The braiser's edge

BRAISING is an ancient cooking technique that the new generation has moved to the back burner. In this time of more affluence and yuppies-in-a-hurry-up-the-ladder, it's not surprising that the quick, expensive tenderloin steak has replaced, say, a pork shoulder braised in cream.

What is surprising is that everyone seems to have heard of the word, but many people don't even know what braising is.

Braising, like stewing, employs a liquid in the cooking process. This could be water, cream, stock, wine, or vegetable juices.

In braising, the meat is usually left in a large chunk. This gives it an acceptable Sunday-dinner-roast appearance.

So why braise, anyway? One advantage is that the long, slow, moist cooking process tenderizes a tough, lean, inexpensive cut of meat.

Some hints when braising:

Try to use a cast-iron pot or Dutch oven that approximates the size of the piece of meat. Whatever you use, it should have a heavy, tight-fitting cover.

Browning the meat first gives it better flavor and appearance.

Chop and saut'e onions, carrots, and celery, and place these around the meat before adding the braising liquid. Add salt and pepper and any herbs of your choice.

With a large piece of aluminum foil, cover top of meat snugly, then press down to liquid, then up side of pot. This becomes a reverse, inside lid. There should be little or no air pocket between aluminum, meat, and liquid. Excess aluminum can be folded down the sides of the pot.

This way, juices are driven back to the center of the meat rather than escaping through steam.

Braise in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F. until skewer inserted in the center can be lifted out easily. This can be an hour or two, or more, depending on size and initial toughness of meat.

Braising may be done on stove top over low heat, as well.

Braised Corned Beef 3 to 4 pound New York (red) corned beef 6 whole cloves 1/2 cup Dijon mustard 2/3 cup brown sugar Vegetable oil 1 cup onion, chopped 2 ribs celery, chopped 1/2 cup carrots, chopped 2 1/2 cups beef stock (approximately) 12 whole peppercorns

Corned beef is apt to be quite salty. It's best to rinse and cover with cold water; then refrigerate for 24 hours, changing water a few times.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat beef dry. Press cloves into beef. Rub with mustard and roll in brown sugar.

Heat oil in heavy frying pan, and brown the beef, being careful not to burn sugar.

Transfer beef to heavy, snug-fitting, covered, oven-proof roasting dish. Saut'e vegetables separately in fresh oil until onions are limp.

Add beef stock to at least halfway up meat. Add remaining ingredients.

Cover snugly with aluminum foil (as above) and braise in oven for about three hours.

Remove beef, strain, and de-fat juices.

Serves four.

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