Despite the popularity and convenience of fast food, the past several years have witnessed a comeback of the slow food concept. Thanks to chefs and foodies around the world who insisted everyone return to the kitchen and the table to enjoy real food that was given the respect of the time it needed to cook, we have had an explosion of good-old fashioned cooking techniques, like braising, making a welcome comeback.
This is my absolute favourite way of preparing food because it’s one of the best cooking methods I’ve found to impart earthy flavours into meat and poultry, particularly in tough cuts like lamb shanks or beef brisket. Tougher cuts of meat, especially those with the bone-in, are actually preferred when braising because they tend to hang on to their texture despite long and slow cooking times. Since tougher meats are usually less expensive, in these ‘tough’ economic times, braising seems like a great way for families to get cooking.
Vegetables are sometimes added later in the cooking process, depending on their types. If you are using thick root vegetables like carrots, turnips or potatoes, you may want to add them at the same time as the liquid. If using quick-cooking vegetables like cabbage, lettuce or Swiss chard, you may want to add those closer to the finish line. Just before serving, cooking liquids can be drained for excess fat or for the purpose of serving-style preference. I always save the liquid for something else, such as flavouring for soup, simply because it is packed with flavours.
Braising is a cooking method that involves searing meats or vegetables in fat (usually some sort of vegetable oil) and then adding water or broth over them. The cooking pot – which can be anything from a slow cooker, Dutch oven or even a tagine – is covered and the heat reduced, allowing the food to slow-cook by way of moisture. This is a great way to allow all the added herbs and spices to slowly impart their unique flavours to the dish.
To braise food, simply heat a small amount of oil in a large and deep pot so that you have plenty of room for your meat, plus vegetables and cooking liquid. Sear the meat on all sides to give it a nice browning which isn’t lost even after slow cooking. Add water or broth, such as chicken or beef stock, and then reduce the heat to a simmer or just above that and cover. Cook the food in this way until the meat or vegetables are cooked thoroughly.
Braising requires the cook to embrace all the flavours that meat’s natural fat brings to a dish and not fear it. Good fat that comes from quality halal meats is a great thing – not only does it impart incredible flavour to your food, but because of the length and gentle nature of this cooking method, it’s actually quite healthy.
CITRUS-MARNATED BRAISED LAMB
“Marinating meats before braising is not necessary, but it does help add a special tenderness to the meat being cooked. I especially love this dish for the citrus flavour I miss so much during the winter months. If you have fresh citrus peels, use them; but if you’ve dried and preserved them, that’ll work just fine, too.”
Special Equipment: a Dutch oven, tagine or slow cooker
• 1 kg lamb shank with bone or any other tough cut of meat
• 2-4 tbsp olive oil
• 110 g celery, diced
• ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
• Sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 2 Yukon gold potatoes cut into large chunks
• 1 sweet potato, roughly chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, each cut in half
• 2-3 inches water or broth
• 1 tbsp tomato sauce
• 110 g cauliflower florets
• 120 ml extra virgin olive oil
• 5 ml dried orange peels (about 2 long pieces)
• 5 ml lemon peels
• 2 ml dried lime peels
• 14 grams thyme
• 14 grams fresh or dried rosemary (about 3 fresh sprigs)
1. Mix the marinade ingredients and gently rub them onto the meat. Place in a glass container and cover. Marinate overnight or for at least 3-4 hours in the refrigerator.
2. When ready to cook, bring the marinated meat to room temperature. This helps to prevent the meat from tearing. Discard the contents of the marinade.
3. In a large Dutch oven or a traditional tagine that is large enough to fit all of the contents of this recipe, heat 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil (not from the marinade) gently. When it is hot enough, add the cut meat or large pieces of shank, depending upon how you want to ultimately serve the dish.
4. Sear the meat on both sides, allowing it to brown nicely. Depending on the size of the cut, it shouldn’t take more than 5-6 minutes on each side.( If you plan to use a slow cooker to finish the recipe, move the meat there now).
5. Add the celery and onion at the same time and brown gently. While they are cooking, add the salt and pepper and any other spices you prefer. It is best to add a few more citrus peels and fresh rosemary and thyme, but not necessary.
6. Add both types of potatoes and the garlic. Pour enough water to fill about 60mm of the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.
7. Cover and cook for about one hour, then add the cauliflower florets. Continue cooking for an additional hour. Check the meat for tenderness.
Note: At this point, if you would like to continue cooking, the meat will most likely fall off the bone without any struggle. If you prefer to remove the bones yourself or serve with the bone-in, this a great stopping point.
8. Remove the lid and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes before serving on a bed of rice, couscous, quinoa, or pappardelle pasta.
Bismillah and Bon Appétit!
Yvonne Maffei is a food writer, recipe developer, culinary consultant and editor of MyHalalKitchen.com