Did you get so excited about meat the other day? Did you befriend a kind farmer, and did you buy half of a lovely pig and unpack it into your freezer? Did you leave out one of those lovely roasts to defrost in your fridge? Are you having faith that I’ll help you figure out what to do with it?
Thanks for trusting me. I really mean it. I won’t let you down.
Perhaps all of these things haven’t happened yet, and that’s okay too. In time, in time. But to pass these chilly hours away, let’s chat about braising for a few minutes. I’ve got a bottle of wine open in preparation, and we might as well drink some of it.
I’m starting to think that the cooking of meat might be something of a lost art. While our grandmothers seemed to know exactly how to cook a roast of some sort on an at least weekly basis, I find that the thought of cooking meat seems, most often, to inspire confusion. My own mother followed a path with her relationship to meat that was somewhat typical of many of her age. She began life as a chicken-fried-steak-eating-New Jersey Jew, was macrobiotic when I was born, then vegetarian, then “I eat meat only in restaurants,” then began to ask me how to roast a chicken. So let’s bring back the lost art of the meat meal that does not involve boneless, skinless chicken breasts, shall we?
Braising is the brilliant act of browning something delicious, and then cooking it in liquid for a long time at a low temperature. Everything can be braised, but today we’re just talking about meat. It is fairly foolproof, and makes the meat fall apart in exactly the way you want it to. If you are squeamish about cooking meat, and if you feel like your not quite sure to do with it, braising is your friend. Also, if you are a meat expert and have raised and processed your own cow, braising is your friend too, although you already know that.
I find that braising is something that people feel pretty religious about. There are all sorts of phenomenal techniques and many books written on the subject. If you are a devourer of information who likes to know everything and doesn’t get overwhelmed, consult the braising gods for more detail- you will certainly find it.
But today, you get a simple braising technique, one that you can apply to most cuts of meat with a decent amount of fat on them. If you have a day when you are home, and it is cold out, there is no need to fret over what to do with your day. Get that meat in the oven, make a second cup of coffee, and invite a few people over for later. The rest of the day is yours.
Braised Boston Butt Roast (or lamb shanks, or brisket, or most other things)
(The boston butt is not actually, as it sounds, from the butt of the pig. It is actually part of the shoulder of the front leg. It is the roast traditionally used for pulled pork. This is a general roast braising recipe, and can be used for any good roast with a fair amount of fat on it.)
1 Boston Butt Roast
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1 onion, cut into boats (see picture below)
2 bay leaves
1/2 bottle dry red wine
stock or water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Rinse the roast and pat it dry. With a mortar and pestle or the flat of a knife, crush the peppercorns, and mix them with about 2 tablespoons salt. Spread the mixture over the roast.
In a large cast iron dutch oven or roasting pan, heat the olive oil until barely smoking. You can also use a large cast iron skillet. Place the roast in the hot oil and brown on each side for about 5 minutes. Just get the front and the back- don’t worry about the sides.
When it is good and browned, move it to a plate.
There will be lots of lovely brown bits in the pan. To the brown bits, add the onion and the carrots. Let those brown a bit too, but just for a few minutes.
Pour the wine into the hot pan. It will smoke! Let the wine bubble for a minute, scraping off the brown bits with a spatula. Add the bay leaves. Then put the roast back into the pan. It should be half submerged in liquid. Add water or stock if you need more liquid. Cover up the pot. You can use tin foil if you have a pot with no cover. Put it in the center of the oven.
Get to drinking the second half of that bottle of wine. Leave your roast in the oven for 3-5 hours, checking it every so often to adore it and make sure that there is still liquid in the pan.
You will know that the roast is done when the meat falls away from the roast with no effort. Serve with braising liquid poured on top, and don’t forget to eat those carrots. They taste like candy.