So I have a few more braising recipes under my belt, and if this subzero weather continues, I'm bound to have a few more. I've got a chicken thawing in the fridge as I write...
Last week I put together chicken and pork adobado, a Filipino dish consisting of chicken thighs (my favorite chicken parts)and country-style pork ribs. The meat is marinated for a couple of hours in garlic, water, vinegar, soy sauce, lime zest, bay leaves, sugar salt and peppercorns, then braised in its marinade for about 45 minutes.
The finish though, is the key. You remove the meat, boil down the liquid for a sauce, and then brown the meat in a skillet until it develops a nice caramelized crust (You must make sure to dry the meat first with paper towels to remove excess moisture our it will not brown). This last step is crucial, for here appears your texture and crunchy goodness.
I served the chicken and pork with jasmine rice cooked in water and coconut milk and a simple tomato relish/salsa made of grape tomato, white onion, cilantro, and lime (Really a pico de gallo, only not, I suppose, being that this is a Filipino dish. On the other hand, Filipino cuisine is an amalgam of world cuisines, so maybe I should just call it pico and be done with it.)
Everything was tasty, the meat had a wonderful crust, but for me...well, it fell a little short. This feeling was by no means a result of a faulty recipe or lack of flavor. It was really the fault of the cook...me. You see, with cooking, as with any pursuit, when you are not dedicated to the task at hand, you can't expect to get outstanding results. I wasn't in the greatest of moods that day, and so really my attempt was half-hearted at best. I wasn't nearly as attentive as I needed to be, resulting in mediocre rice and flavors that weren't quite as developed as I wanted. Fortunately, I have garnered enough cooking skills over the years that this dish was saved from complete annihilation; I pretty much roboted my way through it.
So, sorry to Molly Stevens that I didn't do this recipe justice, but I will almost definitely be making it again.
On Saturday, I began marinating my 5 pounds of oxtails. I used a very lovely Montepulciano (Italian red) wine as the base for the braise, which turned the oxtails a deep purple. Quite an interesting sight. According to Molly's directions, you can marinate the oxtails for up to 2 days. Ummm, mine stayed in the bag for 3. I can tell you though, that no long term harm resulted for the oxtails or those who consumed them. I had planned on braising them completely Tuesday morning and then reheating for dinner that evening, but as happens many times for me, I failed to read through the directions completely (a fast reader habit I have yet to break...also why I often re-read books several times). I still had several steps to complete before I even got the the braise. So, I browned the oxtails under the broiler, soaked my porcini mushrooms ( they were dried), prepared my aromatics, and then reduced, and reduced, and reduced, my braising liquid (a combination of grappa, the reserved marinade, the mushroom soaking liquid, and beef stock). At this point I placed the oxtails in the liquid and put the whole assembly in the fridge...to be continued.
Finally, I was ready to cook the oxtails! Wednesday morning arrived. This was going to be my only opportunity to cook these darn things as I was headed to Columbus that afternoon to pick up our CSA share. The oxtails spent a relaxing 4 hours in a 300 oven, filling the house with their deep aroma.
Upon returning home that evening, I whipped up some polenta (the perfect vehicle for soaking up meat juices, and since this recipe leaned Italian, I opted for it instead of Amish egg noodles, another favorite), made a quick salad of the greens and sprouts we received in our CSA, cracked open a bottle of CA Sienna wine (not a big CA win fan, but this one proved to be quite tasty), and dived in. The meat was so tender and flavorful, everything that slow cooked, meaty bits should be. All in all, a very satisfying winter meal. I have a few leftovers, and am now pondering what to do with them. Sometimes, the leftover dish can be every bit as exciting as its original. I'm thinking meat pies...
So, what is on tap next? Goan chicken? Squid roulades? Pork belly? We'll have to see what I remember to defrost and what mood strikes...
I am slowly amassing a nice collection of cook books. The funny thing is, I haven't cooked anything out of several of them. I believe I have a myriad of excuses as to why this phenomenon has occurred, but mainly it is due to the fact that I am not a recipe cook. I tend to just make things up as I go and fall back on knowledge already accrued through reading and experience.
The cool thing is, a lot of the cookbooks contain new knowledge for me. As I am addicted to learning, it only makes sense that I would eventually turn to these materials at hand to continue in my quest for greater culinary understanding. Plus, a lot of the recipes are down-right amazing.
So, my plan is to focus on one book per month. They run the gamut, as far as cuisine and methodology. For January, befitting the weather and my winter mood, I will be braising. I adore braising and all its slow-cooked, savory possibilities. For those who don't know, cooking with braising begins with browning in fat, then simmering in a small amount of liquid in a closed vessel at a low temperature for a long time. This method of cooking does wonders for the tougher bits, coaxing big flavor at a patient and peaceful simmer. I will be utilizing my autographed copy of Molly Stevens All About Braising, a book I purchased at the cooking school after working one of her amazing classes. On the menu for this month: goan chicken, duck ragù with pasta, beef rendang, red-cooked pork belly with bok choy, just to name a few. This book will be more an undertaking of comfort for me than anything; I braise quite often and am fairly comfortable with the process. I need to start somewhere, though, and there are so many recipes in this lovely book that are just begging to be tried, and eaten.
Over the next several months I will be exploring the precise worlds of Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, the mold-breaking realm of David Chang, eccentric offal of Fergus Henderson, and others. I hope to post periodically about my amazing successes(may they be many), spectacular failures (may they be few), and what I've hopefully learned. In the meantime, Le Creuset and Staub are calling my name.