Thursday, October 05, 2006

Moist-Heat Cooking Methods for Meat

From: How To Read A French Fry

*The difference among various moist-heat cooking methods--braises, stews, daubes--is the amount of liquid used. Which method you choose depends on how much sauce you want. Braises are cooked with very little liquid--little more than enough to cover the bottom of the pan, really. Stews use more--the liquid will come halfway up the meat. Daubes use the most-the meat is nearly submerged.

*Use moist-heat cooking for tough cuts of meat, such as the shank and other parts of the leg and shoulder. They are the only ones that have enough connective tissue to keep the meat moist after extended cooking. Tender cuts will break down and become grainy and dry.

*Try cooking whole cuts of meat on the bone with moist heat. The connective tissue that attaches the meat to the bone will make the meat even moister.

*Usually you'll want to brown the meat before adding the liquid. But there are exceptions-called blanquettes or fricasees-which are typically reserved for veal or chicken.

*Sometimes the meat is floured before browning. In the case of moist-cooking methods, remember that although this flour will help to thicken the liquid later on, it will not thicken nearly so much as an equal quantity of raw flour. Because of the browning, its thickening ability will be substantially weakened.

*When browning the meat, follow the procedure for sauteing: Be sure to use enough oil to amply cover the bottom of the pan. Season the meat. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the meat. Allow the meat to cook on the first side until thoroughly browned, without moving it about too much. To keep the aromatic vegetables (onions, garlic, etc.) from scorching, don't add them until after the meat has browned. Then be sure to pour off all excess oil before proceeding.

*Use a heavy pot that is just big enough to hold the meat.

*Braises, stews and daubes almost always include vegetables. Add some of them--onions, garlic, celery, carrots and peppers--early in the process, just after the meat has been browned, to flavor the liquid and the meat. Add a second group of vegetables shortly before the dish is done, to serve as accompaniments. Because vegetables used for flavoring will almost certainly be too overcooked to serve, strain them out before adding the second batch of vegetables.

*Whatever type of moist-heat cooking you're using, it is important to add no more liquid than is necessary, in order to keep the broth as concentrated as possible. A useful trick is to float a sheet of aluminum foil just on top of the meat, under the lid, which traps the moisture and keeps it from evaporating into the air space under the lid.

*When braising, check the level of the liquid frequently, especially later in the cooking process. You'll want to maintain a level of at least 1/2 inch to keep the food from scorching.

*Usually, the heat used for moist-heat cooking is "low and slow". Cook in the oven, at about 350 degrees, to keep the heat as even as possible. Meat cooked by low-heat braising can be separated into shreds.

*High-heat braises are delicious, if a little tricky. For these, it is imperative that you use only heavy pots, such as cast iron, with tight-fitting lids and that you check the liquid frequently. Meat cooked by high-heat braising separates into chunks

*It's easy to tell when a moist-cooked piece of meat is done-a knife or a carving fork can be inserted easily.

*Though it may seem unlikely, you can overcook braises, stews and daubes. The meat will break down to the point that it is grainy. Test the meat at least every half hour for doneness.

*If, after cooking, the liquid for your dish has not thickened enough, you can help it along by adding a beurre manie. Knead 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon flour together into a paste. Remove the meat and vegetables from the pot, increase the heat to high and whisk in the butter mixture, a bit at a time. Once the sauce is the desired thickness, return the meat and vegetables to the pot.

*Moist-cooked meats are always better when allowed to stand, even briefly, then reheated. This allows for more complete exchange of flavors among the meat, the flavorings and the liquid. Even a 20-minute rest after coming out of the oven will allow the flavors to mingle better.

*Although you should always season the meat before browning, you must still season it again at the end of cooking. Always taste a bit of the liquid before serving.

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