One of the best lessons I took away from culinary school is also one of the most elementary: be prepared. In a professional kitchen it’s called mise en place (“everything in its place”), or the chef’s setup. Getting your mise together means organizing your tools, tidying your station, measuring and prepping your ingredients for your recipe or your shift and putting everything in arm’s reach.
In most home kitchens, arm’s reach is generally pretty close, but the spirit of mise en place is the same: reviewing the recipe, prepping all the ingredients, finding your tools and then ready, set, go. For a new cook or an ambitious recipe, it’s the kind of preparation can make or break a dish. (I can’t be the only one who’s gotten halfway through a recipe only to find it calls for buttermilk.)
So with mise en place and the new cook in mind, I thought this might be a good recipe to share. Braising (a low-and-slow, wet cooking method) is a great technique for newbies: it makes the most of an inexpensive cut of meat, it’s even better the next day (great for entertaining, since nobody will see you sweat nor the mess you made of your kitchen), and you can’t overcook it. Though there isn’t much hands-on work, there are steps (simple and straightforward) involved for this recipe. Ticking them off one by one and then enjoying the spectacularly tasty results can only instill confidence, another important tool in the kitchen. (Don’t be alarmed by all the text below, I just elaborated and belabored a few points for beginners.)
When tough cuts of meat (i.e., chuck shoulder or rump roast) are cooked at a low temperature in liquid, the heat of the oven heats up the braising liquid (simmering around 212 degrees) which then transfers gentle heat to the roast via convection. (It’s all very scientific.) In turn, the tough collagen and connective tissues slowly break down into silky gelatin, and the intramuscular fat melts into the meat to produce fork-tender, deeply flavorful dinner.
Keller’s recipe uses short ribs (reduce the braising time for smaller pieces and baste as you reheat), which are très fashionable these days, or you can substitute pork shoulder or lamb shanks. Any hard-working muscle takes beautifully to a braise. Reduce the braising liquid a bit (whisk in a bit of flour to thicken, if you like) and you’ll have a darkly savory, unctuous sauce to serve with your meat. (Extra points awarded if you can work “unctuous” into a sentence this week.)
One last note: I know people will tell you to use a decent bottle of wine in cooking, but I much prefer to drink the good stuff. You pay for nuance in wine, and that’s going to be blunted by all the other deliciousness in the pot. Better to go for cheap and potable, in my opinion.
So, new cooks, if you’re reading, my final parting advice: be prepared (mise en place!), read through your recipe, have confidence in yourself and your instincts. And then relax. It’s only dinner, after all.
- 1 bottle (750 ml) of dry red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.)
- 1 C yellow onion, diced
- 1 C carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ slices
- 1 C leeks, sliced into 1/2″ rings (white and light green parts) and rinsed well
- 1 C shallots, thinly sliced
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and and papery skins left on
- 2 1/2 – 3 lb boneless chuck shoulder
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- vegetable oil
- 1 C yellow onion, diced
- 2/3 C carrot, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ pieces
- 1 1/2 C leeks, sliced in 1/2″ rings (white and light green parts) and rinsed well
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and papery skins left intact
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 C (32 oz) beef stock, plus additional water
- cheesecloth and scissors
- dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot
- medium bowl
- large sauté pan
- cutting board & chef’s knife
- oven mitt
- plate or baking sheet
- strainer or sieve
Take the meat out and bring to room temperature. Prep the red wine reduction ingredients. (Don’t clean up yet, you’ll still need all that stuff for the braise.) Dump everything for the reduction into the dutch oven and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep the vegetables and herbs for the braise and place in a medium bowl. Cut a piece of cheesecloth about 4″ larger than the pot’s diameter and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Now you can clean up your prep.) Pat the meat dry with paper towels, since damp meat won’t sear as well. Generously salt and pepper the meat and pat with flour to coat lightly. In your sauté pan, heat enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat until it’s shimmery-hot. Brown the meat, about 2-3 minutes on all sides. (If you’re using short ribs, just flip over once.) Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
Once the braise is done reducing, add the fresh batch of vegetables & herbs to the dutch oven and stir to mix. Wet the cheesecloth, wring out and place on top of the veggies (this will act as a filter and keep the herbs and veggies from sticking to the meat). Put the beef on top of the cheesecloth and add the stock and enough water to just come to the top of the meat. (If the meat isn’t covered, just flip it over once or twice during cooking. You can also baste it every once in awhile by spooning the braising liquid overtop.) Place the parchment lid on top and transfer into the oven. Reduce heat to 325 degrees.
Braise the meat for about 2 1/2 hours, until the fibers separate when you smush the meat but it isn’t falling apart. A fork will be able to pierce the meat with no resistance. (If you’re serving the beef for company the next day, clean up, set your table, make ice, prep your appetizers, etc. while the beef braises. If not, have a glass of wine and watch a movie.)
Transfer the braised meat to a fresh plate or baking sheet. Skim off any fat on the surface. Boil sauce until reduced by about 1/3, about five minutes. Season with salt to your taste. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables and herbs, and return the liquid to the dutch oven, stirring to cool. Return the meat to the liquid. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Place in the fridge, covered, overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dutch oven from the fridge and skim off the layer of fat that has solidified on top of the braising liquid. Discard. Reheat, covered, in the oven for 25-30 minutes until warmed through. (Meanwhile, prepare polenta or garlicky mashed potatoes or your other side dishes.)
Slice the meat (against the grain in 1/2″ pieces) and serve on a platter or over your starch (or both) with the sauce.
Note: if you don’t have an ovenproof lid for your pot, cut a circle out of parchment paper (with a 1/2″ hole cut in the middle, for steam) to fit inside your pot, as Keller recommends. I skipped this step and covered with a lid.