)

4 carrots (cubed)

4 or 5 large cloves of garlic (chopped)

3 stalks of celery (cubed)

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

1 tbsp. powdered mustard

2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp. rosemary

1/2 cup flour

Canola or vegetable oil

Method:

Over moderate to high temperature heat a few tablespoons of canola oil in a frying pan. Salt and pepper steaks, pound lightly, dust with flour and brown them in oil, adding more oil as needed. Transfer steaks to large roasting pan. Fry onions in same oil until they turn slightly yellow. Add the celery, carrots and garlic and continue to cook and stir for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and their liquid. Stir and scrape off any brown bits stuck to the pan to incorporate into the mixture. Add mustard, Worcestershire sauce and rosemary. Bring everything to a boil, add a tablespoon of flour and stir. Lower heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour vegetable mixture over the steaks, making sure to place some between steaks that are piled on top of one another. Cover roasting pan and place in oven for 1 hour 20 minutes. Serve steaks with mashed potatoes and green vegetable. Be sure to pour some braising liquid over each steak. Serves 8.

BRAISED HOCK WITH FENNEL THREE WAYS

Courtesy, Bones, by Jennifer McLagan (William Morrow)

Ingredients:

1 fresh pork hock, about 2 1/4 lbs. (1 kg)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

1 inner celery stalk with leaves, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 small leek, trimmed and sliced

Half small fennel bulb, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup (60 ml) pastis or Pernod

One 14-ounce (398-ml) can whole tomatoes

1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed

1 cup (250 ml) pork stock or court bouillon

Method:

Preheat the oven to 300 F (150 C). If the skin is still on the hock, remove it and keep it for stock. Pat the hock dry and season it with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the hock on all sides, then transfer it to a plate. Add the onion, celery, carrot, leek, and fennel to the pot and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown.

Add the garlic and pastis and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the tomatoes, with their juice, the fennel seeds, pork stock, and 1 tsp. salt and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat and add the hock, along with any juices. Spoon some of the liquid over the top of the hock. Cover with a damp piece of parchment paper and then the lid and place in the oven.

Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the hock after 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender, almost falling off the bone. Serve the hock with the braising liquid.

Serves 2.

Organizations: Campbell's, History & Lore, Pernod

Geographic location: Vienna

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Tommy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Owch Paddy - Maybe you mean you would like someone else send in a recipe of their own, but if your comment is based only on the fact you don't like Karl's cooking articles, then don't read them. Especially online when you actually have to make the effort to find the article and click on it! The Telegram has a bird watching columnist, but I'm not a bird watcher. I don't go out of my way to find his article, click on it and then insult him by saying he's wasting my time! Go read something else.

  • Pamela
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I'm not tired of Karl's publications at all! I look forward to his reviews each week and I find them to be very informative...tried a nice few meals I probably wouldn't have thanks to these reviews capturing my attention!

  • Blair
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I think these recipes suit the times. Nobody needs to eat bad when times are tough. Next week, you should include some recipes on preparing offal and organ meats. Or, maybe should head to the old age homes and get the ladies to teach you some recession recipes. My grandmother's skilly is one of my favorite comfort foods.

  • Paddy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Is anyone else as tired of karl Wells and his cooking as I am?

  • Noonan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I get rather tired of Karl's articles as well. Do we need an entire article about braising? All of this is available in any cookbook. I think Karl is trying to portray himself as a culinary expert when he's not. I'm not sure why the city has accepted the former weather man as the expert in restaurants in St. John's. He might be the first gay man that the more traditional elements of NL society have accepted, but how does that qualify him as a resident expert on cooking or restaurants. The guy didn't even even cook for himself until he was in his 20's. What a joke.

    This city needs someone with some actual culinary background to write articles like this.

    I really don't care what Karl thinks or what restaurants he likes.

  • Tommy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Owch Paddy - Maybe you mean you would like someone else send in a recipe of their own, but if your comment is based only on the fact you don't like Karl's cooking articles, then don't read them. Especially online when you actually have to make the effort to find the article and click on it! The Telegram has a bird watching columnist, but I'm not a bird watcher. I don't go out of my way to find his article, click on it and then insult him by saying he's wasting my time! Go read something else.

  • Pamela
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    I'm not tired of Karl's publications at all! I look forward to his reviews each week and I find them to be very informative...tried a nice few meals I probably wouldn't have thanks to these reviews capturing my attention!

  • Blair
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    I think these recipes suit the times. Nobody needs to eat bad when times are tough. Next week, you should include some recipes on preparing offal and organ meats. Or, maybe should head to the old age homes and get the ladies to teach you some recession recipes. My grandmother's skilly is one of my favorite comfort foods.

  • Paddy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Is anyone else as tired of karl Wells and his cooking as I am?

  • Noonan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I get rather tired of Karl's articles as well. Do we need an entire article about braising? All of this is available in any cookbook. I think Karl is trying to portray himself as a culinary expert when he's not. I'm not sure why the city has accepted the former weather man as the expert in restaurants in St. John's. He might be the first gay man that the more traditional elements of NL society have accepted, but how does that qualify him as a resident expert on cooking or restaurants. The guy didn't even even cook for himself until he was in his 20's. What a joke.

    This city needs someone with some actual culinary background to write articles like this.

    I really don't care what Karl thinks or what restaurants he likes.