Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Broth Season

Tis the season for bones and chicken feet gently bubbling away on the stove top, infused with the smell of lemon and celery. Bring on the cold weather.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Time For Braising

A dish of braised beef with root vegetables is warming for fall — and easy to make.
Scott Paquin of Firefly Farm gives reason to welcome cooler autumn weather.
His grass-finished Devon beef can help kick off the unofficial stew season, waking the soup pot from its slumber with pleasant warmth and earthy aromatics. As chilly temperatures settle into the WNC mountains, a slow-simmered pot of Firefly’s braised beef, nestled among root vegetables, is pure alchemy.
Braising is an age-old method for cooking meat, poultry or vegetables, using time and low heat to transform basic ingredients. As the braising liquid slowly works its magic on the contents of a recipe, it is often used for stews or roasts to turn otherwise tough cuts of meat into melt-in-your-mouth dishes.
Less-tender cuts — containing tough muscle and connective tissue — typically come from the most exercised portion of an animal. These cuts, sourced from the front, lower front and back sections of livestock (referred to as the chuck, shank or brisket, and round), are tougher but highly flavorful — and often less expensive than premium cuts.
Grass-fed beef has a reputation for being slightly more muscular compared with cuts from feedlot cows, but this is not necessarily the case. Although it takes longer for strictly pastured cows to reach harvest weight than those finished on grain (up to a full year longer), grass-finished beef is just as supple, with arguably greater flavor complexity.
Red Devons are excellent grazers, as they’re thought to be one of the oldest beef breeds — with prehistoric roots reaching all the way back to the aboriginal Bos lonqifrons — and are hearty grass-eaters yielding very tender meat. This robust genetic history translates into a strong agricultural choice, since cows with such sturdy genes tend to need less in terms of breeding and medicinal intervention.
Paquin said he chose Devons for their regional adaptability and gentle workability. This particular breed has a remarkable feed-conversion ratio, is extremely parasite-resistant and produces high yields of exceptional meat, he said. He described the meat as tender and fine-grained, marbling well under a diet of only grass and hay. Paquin’s beef is a testament to his focus on good soil and healthy grass and his commitment to rotational grazing.
When it comes to braising, Paquin primarily uses bone-in cuts such as shoulder, chuck or bottom-round to add extra flavor and depth to his dishes.
After searing the meat over high heat to create a flavorful crust, he adds shallots, onions and garlic, along with acidic fruit such as peaches or apples. The acidity of the fruit helps to break down connective tissue as the meat simmers, helping it reach fall-off-the-bone consistency.
A little red wine adds additional acidity, while broth or stock completes the braising liquid, sprinkled with fresh herbs such as thyme or sage.
After a slow simmer for 1 hour at about 300 degrees, Paquin lowers his braise to 225 degrees for the remainder of the cooking process, which can last the better half of a day.
If desired, root vegetables such as fingerling potatoes, parsnips or carrots can be added to the dish in the last hour of cooking.
When it comes to a good braise, trust your farmer. In this case, Paquin. He gives more than enough cause to embrace slow food, and plenty incentive to keep coming back for more.
3-4 pounds bone-in shoulder, chuck or bottom round
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 apples, cored and chopped or 1-2 peaches, pitted, peeled, and chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
Approximately 4 cups high quality beef broth
Sea salt
Black pepper
Three sprigs fresh thyme or sage, or 2 bay leaves
Assortment of root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips and small potatoes, quartered or left whole
Place a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Coat lightly with olive oil. Rinse meat and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.
Sear meat in pot until all sides are browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from pot and transfer to a plate. Set aside.
Lower heat to medium. Add onion and celery. Saute until onions are translucent, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and fruit. Saute another 3 minutes or until apples are soft. Pour in the wine. Stir and allow alcohol to cook off (1-2 minutes) before returning meat to the pot.
Cover contents one-half to two-thirds with broth. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add herbs. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. After one hour, reduce heat again to lowest setting. Allow to just slightly simmer for at least 3 hours or up to a full day. Do not stir.
Add root vegetables during the final hour of cooking. Adjust seasoning to taste.