September always bring a pang of nostalgia for our brief and beautiful summers in Vermont, but with the cooler nights, my mind turns towards the comforting cold weather meals of autumn – steaming stews, baked casseroles and roasted or braised meats.
Of the latter, braising becomes a “go to” for feeding our a busy family of growing teenagers, so when there are several mouths to feed and not a lot of time to do, we turn to our oven, a roll of aluminum foil and a deep casserole dish or oven proof pot to give us flavorful, nutrition filled meals all season long.
Oven braising a large and tougher cut of meat requires minimal equipment, minimal prep and because the cooking is both hands off and over the course of two or three hours, it is a method that allows you time to do other things (hopefully fun things!) while the low, slow heat works its magic.
Key things to remember
Because meat is cooked at low temperature, I like to sear the meat in a large pan or deep pot first, giving the meat color and giving me a base to make a flavorful sauce.
Low and slow is key to making tough cuts of meat moist and meltingly tender, so make sure you give yourself at least a couple of hours to let the meat cook. If you can cook the braise a few days ahead of time, all the better! The flavors meld and mellow and the dish is even better when reheated one, two or three days later.
Keep it simple… or not:
Seasoning with a rub or soaking in a brine will do wonders to infuse the meat with flavor or to tenderize a very tough cut, but on the flipside, salt, pepper and some kind of liquid in a sealed container is really all you need to achieve big flavor and tender results.
Know the difference:
Roast = dry (tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; whole young birds, whole fish; vegetables)
Braise = wet (less tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; tough, older birds; vegetables)
Know your cuts:
When looking for cuts to use, looks for words like top or bottom round, shoulder, shank, butt, etc. The cuts closest to hoof and horn will be the least expensive and vice versa – cuts furthest from hoof and horn will be the most expensive. For beef, this means top and bottom rounds, chuck, shoulders, shanks and tails (yes, tails!) and for pork, we look for ham, Boston butt and picnic shoulder.
Beer Braised Beef with Pork Belly Onions
Serves approximately 4. See Cook’s Notes for non-alcoholic and non-pork substitutes.
3 to 3 ½ pound of boneless beef round or chuck roast
1 tsp sea or kosher salt plus more to taste
1 tsp cracked/ground black pepper plus more to taste
2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil
2 slices of bacon, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half moons
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 cloves peeled garlic, thinly sliced
12 oz bottle of favorite beer, allowed to go flat
2 cups water
4 to 5 quart oven safe pot with heavy lid or deep casserole dish and enough aluminum foil to cover snugly
creamy polenta, mashed potatoes, steamed rice or roasted root vegetables
Substitute an additional tablespoon of olive or canola oil for the bacon and use red wine or beef broth in place of beer.
Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 f.
In a deep, heavy bottomed pot or a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat, until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking. Add the meat and with tongs, sear all sides until they take on a golden to dark golden color. Remove and let rest on a plate. Turn down the heat to medium low.
Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the sliced onions, stirring in the fat and cooking until just golden – approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium high and add the garlic, celery and carrots, continuing to cook until the vegetables are slightly soft and golden and the mixture is aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Carefully, add the beer to the pot or pan, scraping the bottom. Bring to a simmer and let reduce for about 3 to 5 minutes.
If transferring meat to an oven proof casserole, place the meat into the casserole dish and carefully pour the sauce on top. Add water to the dish. Cover tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil, pinching it around the sides to create an airtight “lid”. If using a lidded pot or dutch oven, place the meat back into the pot of sauce, add water and cover with a lid, using parchment paper to create a more airtight seal if necessary.
Place the covered meat and sauce into the preheated oven. Allow to cook in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.
If possible, allow the meat to sit in the cooler for 2 or 3 days and reheat on the stove top. Serve with suggested accompaniments.
by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef
Photo Credit: Elena Gustavson, Supper at the Farm, Craftsbury, VT 2013