I have been obsessed with cooking lately. Cooking in general and meats in particular. I’m really good with a pound of hamburger and have at least two decent chicken recipes under my belt (chicken adobo and oven-fried chicken), but the larger red meats have always intimidated me.
And then I’m reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, the “water” chapter, which is all about braising meat: Cooking meat (usually in the oven, covered) for a long time at a low temperature in a small (or large—depending on your reference) amount of liquid. This is the kind of task that a Dutch oven was made for. It sounded so easy that I got a beef brisket and did it.
I also got a lot of additional recipes from friends, research online, and reading cookbooks. I have immersed myself in the world of meat. I ended up doing a mix of recipes (as per usual) based on what sounded good and what I had in the house. (But I will say the two books I have been consulting most consistently are Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, and Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. Both have chapters devoted to braising. The Flinn book has a Basic Braise recipe that I will probably find useful forever. The Waters book has a bit more detail on method and timing.)
The brisket was quite good. I braised it in dark beer which worked pretty well but next time I might use something lighter. Something with a little more snap. And I put the vegetables in too early so they got overdone. The potatoes and carrots weren’t too bad, but the turnips were mush. Lesson learned!
Today I am braising a Boston butt. I had never heard of a Boston butt until a few days ago. It’s a meat from the upper shoulder of a hog. My first pork cooking project. I’m braising it in a mixture of orange juice and soy sauce, with minced ginger and garlic. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
My other recent cooking adventure was pear sauce. I found a really good deal on Anjou pears and a friend suggested pear sauce. I’d never heard of it. Just like apple sauce, he said. So I check online for a few recipes (this can take hours, you know, when you get sucked into the online cooking vortex) and it does indeed look as easy as applesauce. Wash and core the pears, cut them up in smallish pieces, add a bit of water and a couple of cinnamon sticks and you’re on your way.
One thing I learned: Add very little water. The pears I got were very juicy, and the sauce was so liquidy I started spooning out the water. In the end, I removed more liquid than I had originally added—that’s how juicy pears can be. The liquid did not go to waste—my spouse loved it! Which made me think of perhaps adding a lot More water next time and making pear juice. Or perhaps I could make both at the same time. I need to think about that; it feels a little too much like having my cake and eating it too.
A final thing with the pears: Unlike apples, they did not mash so well with the potato masher. It was like the pears wouldn’t actually combine with the liquid. I tried a whisk and that worked better. Then I tried my little hand-crank eggbeater, and that did the trick.
I’m off to attend the Boston butt. I hope to report good things….