The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.
Braising, from the French “braiser”, offers a combination cooking method – dry heat followed by moist heat. Typically, meat is seared in hot fat which helps to add flavor and aromas, improves color (browning), and texture (crust) making it more visually appealing. It is then submerged in liquid and cooked slowly and gently at low heat. The heat, time, and moisture break down the tough connective tissue collagen in meat, making it an ideal way to cook tougher cuts.What’s more, braising causes the muscle fibers to absorb moisture from the cooking liquid and steam. That gives you a juicy piece of meat. Finally, as the connective tissues break down, they dissolve and form gelatin, which thickens the cooking liquid and gives it body and shine. Meanwhile, the flavors imparted from the stock and vegetables, as well as any herbs and seasonings, are incorporated into the final product.
Braising can be done on the stove top or in the oven. When done in the oven,the heat fully surrounds the pot and causes the food to cook more evenly as opposed to being only heated from below when it is done on the stove top
Carol offered us a variety of recipes to get our braise on. I chose braised fennel because I really like fennel and it is in season this time of year.I usually use fennel in salads or to stuff fish. I was really curious about the effect braising would have on it.The recipe Carol provided called for thyme but I didn’t have any on hand so I used oregano instead. The end result was melting tender fennel and a heavenly buttery sauce. I personally enjoyed the sauce more than the fennel, I missed the crunch that raw fennel has. The sauce on the other hand was amazing. Rich with hints of oregano and fennel.
Thank you Carol for an amazing challenge and for all the info and effort you put into it.
Braised Fennel with Oregano:
Plain/all –purpose flour, for dredging
2 fennel bulbs, each cut in half lengthwise (if the bulbs are large cut them into quarters)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) canola oil (or any mild to non-flavored oil)
4 or 5 sprigs oregano
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (30 gm/1 oz) butter
1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.
2. In a shallow dish or plate, add enough flour to dredge the cut sides of the fennel quarters.
3. In a small pot or sauté pan with a cover, heat the oil over medium to high heat. Note: you want the oil hot but not enough to scorch the flour.
4. Add the fennel, flour side down, and cook until nicely browned.
5. Add enough water to come up about a ½ inch (1¼ cm) around the fennel.
6. Add oregano and butter and salt to taste – bring to a simmer.
7. Cover, and place in oven.
8. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until fennel is tender.
9. Serve immediately.