Dishes of braised meat are perfect at this time of year because they tend to be very warming and comforting.
Braising involves searing ingredients at a high heat, then covering them in a pot and cooking at a lower temperature very slowly to really release the wonderful flavour. In fact, if you follow a few simple rules, braising can be an excellent way to create impressive dishes and much easier to get right than roasting or grilling, which can overcook meat, leaving it tough and dry.
Braising fills your whole kitchen with wonderful aromas of home cooking, tempting anyone who enters. It can be a great technique to use if you’re entertaining friends, because these lovely one pot dishes can be left alone to cook. Braising lends itself well to forgotten cuts or tougher cuts of meat which need to be broken down and tenderised. Whether it’s hogget (lamb that’s aged and past its first birthday), melt in the mouth ribs, or pork that simply falls away on your fork, you can achieve lovely dishes that are affordable for feeding crowds.
Whatever you’re cooking in this way, there are a few things to remember to get the standout dishes you want.
It is absolutely key to the success of braised dishes to start preparations a day or two before you plan to serve them. Seasoning is really important and the secret is to find the right balance, so make sure you follow the recipe and taste as you go.
Most braised dishes call for a mirepoix – which is a mix of celery, onions and carrots. This gives your dish a good base to start from and really adds a depth of flavour to your stocks and sauces. You can even give the classic mirepoix a twist by adding ginger, lemongrass or even anchovies.
When you go to add the braising liquid to the pot, make sure you deglaze the pot, picking up all of the sauce from the bottom and sides of the dish as that’s where you’ll catch a lot of additional flavour.
Be careful with your measurements. If you add too much stock, you’ll start to dilute the wonderful flavour of your dish. You also want to be careful to braise not boil the ingredients – bring them to a light simmer and then place under a low heat in the oven.
Don’t forget the finishing touches. The little details can take these dishes from good to great. A handful of chopped herbs for freshness, a squeeze of citrus to add a little more zing or a spoon of crème fraîche to mellow the flavour right down.
Whatever you’re braising, following some simple rules can give you some wonderful winter dishes to enjoy again and again.
BRAISED HOGGET SHOULDER WITH WINTER VEGETABLES
1kg hogget shoulder – buy it tied from your butcher
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
half a head of garlic
1 tsp peppercorns
1 bouquet garni
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp tomato purée
400ml white wine
1l lamb or chicken stock
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped rosemary
100g caul fat
For the peas à la Française
½ white onion, finely chopped
90g unsalted butter
600g fresh or frozen peas (podded weight)
1 tbsp salt
100ml whipping cream
10g pancetta, cut into batons
2 baby gem lettuce, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
For the hogget Heat a heavy-bottomed pan. Season the hogget shoulder all over and colour in a pan until golden all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Heat the chopped carrots, onions and celery, then sweat gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and half head of garlic, the peppercorns, fennel seeds and cumin powder. Then add the tomato purée and sweat for 1-2 minutes, before slowly adding the white wine and cooking off. Add the hogget shoulder back into the pan and cover with the lamb or chicken stock. Place into the oven with a lid over your pan and leave to cook for 2½-3 hours in a low oven (150C/Gas Mark 2). Once cooked, remove the hogget from the stock. Open up the hogget shoulder to allow the meat to cool.
Meanwhile, pass the stock from the pan and reduce it by two-thirds. Keep a little bit of the stock aside to use later. Then, separate the meat carefully from the shoulder, gently flaking it into a bowl. Once the stock is reduced, add the flaked meat and season with salt and pepper, then the chopped parsley and chopped rosemary and mix together. Take the mix and create a crépinette by making a nice ball of the hogget mix and wrapping in caul fat. Try to wrap the mix so each piece is the size of a tennis ball. Place the hogget parcels into the stock and baste through for 5-10 minutes on the side of stove.
For the peas à la Française Sweat the chopped onion in 50g of the butter for 4-5 minutes. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes and refresh in ice water. Drain, then add about one-third of the peas (about 200g) to the onions – keep the rest for the finished dish. Add the cream and seasoning to the peas and onions and cook together for a further 2 minutes. Blitz quickly and leave to chill – this helps keep the purée green until ready to serve.
Blanch the pancetta in boiling water for 1 minute and then drain through a sieve. Sweat the bacon in the remaining 40g of butter, then add the rest of the peas and the pea purée, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the lettuce and check the seasoning.
ROASTED MONKFISH WRAPPED WITH BRAISED CHICORY
1 filleted monkfish tail, about 450g
2 garlic cloves, peeled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for cooking
2 chicory bulbs (Belgian endive), halved lengthways
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp drained small capers
Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Have the fish ready at room temperature. Halve 1 garlic clove and rub the cut surface all over the monkfish. Season the fish on both sides with salt and with pepper. Set aside.
Heat a large non-stick ovenproof frying pan until very hot. Add a drizzle of olive oil and, when it is almost smoking, lay the monkfish in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, turning the monkfish to colour all over. Add the chicory halves to the pan and transfer to the oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes until the monkfish and chicory are cooked.
Meanwhile, chop the other garlic clove for the sauce. To check both the fish and chicory, insert a small knife; it should meet with little resistance.
Once cooked, remove the monkfish and chicory from the pan and set aside on a warm plate.
Return the pan to the heat and add the butter, chopped garlic, parsley and capers. Heat gently until melted and bubbling.
Meanwhile, cut the monkfish into 2-3cm slices. Serve with the roasted chicory and caper sauce.