Braising the steaks

When Skye Gyngell has friends round, often she'll cook a hearty meal with braised meat. It's a simple technique and a great way of getting the best out of cheaper cuts. Pictures by Lisa Barber
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Indy Lifestyle Online

At this time of year, with a little bit of time and patience, really good, comforting dishes can be produced using cheaper cuts of meat. Slow, gentle cooking or braising, can yield dishes of real substance that are among some of the most satisfying meals that I know of. If I cook for friends (which is not often these days), this is the sort of food that I love to make.

If enough attention is paid at the beginning and at the end, these recipes look after themselves. But there are one or two guidelines to follow.

Braising is, in fact, just slow cooking. Impatience will not be rewarded. The succulence of braised meat largely depends upon gentle heat breaking down muscle fibres without drying them out. So a steady, low heat is of paramount importance. This is more easily achieved in an oven than on the stove top.

Although a long list of ingredients may seem unnecessarily elaborate, the technique is essentially simple. The meat is gently browned, surrounded by flavourful vegetables and aromatics, moistened with stock or wine, covered and then cooked slowly. It is very important to brown the meat first and you need to do it carefully as meat browned at too high a heat will singe and burn, affecting the flavour of the braising liquid. I never bother to sweat or brown the vegetables as I think they impart a better flavour directly into the liquid, keeping their individual flavours more clearly. The final braising liquid should always be highly rich in flavour as well as body. At Petersham we often throw a pig's trotter into the pan which produces a syrupy braising liquid that is quite delicious.

Re-heated or partially cooled braises very often have a better taste and texture, so cook them before you plan to serve them and re-heat them gently. Finally, my last bit of advice: practise is at the heart of all good cooking. It is only through cooking a dish many times that we can begin to understand its heart and all its subtle nuances.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Straccoto

In Italian, straccoto literally means to overcook. The best one I've ever made was cooked for about 5 hours. I know it may not always be practical to do this, but do try to cook it for as long as you possibly can.

Serves 4-8

2kg/4lb beef rump

1tbsp mild-tasting olive oil

1 bottle of Barolo

750ml/11/4 fl oz dark chicken stock

3 large carrots, roughly chopped

2 celery roots, roughly chopped

6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

A couple of sprigs of rosemary

4 fresh bay leaves

10-12 whole black peppercorns

1 pig's trotter

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Season the meat well. Place an ovenproof skillet over a medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Brown the meat gently all over.

In a separate pan, place the wine over a high heat and reduce by a third. Add this, along with the stock, the vegetables, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, bay leaf and the pig's trotter to the pan with the meat. Return to the heat and bring to a simmer, before putting on a lid and placing in the heated oven. Turn it to 160C/325F/Gas3 as you do so. Cook for an hour and a half.

Remove and lift out the meat, it should be feeling tender. Strain the sauce. Reserve the liquid and pass the vegetables through a strainer. Discard the pig's trotter.

Return the cooking liquid to the pan. Place over a medium heat, skim off any excess fat and return the puréed vegetables to the pan. Place the meat back in. Season and cook for a final hour and a half. The meat will literally have fallen apart into the inky, rich, unctuous sauce. This dish tastes even better if allowed to cool completely, before being gently re-heated.

Pork with fennel, capers and sage

Serves 4-6

1- 11/2kg/2-3lb shoulder of pork

Sea-salt and black pepper

2tbsp mild-tasting olive oil

11/2tbsp capers, very well rinsed and roughly chopped

1tsp lemon zest

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 small bunch sage

1 small bunch rosemary

1tsp fennel seeds

2 fennel bulbs, peeled and chopped into quarters

4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

80ml/3oz verjuice or dry white wine

250ml/8fl oz pork stock, chicken stock, or water

A splash of vermouth (dry)

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Trim the pork of all but a thin layer of fat. Make a few incisions with a knife to allow flavour to permeate the flesh. Season all over.

Combine the capers, lemon zest, garlic, sage, rosemary with the fennel seeds. Spread the mixture all over the surface of the pork and into the incisions.

Toss the fennel and carrots in one tablespoon of oil. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet over a medium heat and pour in the remaining tablespoon of oil. Place the pork in the pan; it should sizzle. Brown it gently but well all over, and surround it with the vegetables.

Add the verjuice and stock, put the lid on, place in the oven and cook for three quarters of an hour. Remove and stir, then return to the oven for an hour and a half. Take out the meat and vegetables, set aside and keep warm.

Return the pan juices to the stove and place over a high heat, skim off any fat. Boil and add the vermouth, scraping the caramelised bits from the bottom of the pan. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Slice the pork, serve with the vegetables and a spoonful of the rich pan juices.

Osso bucco

At Petersham we serve this with a soft white polenta and lots of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

4 medium-sized veal shanks

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

4 carrots, peeled and chopped into generous chunks

3 sticks of celery, chopped into chunks

5 sprigs of thyme

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 fresh bay leaves

1 dried red chilli

150ml/5fl oz dry white wine

175ml/6fl oz veal or chicken stock

1 jar of good-quality peeled tomatoes

The peel of one lemon

A big splash of olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the gremolata

The zest of one unwaxed lemon

A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Place the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Season the meat well. Once the pan is hot, add the meat and brown gently all over.

When brown, remove the meat and keep warm. Add the onion, carrots, celery, thyme, garlic, bay and chilli. Sweat gently over a low heat for 5 minutes or so. Add the wine, turning up the heat slightly and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the stock, tomatoes and lemon peel.

Return the meat to the pan, place its lid on, and put it in the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then stir before cooking for another hour and a half. Remove and adjust seasoning.

To make the gremolata, mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle over the veal and serve immediately.

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