Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cuddle Up Food

Valentine's Day is coming soon.  I know everybody wants to write about chocolate on Valentine's Day, but a girl has got to EAT!  Now don't get me wrong, I don't know when I have had a day without chocolate.  But before chocolate, you need some real food. 

Here's a little something to make before the chocolate.  How about making a braised dish.  There are several nice things about braising.  Firstly, braises generally use cheaper cuts of meat.  (aka, you don't need to break the bank for Valentine's Day)  Secondly, braises are left alone, freeing you to do other things. (aka, cuddle or work on that chocolate desert.)  And finally, braises are usually better the next day, freeing you to do other things. (aka, cuddle or work on that chocolate desert.)

O, come on, it's Valentine's Day.  I have to work chocolate in this posting the best way I can.

Ok, back to braising! 

The best cuts of meat for braising are generally tougher and less costly.  These cuts are usually more flavorful and contain more collagen, which breaks down with heat and liquid. 

Cuts for Braising:
  • Beef - Chuck roast, blade roast, short ribs, brisket, and oxtail
  • Veal - Shanks, shoulder and breast
  • Pork - Boston butt, shoulder, ribs, and belly
  • Lamb - Shoulder, legs, shanks, and breast
  • Poultry - Thighs and legs
Don't let the term, braise or braising, scare you.  Our mothers did it all the time.  Braising is slightly different from stewing.  Braising uses less liquid than stewing.  The food is not totally submerged in liquid, meaning the food cooks two ways, in liquid and by steaming.  To get started braising, you need a large pot, something like a  Dutch oven.  One with a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid work best. 

Start by browning the meat in a small amount of fat, enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Browning adds another layer of flavor and braising is all about flavor.  (For better browning, dry the meat first.)

Next, add aromatic ingredients, such as carrots, onion, celery, garlic and herbs, like thyme, bay leaves.  Because dried herbs release their flavors slowly, they are excellent in braises.  Ingredients like olives, capers, and chiles are good addition to braises.

Deglaze the pan with a liquid, such as broth or alcohol.  This will loosen the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Those browned bits contain lots of flavor.  Add meat and any other desired ingredient.  Cover with a tight fitting, simmer in an oven (275°F to 325°F) or stovetop.

Since I decided to braise this weekend, I decided to try something other than beef.

Southwestern Pork and Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8.


2 Tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 garlic cloves
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 pickled jalapeño pepper, stemmed
Vegetable oil
2½ pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 bottle (12 ounce) dark Mexican beer
1 (4 inch) cinnamon stick
3 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, about 1 pound
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional

1.  Place chile powder, salt, cumin, garlic, onion and jalapeño in a food processor.  Process for 1 minute or until a thick paste forms.

2.  Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  Add pork to pan and brown on all sides.  Remove pork from pan and set aside.  Add chile mixture to pan;  cook for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.  Deglaze pan with beer or broth.  Scrape bottom of pan to remove the bronwed pits.  Add pork and cinnamon stick; cover and bring to a simmer.  Continue to simmer for about 2 hours or until pork is tender.

3.  If desired, strain the liquid.  Allow fat to rise to the top; skim off the fat.

4.  Remove fat from pork.  With two forks, shred the pork. 

Note:  If you prefer not to use the beer, chicken stock will work.

This dish can be served as a stew.  However, once I had completed my dish, I decided this would make excellent tacos.  So, tacos, it was!

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