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Monday, April 7, 2008

But NOT Short on Flavor.

With time marchin' on in a big old hurry toward my debut as a mother of two, I've been making friends again with my old pal, the Rival® Crockpot™ and in my online research, I came across this little factoid: In certain culinary circles, the slow-cooker's known as the Monster of Braising.

Well, HELLO! All these years, I've cooked along merrily in my kitchen, completely oblivious to the dual and dangerous gaping maws of the twin Monsters of Braising hidden away in the dark recesses of my upper cabinets. I have never been more thankful to still be alive and in possession of all my limbs than I was at the moment I read that horrifying piece of information!

But you know what? It makes sense, since the very definition of braising is slow cooking, in liquid. And you know what else? Braising allows you to take very tasty advantage of some of the less-expensive cuts of meat, and involves, in my humble opinion, more than a little good old fashioned magic.

You start by puttin' a bunch of raw ingredients and some hunks of meat in a pot with some liquid. It's all fresh and chunky and well, watery, and I always think to myself, "Sheez. This isn't gonna work - this is gonna turn out to be a weird, bland veggie stew with a big ol' tough hunk of meat in it, is all."

But I'm always dead wrong. Because the process of braising brings together all the flavors of the veggies, tenderizes the meat, and turns that sloppy, no-confidence-inspiring mess you start with into mouthwatering, melty meat in a rich, deep, dark, velvety sauce. Yes, I said velvety! Just wait! You'll see what I mean in a minute.

Braising's generally a stove-top/oven shuffle, although I've seen it perpetrated entirely on the stove-top as well. It's a slow process that starts with the messy (though admittedly yummy-smelling) browning of the meat, sweating of the veggies, deglazing of pans, addition of liquids, and then simmering for hours with lots of watching and checking and adding of stock or water.

Can you see me perpetratin' all that with a little nursling attached and a four year old dancing around my feet singing, "Let ME help, Mama! Let ME help!"

Yeah, me neither.

So I wanted to see how this whole slow-cooker gig would pan out for one of my favorite braised dishes, good old shortribs. And guess what? It worked beautifully. BEAUTIFULLY. So beautifully in fact that I must share the recipe with you. It's maybe a more sophisticated recipe than your average slow-cooker fare, and turns out a pretty impressive product - one that Bean declared delicious and left Al speechless for a minute or two. I'd gladly and proudly serve it to comp'ny. But it was SO EASY! The way I did it makes it a dump and disappear deal, and guess what? I really ONLY used my Crockpot™ to cook it up in.

Cheat-Braised Short Ribs a la FriedOkra

3ish lbs. individual short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
2 large ribs celery, finely diced (mebbe about 1/4 inch cubes - heck, you COULD use your food processor to prep all the veggies - just don't turn 'em in to mush)
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and coursely chopped
1 14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 packet Trader Joe's Reduced Sodium Beef Broth Concentrate (or your favorite beef stock base or boullion - enough to flavor three cups of liquid)
1 cup white wine (I used chardonnay because that's what I had)
water to cover
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. flour

In the "real" braising process, you'd season your shortribs, dredge them in flour and then sear them off in a hot pan with some olive oil and butter. But in my cheat-braise method, you just season them on all sides with salt and pepper and arrange them in the bottom of your slow-cooker. No extra pan, no grease-covered stove. SCORE!

Next, dump in all of your finely-diced veggies including the garlic, right on top of the meat. Pour your tomatoes over the lot, without draining them. The acidic tomato juice adds flavor AND helps to tenderize the meat.

Whisk your Trader Joe's Stock Concentrate, soup base or boullion into your white wine and pour that over the veggies and meat, then add enough water to just about cover the meat.

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See? Meh... not doin' anything for me yet. But don't be fooled. Braise-monster to the rescue!

Pop the bay leaf on the top of the pot and slap on the lid. Turn the slow-cooker on to HIGH for an hour to get things going, then reduce heat to low. I cooked my shortribs from 9 AM to 5 PM. That's 8 hours, people. A full day's work, and I only put in about 15 minutes of real labor. Yeah.

About 30 minutes prior to dinner time, crank the slow-cooker back up to high, fish your shortribs out of the sauce and onto a plate and set those aside. I was delighted to discover that all the meat had fallen off the rib bones, so I just removed and discarded the bones. Skim the fat off the top of all the juices in the slow-cooker with a big ol' spoon.

Make a slurry with your whisk of the little dab of water and the tablespoon of flour, mixing well to avoid lumps - because shortribs don't call for dumplings, people! Pour your slurry into the pan juices in the slow-cooker, stir well, and slap the lid back on. You can stir occasionally if you need an excuse to open the lid and feast your eyes and nose on the miraculous sauce you've created, but this'll lengthen your thickening time a bit. About 15 minutes or so later, taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings (salt and pepper), then add the meat back into the pot to reheat.

I served my meaty little shortrib morsels in a big, wide bowl atop some cheese grits (polenta's Southern cousin) and smothered it all with spoonfuls of the beautiful, rich sauce, then scooped out a nice Caesar salad on a side plate. Crusty bread for soppying up the last of the sauce would be great too, and if you aren't a grit or polenta person, this dish would go perfectly over rice or even mashed potatoes.

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Bon appe-cheat, people!


10 comments:

  1. Oooh! You're making me hungry! Sounds delicious and I'll have to try this one.

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  2. I've made BBQ Country Style ribs in my crockpot with similar yummy results. I'll have to try this recipe sometime.

    Now that you've discovered the beauty of the crock pot your next step is to try making a lasagna in one. It comes out perfectly every time. No burnt edges. No overflowing sauce making a huge smoky mess in my oven. It is my go-to dish for potluck parties.

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  3. I think I love you! Looks scrumptious!

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  4. I SHALL (eventually!) be trying this recipe!!!! Did I say I got a crockpot for Christmas?!?! I can't remember. Anyway, all that excitement and it's still sitting there unused, making me nervous just looking at it! I think your blog entry today is the kick start I need. D'you think it would work without the low sodium brothy stuff? I am pretty sure I can't get that here. Also I don't tend to use any bought stock type things or add salt - would it still be tasty, or bland-o?

    I never comment - I'm so sorry! I am bad at it. But I read! And still love you! :)

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  5. Megan. My 'signature' meal is my pot roast. I use my large crock pot (I have two too!!!!)

    I have been told my several people (not JUST family members, I might add) that I make the best pot roast they have ever had. I like so much that I make it EVERY TIME I have someone over to spend the night. The aroma it puts off is such a wonderful welcoming touch!

    It takes me about 30- 40 minutes to prep. Cooks 10-12 hours! WOW!

    A hunka hunka burning love!

    Let me know if you want the recipe.

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  6. Alice - Yes, I do think you could do this without the soup base. I know you sometimes make homemade chicken stock, and I bet you could substitute that for the water to stave off any blandness. But even if you just used plain water and no stock at all, I think this would still have plenty of flavor what with the meat drippings and all those veggies and garlic. Your palates are used to foods without salt (lucky you) so you'd probably never miss it.

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  7. I think I smell them, oh yes I do!!!

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  8. I have got to try that!

    I just initiated my slow cooker for my daughter's birthday party. Pulled pork BBQ for 22 people...with a $10 pork shoulder. You gotta love that!

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  9. I love slow cookers but dont use them nearly enough. this dish looks scrumtious.

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Thoughts?