Cool days call for cooking that is low, slow and wet. Which is to say, braised.
And it's simpler than you might think. Braising is just a matter of cooking food, usually meat, for a long period at a low temperature and submerged in some kind of liquid. Pot roasts are a good example. Many foods cooked in a slow cooker also qualify.
Beef stews are another great example. A long, slow simmer is used to break down and tenderize cuts of meat that otherwise would be tough and unappealing. And this is true for all manner of meats. Goat and lamb, especially the shanks, frequently are braised to produce succulently tender meals.
This is why many braising recipes call for the fattier or tougher cuts of meat. The added benefit is that these also tend to be the cheapest cuts. For example, chicken thighs would be a good choice for braising, while chicken breasts would not. Pork shoulder would be another option, rather than the lean tenderloin.
Of course, braising doesn't have to be limited to meat. Vegetables also can be braised. Fibrous vegetables (such as fennel or winter greens) and root vegetables (such as parsnips and carrots) take particularly well to braising. The technique is done the same as for meat, though vegetables don't take as long to braise.
Often in braising you'll find that the meat or veggies are seared before adding the liquid. This deepens the flavor. The browning and caramelizing of the surfaces serves to flavor the liquid and the finished dish. Liquid and seasonings then are added to come half to two-thirds up the side of the food. Then the dish is brought to a low simmer and kept that way.
Braising can be done over a low heat on the stove, or at moderate heat in the oven. Usually the pot remains covered for the majority of the cooking.
Either way, this is a relatively hands-off process. Once the dish is cooking, you just let it do its thing. Sometimes the cover is removed toward the end of cooking so the liquid can reduce some and the food can brown on the top. And sometimes the liquid is reduced further to serve as a glaze or a thickened sauce. Regardless of the chosen consistency, some of the liquid is usually served with the food.
For our braising recipe below, we opted for short ribs. Short ribs are the perfect cut of meat to be braised. They have quite a bit of marbling and can be tough if not properly cooked. You can get short ribs off the bone, but for the best flavor, opt for on-the-bone.
We're braising in a tangy blend of balsamic vinegar and seasoned stock. A lot of the flavor comes from the caramelizing of the meat and the vegetables, so don't skimp on the browning. After the meat is tender, we boil the liquid down to a glaze.
Serve the short ribs and their glaze over mashed potatoes, creamy polenta or egg noodles.
Braised chicken with mushrooms
Prep time: 20 minutes plus overnight chill time for mushrooms
Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Recipe from chef Rocco Dispirito for the Associated Press.
1 cup fat-free, reduced- sodium chicken stock or broth
20 dried shiitake mushrooms
8 small bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds total), skinned
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup sweet red vermouth, divided
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the chicken stock and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Pour into medium bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove and discard mushroom stems. Cut mushroom caps in half and return to the stock.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a large, oven-safe pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add the chicken, half at a time if necessary, and brown both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Transfer the chicken to a plate, then add onions to the pan. Cook over medium heat until the onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add half of vermouth and stir to deglaze the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, then add the stock and mushroom mixture. Cover and bring to a simmer.
Transfer the pot to the oven and bake, covered, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Place the pot on a burner over medium heat and add both mustards, the remaining vermouth and the thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly.
Divide the chicken among 4 serving plates. Spoon the sauce over and around the chicken.
Per serving: 338 calories, 9 g fat (2 g sat., 0 trans), 115 mg chol., 25 g carb.; 31 g protein, 3 g fiber, 676 mg sodium, 24% of calories from fat.