Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I Learned at Cooking Class

I'm happy to give you this guest post (including recipe!) today by Amy:

Hi.  I’m Amy.  I’m happy to be a guest blogger for Cathy today.  My blog is Motherhood and Miscellany, where I write about the things I love: my two girls (ages 2 and 8 months), being a stay-at-home-mom, reading, cooking, photography, and anything else that strikes my fancy. 

One thing I’ve been writing about quite a bit lately is cooking.  I might even say I have a little bit of a cooking obsession lately.  I love to cook and have recently started trying to make up my own recipes.  My husband and I love the show “Chopped” on the Food Network and decided to try our own little version of the show at home.  You can check out how we started here.  Basically, each week he is giving me a “mystery ingredient” that I have to use in a recipe that I create myself.  So far he’s given me Ritz crackers and grits.  The recipes I’ve created have been good, though not yet great.  It has been tremendously fun to challenge myself this way in trying to take my cooking abilities to the next level.

Another way I have recently tried to improve my cooking is by taking a cooking class.  There is a wonderful chef staff at our local country club, and my husband and I love to eat there.  A few weeks ago they offered a class on braising with one of the chefs, and I jumped at the chance to attend.  It was a fantastic experience!  I thought I would share a few of the things I learned. 

Of course, braising is basically a way to slowly cook meat, first using a dry heat to brown the meat, and then cooking the meat in liquid until it is tender.  This is a great way to take tough but less expensive cuts of meat, like chuck or shank, and make them tender and delicious.  I always want to throw something in the crock pot without having to brown the meat first (I’ve done it many times), but the chefs say “No!”  Browning adds much to the flavor they say, so I will try to make myself take this extra step from now on.  I learned that the basic steps to making a complete braised dish are pretty much the same every time: 

  1. Season your meat, either by marinating it or rubbing some seasoning on it, or just putting salt and pepper on.
  2. Brown your meat. First get your pan hot, then add your oil or butter or whatever fat you’re using.  Let that get hot and then put your meat in and brown it on all sides.  A new thing I learned at the class is that you should flour the meat if it is in small pieces to help it get browned but prevent the meat from cooking all the way through while you brown it (in the browning step you just want to caramelize the outside of the meat, not cook it all the way through).
  3. Once the meat is browned on all sides, remove it to a separate plate, add a bit more fat to the pan, and brown your mire poix (chopped onion, celery, and carrots).
  4. Then deglaze the pan with some sort of acid, like wine or vinegar.  Pour it in and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  This starts to prepare the sauce for the meat already by getting all that great flavor into the liquid.  Reduce the deglazing sauce a bit.
  5. Add your meat back in with other seasonings and liquid for cooking, usually a stock or broth.  You want to put in enough liquid to cover the meat about half- to two-thirds of the way, not to cover it completely (another new thing I learned). 
  6. Cover the meat and put it in the oven to cook.  You could also use a crockpot, or even cook it on the stove.  But doing it on the stove requires more attention to make sure the temperature stays right.  During the cooking you may want to turn the meat halfway through and/or baste it a few times.
  7. Once the meat is done, take it out of the liquid and keep it warm.  Skim off any impurities from the top of the liquid.  Then you can use the cooking liquid to make a sauce.  You can strain out the mire poix vegetables and other seasonings and then thicken the liquid with a cornstarch slurry or roux*.  Or you can puree the whole thing and use the vegetables to help thicken the sauce.  Or you could put the pan back on the stove and reduce the liquid.  Or you could do any combination of these things.  Or maybe the liquid will be just right when you take it out and you won’t need to do much of anything to it!  You can experiment and taste it and see what works. 
  8. Slice the meat, top with sauce, serve! 

*I learned two great tips in the class for making and using a roux (combination of butter and flour used as a thickening agent).  First, the rule of thumb for making a roux is that you use equal parts by weight of the flour and butter.  Second, you can make a large amount of roux and then put it in an airtight container and just scoop out whatever amount you need each time you make a sauce, instead of having to take the time to make the roux each time you cook a sauce.

Okay, so now that I’ve given you all that info, here’s an actual recipe that we made in the class for Southwest Bar-B-Que Pork Ribs:

5 lbs Country style pork ribs
Southwest seasoning (enough to season the ribs)
Oil for cooking
1 large onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
¼ cup garlic, chopped
4 cups Bar-B-Que sauce
2 quarts pork or chicken stock (approximately)
2 Bay leaves
3 dried Ancho chiles
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Rehydrate the chiles by soaking them in warm water until soft.  Drain and remove the stems and seeds, then chop.
  2. Add about a Tbsp of oil to your pan over medium heat.  Add vegetables and sauté until tender.  Remove from pan (in this recipe the chef chose to do the vegetables before the meat so they wouldn’t get browned)
  3. Lightly season the meat with the southwest seasoning.  Add a bit more oil to the pan and brown the meat on all sides (this recipe calls for a lot of meat so be sure not to crowd the pan.  We had a huge pan in the commercial kitchen, but at home you’d probably have to brown the meat in batches).
  4. Add the reserved mire poix vegetables, BBQ sauce, bay leaf, chilis, cinnamon, and enough stock to cover the meat 2/3 of the way.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover.  Cook the covered meat in a 250 degree oven for 2.5 to 3.5 hours, until fork tender.
  6. Remove meat from pan and keep warm.  Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer.  Return to pan and reduce by 1/3, skimming often (there will be a bit of oil that comes to the top).
  7. Thicken the sauce, if necessary, with roux or cornstarch & water (when we made this in the class the sauce was the perfect consistency after being strained).
  8. Return the meat to the pan and heat through.
  9. Add cilantro and adjust seasoning.  This will serve 6-8.

  This seems like a lot of work, but most of the time spent is just waiting for the meat to cook. It really wasn’t that involved, and the dish was so flavorful and the meat so tender, this is definitely something I will be trying at home.  I may cut the recipe in half though, since it was really a lot of meat at the end. 

It has been fun doing this guest post.  Thanks to Cathy for having me (and my cooking obsession) for the day!

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