About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Big Braise

Some days are just perfect for spending the whole day in the kitchen, making good smells and heating up the whole building with lots of cooking projects.  Today was just that kind of day. It was snowy on-and-off all day and cold (high of 15F) with gusty winds.  An excellent day not to go outside more than absolutely necessary.
In addition to starting the grinding and sausage-making work on 124 lbs of beef, pork and lamb (more on that soon) I had 4 very large beef shanks from a steer we'd butchered last summer that needed something done with them and I had pulled 4 lbs of cubed steak (from the same steer) for making a big pan of Swiss Steak.  Both would be braised dishes and the projects would mesh well so I got both going first thing this morning.
Mexican-style Shredded Beef
I decided to make Mexican shredded beef from the shanks so I heated some fat in my largest braising pan and seared each shank well on all sides.  They barely fit in the pan. When done I removed them to a 4" deep hotel pan and seasoned them well with salt, garlic and ancho chile powder.  Next, I rough-chopped 6 medium onions and poured them over the shanks and topped that with 1/2  of a #10 can of chopped tomatoes in juice then added about 1/2 gallon of water to the pan.

I covered the pan with plastic wrap, then sealed the pan well with heavy aluminum foil. I used the plastic because the acidity from the tomatoes would have eaten through the aluminum foil during the long cooking process, making holes and probably leaving a nasty grey sludge on pieces of my meat.  Steam from the cooking liquids will keep the plastic from melting.
The big pan of shanks went into my convection oven at 275F and stayed there, slow-cooking for about 8 hours.  It was hard not to peak at it because of the great smells after the first couple of hours.
When it was done I removed the shanks and meat (much of it fell off the bones when I touched it) to a sheetpan to cool, poured off the extra fat from the braising pan and deglazed it on the range with a little water. 
Once almost cool enough to work with I carefully picked through the meat, discarding sinew, cartilage and bone pieces, leaving just the dark, rich meat.  It will chill overnight to be shredded tomorrow.
The pan drippings went into the fridge to chill overnight.  Tomorrow I'll skim off any fat and combine the remaining liquid and braised veggies with the shredded meat, and pack it in zipper bags for the freezer.
Swiss Steak with Vegetable Gravy 
I took the 4 lbs of cubed steak, dredged them in highly seasoned flour and pan fried them in bacon fat until well browned.  While they were cooking I rough-chopped a few onions, half a dozen carrots and about half a head of celery.  When the meat was done I removed it to another pan, drained off the excess fat and sautéed the chopped vegetables with some leaf thyme, garlic and a couple of bay leaves.

Once the vegetables were soft I added a half #10 can of chopped tomatoes in juice and some water to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the nice brown bits that had stuck to the pan bottom.  When that was all bubbling nicely I added the meat back to the pan, added a bit more water to make sure the pieces were covered, turned the flame down to its lowest possible setting, and covered the pot.  I let it simmer for several hours, stirring periodically, until the meat was almost-falling-apart-tender.  By then the sauce had thickened nicely.  A few more minutes of cooking uncovered reduced it to exactly where I wanted it to be.

I chilled most of the Swiss Steak in the fridge, just keeping out enough for our dinner tonight, to be accompanied by some mashed russet potatoes.

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