Braise new world

Braising meat (or chicken) requires a particular preparation involving browning the meat thoroughly over high heat, and, over a slightly lower heat, browning the vegetables thoroughly too. Braising recipes are wide and varied in their content, and just perfect eating throughout our winter and spring, when I, for one, yearn for warmth and am impatient for summer. But meat is, I think, preferable to chicken for braising, as all the so-called “lesser cuts”, which readily translates as the cheaper cuts, benefit from slow braising.

The first recipe uses brisket, the piece of beef which never seems to enjoy the publicity it deserves for being delicious. But my favourite cut of beef to braise must be oxtail. Be sure to buy oxtail which has NOT been frozen – for some reason, defrosted oxtail just does not braise successfully. Yet a cooked oxtail freezes as well as any other type of beef.

So today there is a recipe using brisket, cooked with onions and beetroot and horseradish, there is a recipe for pork shoulder meat – a perfect cut for braising – which contains shallots and eating apples, spiked with Dijon mustard, and the third recipe is for lamb shanks, cooked with shallots, cumin, aubergine and tomato.

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Brisket braised with onions, beetroot and horseradish

Serves 6

a piece of brisket weighing approximately 4lb/1.8kg – any left over can be cut up into the vegetables, for re-heating

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 onions, each skinned, halved and finely sliced – this looks a large amount, but as they brown they wilt down

1½ lb/675g raw beetroot, weighed when peeled and diced, thumbnail in size

1 just rounded tablespoon flour

2 level teaspoons horseradish – I like the Co-op brand, or Colman’s

1 teaspoon salt about 20 grinds of black pepper

pared rind of ½ orange – avoid peeling any bitter white with the rind. I use a potato peeler

1¼ pints/710ml vegetable stock

Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the brisket well all over. When browned, lift the brisket onto a warmed plate and add the sliced onions to the casserole. Over moderately high heat, and stirring occasionally, fry the onions for 7-10 minutes, or until they are completely soft and beginning to turn golden brown at the edges. Then add the diced beetroot to the casserole and mix the almost caramelising onions and the diced beetroot thoroughly, adding the flour, horseradish, salt and pepper at the same time.

Cook for a couple of minutes before gradually adding the stock, stirring all the time, and stir until the liquid bubbles gently. Add the pared orange rind, and replace the brisket in amongst the vegetables in the liquid. Cover the casserole with its lid and cook in a low moderate heat, 300F/150C/Gas Mark 3 for two hours. Take the lid off the casserole for the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

Take the casserole from the oven, let the brisket stand for 15 minutes before lifting it from the dish onto a board, and cut into slices about 1cm thick to serve, with the vegetables in the delicious juices spooned beside or over each slice on each warmed plate. This is very good with well-beaten mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as Savoy cabbage, or kale.

Braised pork shoulder with shallots, fennel and apple

Serves 6

2lb/900g pork shoulder, weighed when trimmed and cut into chunks about 1in/2.5cm in size

2 fairly level tablespoons flour mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and about 20 grinds of black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

12 banana shallots, skinned and halved lengthways

3 bulbs of fennel, each trimmed at either end, halved widthways and each half cut in half, giving 4 quarters of each fennel bulb

3 eating apples, each quartered, peeled and cored, and each quarter halved lengthways

1 pint/570ml vegetable stock

Mix the flour, salt and black pepper together well, and mix the trimmed pieces of pork shoulder and the seasoned flour together thoroughly.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large casserole. Brown the pieces of floured pork, a few at a time, and browning on all sides. As the pork is browned, lift it into a warm bowl and brown some more.

When all the pork is browned, add the halved shallots to the casserole, reduce the heat slightly, and brown the shallots on all sides – this will take between 8-10 minutes. Scoop the shallot halves into the bowl with the pork and add the fennel quarters to the casserole. Cook them, turning occasionally, for a further 5 minutes before replacing the browned pork shoulder meat and the shallots in the casserole, adding the fat apple slices, and stirring in the stock. When the liquid gently simmers, cover the casserole with its lid and cook in a low moderate heat, 300F/150C/Gas Mark 3 for 1¾-2 hours. A piece of pork shouldermeat should feel tender when stuck with a fork. Taste, add more salt if you think it is needed, and serve with well-beaten mashed potatoes and a green vegetable – spinach, or steamed Brussels sprouts for example.

Braised lamb shanks with anchovies, aubergines and tomatoes

Serves 6

Unlike most food photographs that you see, I always remove the meat from the shanks before serving.

3 large lamb shanks

3 onions, skinned, halved and finely sliced

4 anchovies, drained of their preserving oil

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 aubergines, either end sliced off and the aubergines cut into dice about the size of the first joint of a thumb

2 fat cloves of garlic, each skinned and sliced thinly

2 x 14oz/400g tins of chopped 

1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper

finely grated rind of 1 lemon – this is added when the braised meat in its vegetables is reheated before serving

In a large casserole and over high heat, brown the lamb shanks very well all over. As they are browned, lift them onto a large warm plate. Lower the heat slightly and fry the finely sliced onions and the anchovies for 7-10 minutes, stirring from time to time. The onions should be completely soft and just beginning to brown at the edges and the anchovies will almost have melted. They don’t impart any fish flavour, just a depth of taste which is delicious combined with that of the lamb. Scoop the onions and anchovies onto the plate with the browned lamb.

You may need to add some more olive oil to the casserole. Then fry the diced aubergines, stirring, until they are browned. Replace the fried onions in amongst the diced aubergines, and stir well together. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, adding the sliced garlic at this stage, too. Then add the contents of the tins of chopped tomatoes, stir very well, season with salt and black pepper, and replace the browned lamb shanks, pushing them down amongst the vegetables. Cover the pan with its lid and cook, from simmering, in a low moderate heat, 300F/150C/Gas Mark 3 for 2-2½ hours, or until the meat is falling from the bones. Take the casserole out of the oven and leave to cool just until you can lift out the lamb shanks onto a board and remove the meat without scorching your fingers. Discard any gristle, fat and bones, and replace the meat in amongst the vegetables once more. Removing the meat from the shanks is so very much easier done whilst the meat is warm – when it is cold, the fat congeals the meat to the bones. Cool completely and, when cold, lift off any congealed fat which has formed on the surface. Store for up to 2 days, when cold, in the fridge.

Re-heat on top of the cooker, adding the finely grated lemon rind at this point, until very gently simmering, and let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes before serving – this is good with either well-beaten mashed potatoes or with boiled Basmati rice containing chopped garlic, parsley, grated lemon rind and olive oil.