Like my lessons for cooking poultry, last week and this week were all about how to prepare with dry and wet techniques. This week, we learned about braising meat and the best cuts to do so with.
This week’s class was a little different because of the time it takes to braise meat. May had us cook first and learn later. Braising takes hours. If we had done it the other way, dinner would have been served at 3 a.m.!
We got prepping ASAP and within the hour had recipes like Braised Short Ribs and Beef Bourguignon simmering away in the over and on the stovetop. I got to cook a veal dish which you’ll read about at the end of my story.
The best cuts of meat for stewing and braising are those with more muscle, These are not as evenly textured and have a bit more connective tissue. This tissue is what makes a great sauce hearty and thick. Cuts like chuck and shoulder are perfect for slow cooking. When talking about beef specifically, chuck can be ground or whole. Whole is the classic choice for pot roast or beef stew.
Brisket is another good choice. From the chest area, brisket has a thick layer of fat on one side. You can cut that down before cooking. This is the cut of meat used for cured meats like pastrami and corned beef. Same principal, different spices. In pork, the brisket is the same as rib tips.
Beef Short Ribs are often used for Korean BBQ and English-style. This cut of meat is also known as Flanken. It is bone-in, so it can be very flavorful. Short ribs come from behind the shoulder, near the ribs. My mom used this cut to put in her famous Garbage Soup. Yes, it had all kinds of “garbage” in it. I grew up on it and it is still delicious.
Beef shanks come from the leg and are a pretty tough piece of meat, so they are perfect for slow cooking.
Pork Butt is THE cut to use when braising pig parts. It actually comes from the shoulder. Why is it called “butt” when it’s from the other end? According to the Pork Board, "In pre-revolutionary New England and into the Revolutionary War, some pork cuts (not those highly valued, or ‘high on the hog,’ like loin and ham) were packed into casks or barrels (also known as ‘butts’) for storage and shipment.”
Now you know.
Pork butt is used for pulled pork and most BBQ styles. The ribs in the loin section are often used for BBQ ribs and the belly section of the ribs is used for what we know as “spare” ribs. Hams are from the hind legs and are made like pot roast. In the south, hams are mostly processed and brined. In Italy, they are salted and dried then thinly sliced for Prosciutto.
Lamb also has good cuts for slow cooking, with the shoulder being especially popular for stews. It’s what I used for the recipe below. You might know the shanks if you’ve ever had Osso Bucco.
Getting all this information took about half an hour. Then, we got to wait. And wait some more. Just like when we braised poultry. The results however are worth it.
Cathy got to make Pork Butt with Port and Prunes. Here’s her recipe on Cathy’s Blog.
My veal dish:
Blanquette de VeauServes 4
2 1/2 lbs veal shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2 to 3 inch pieces
4 C white stock
1 carrot, peeled and cuts into thirds
1 onion, left whole and stuck with 3 cloves
Bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay leaf)
6 oz button mushrooms, trimmed
1/4 C water
2 T lemon juice
1 basket pearl onions, about 20
1 oz butter
1 oz flour
1 C cream
Salt and pepper
Steamed rice for serving
Lemon slices and chives for garnish
Place the veal in a sauce pot and cover with the stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add whole onion, carrot and bouquet garni. Simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain meat and reserve cooking stock.
Meanwhile, combine mushrooms, ¼ of the water and the lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer about one minute. Drain and set aside. Blanch pearl onions and remove skins. Sauté in butter until cooked through.
Make a blonde roux with the flour and butter. Whisk in the cooking liquid from the veal. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add cream. Simmer until thickened. Add a tiny pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Add meat and heat through. Do not allow to boil.
Serve over rice, garnish with the pearl onions, capers, mushrooms and lemon slices to garnish. Sprinkle with chopped chives.