In Praise of Braise
Tough becomes tender with time and heat by Lora Zarubin
Now that it’s fall, with the days growing shorter and the nights cooler, I want to cook comfort food—to gather the best ingredients the season has to offer and burrow into my kitchen, warmed by the oven and redolent with the scents of savory one-pot meals. I want to braise.
I’m not talking about cooking grandmother’s pot roast but taking a simple cut of meat like rump roast and, through braising, transforming it into the classic French stew daube of beef or turning short ribs into a meat-falling-off-the-bone feast.
Braising is one of cooking’s best-kept secrets: It takes very little effort to cook a meal that will wow everyone. Braising is cooking alchemy at its best. And if there is a secret to perfect braising, it’s the Staub enameled-cast-iron pot. Staub has been making its French-oven pots for more than 100 years in France and has it down to an art. The tight-fitting lids are dimpled, which creates a method of natural and continuous basting. They are pricey but well worth the investment.
In addition to a Staub pot, here are some other essentials for making your braising a big success...
My most important piece of braising equipment is a tried-and-true eight-quart round black Staub cocotte (above). Though it comes in an array of gorgeous colors, I love the matte black. “La Cocotte” comes in various sizes, but whether I’m cooking for 2 guests or 10, the eight-quart seems the perfect size. The bonus is you can go right from the oven to the table. $260. target.com.
1. Owen’s Market, which has been in business since 1957, is my favorite butcher in Los Angeles and a cut above the rest. Try the roasts, short ribs and briskets. They’ll even trim the fat to your liking (I recommend leaving a quarter inch for more flavor.) $5.99–$6.99 a pound. 9769 West Pico Blvd., 310-286-9367. If you prefer grass-fed beef, order from Long Meadow Ranch. Good cuts for braising are tri-tips, beef shanks and chuck roasts. $6.99–$9.99 a pound.
2. The acorn twine holder is a kitchen staple that keeps culinary loose ends pulled together and makes tying a whole roast or keeping herbs and fat close to the meat both easy and neat. Another clever container is the olive-wood salt keeper. I use coarse sea salt, but it does dry out, which is frustrating. The solution to the problem is in the sliding lid, and a magnet keeps it tightly closed when not in use. Twine holder, $26; salt keeper, $49. williams-sonoma.com.
3. The Kuhn Rikon Vase Spice Grinder may be new, but it’s already a “can’t live without.” It shreds a variety of spices, adjusts easily and comes with three interchangeable receptacles, or vases—all with lids, great for storing whole spices until they’re ready to be ground. I fill mine with flax seeds, chilies and my own peppercorn blend. $35.
4. Velvety sauces start with pouring your cooking liquid through a China cap. This conical strainer works its magic by skimming the fat from the braising liquid. $14.25 (8-inch diameter). Surfas, Corner W. Washington and National Blvds., Culver City, 310-559-4770.
5. A good stock reduction is essential for braising. If you don’t have time to make your own, Williams-Sonoma Demi-Glace is the next best thing. These highly concentrated stocks—veal, chicken and beef—made from all-natural ingredients, are the perfect addition for any braise. $29.
6. Ergonomically designed to fit in your hand, the Palm peeler is a breakthrough in prepping vegetables. $13.90 (brush included). Exclusively at williams-sonoma.com. If, like me, you prefer to leave your root vegetables unpeeled when used for braising, try a surgeon’s brush. It cleans without re-moving the skin. $3 for a set of two. Turpan, 225 26th St., Santa Monica, 310-451-9500.
7. Rösle’s innovative locking stainless-steel tongs use gravity to open and close with a wave of your wrist. Genius! 16-inch, $30; 12-inch, $25. surlatable.com.
8. When I serve a braised dish, I like to have additional jus on the table. The Match pewter gravy boat and bread plate are perfect companions. No worries—they’re lead free and approved by the FDA. Gravy boat, $205; bread plate, $80; Bisquit Ebene two-piece unglazed serving fork and spoon, $415. Gearys Beverly Hills, 310-273-4741.
9. Elegant ceramic cocottes, like this one, also from Staub, are perfect for serving individual braised sides or entrées. Two round one-cup cocottes are $29.95 at chefsresource.com. I also love presenting my braise on Muriel Grateau dishes and linen napkins, with Georg Jensen Mitra flatware. Senso Ebene soup plate, $112.50; Senso Ebene soup bowl, $65; Vento linen napkin, $38.50; Georg Jensen flatware, $135. Turpan, 225 26th St., Santa Monica, 310-451-9500.