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Braising help needed


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#1 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 08:34 PM

Braising has never been something I've done well. But I have studied the braising seminar and I am working on trying to improve my methods. Tonight has not been a good night.

I started with a good size white onion, a nice lamb shank, some home grown tomatoes, garlic (lots of garlic), cannellini beans, rosemary, bay leaves, chicken stock and an inexpensive tannic malbec. Not really a recipe.

In a Le Creuset dutch oven I browned the lamb shank in olive oil, removed it, sauteed the onion, added the cannellini, garlic, tomato, rosemary, and bay leaves. I put the browned lamb shank on top and poured in roughly equal amounts of stock and malbec to the level of about an inch. Then I inserted a temperature probe in the shank (maybe too close to the bone) and covered the ingredients with parchment paper. I put more parchment at the top so that hopefully the full weight of the lid was not resting on the cable for the temperature probe. Finally I placed the pot in a 200 deg F oven.

After two and a half hours the temperature of the meat was not quite 172 deg F. I turned off the oven, cracked the door, and allowed the temperature to slowly fall over the next hour. When I went to eat, after three and a half hours in the oven, the lamb was pink and hard, and the beans were soupy.

Figuring I could not make matters any worse, I put the pot back in a hotter oven, 250 deg F this time, and brought the temperature of the meat up to just over 181 deg F. I reduced the oven temperature to 225 deg F, and that's where I am now.

I believe I have undercooked the meat, but I may have overcooked it. Any advice would be most welcome.


Edit: I hope I have done the right thing in starting a new thread, rather than posting in an old one.

Edited by JoNorvelleWalker, 18 October 2012 - 08:38 PM.


#2 nickrey

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 09:00 PM

It's definitely underdone. Breaking down meats until they are tender at low temperatures requires time at temperature, not just taking the meat up to temperature. For example, with sous vide cooking you may cook beef ribs at 135F but you would do so for three days.You typically need to cook lamb shanks until they are fork tender. Some recipes refer to a 325F oven for almost three hours. At 172 or even 250, you'd need a lot more time.

Rather than playing with meat temperature as your guide, I'd look up recommended cooking times and use those. Then you can measure and adjust your temperatures accordingly. Vegetables and beans require different cooking methods and times so I'd be tempted to do them seperately and add them towards the end of cooking.

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#3 heidih

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 09:29 PM

In addition to what NIck says above I do not see how from dry deans you could expect a good result - were they really dry?

#4 Mjx

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 10:39 PM

I do a lot of braises, since I love the result (and I can continue working while dinner is kind of making itself).

I think I would have gone with more liquid; after browning the meat and what-have-you, I add enough liquid to the pot for it to come about halfway up the meat (unless it's simply colossal, then I'll go with a couple of inches), quickly bring it to a boil over high heat, then immediately snatch it it off the stovetop and put the pot in the oven.
I check every couple of hours to make sure not much of the liquid has cooked away (I use a Le Creuset, too, and the lid isn't super tight, so there's some loss).

I braise between 125 and 150 C/260 and 300F, and figure a large piece of meat will take a minimum of three hours; I'll often leave it for five.
Keep in mind that with the liquid inside, the temperature in the pot will be much lower than that of the oven. If I were going with a temperature as low as 200F, I'd be prepared for it to take seven hours (never tried it, however). I don't use a thermometer when braising, but at about the three or four hour mark, I'll poke at the meat a bit with a fork, to get an idea of where the texture is.

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#5 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 11:05 PM

Thanks, everyone for the answers. I gave up for the night and had leftover fava beans for dinner. The lamb is still in the oven. Last I checked it was much more tender, but it has a ways to go. I will resume tomorrow. In one of my cookbooks I found a suggestion of 250 deg F for seven hours.

Heidi, the cannellini were not added dry, they were canned.

For the past couple months I have been on a Moroccan food kick, and want to be able to do braising on the stovetop, but I do not yet have a tagine. I've had very good results with spit roasted chicken mechoui and various other things.

#6 Mjx

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 12:13 AM

Until you get a tagine, you can use a Dutch oven. I've done stovetop braising with no problems, even in the kitchen I'm currently using, which has a lousy cooktop prone to heat spikes, making this a bit tricky.

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#7 Dave Hatfield

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 12:17 AM

I think Mjx is right.

Do everything as you did, but submerge the lamb shank or at least nearly so.

I do a recipe that's the same ingredients as yours except that I use dry green lentils. I also just let mine cook on top of the stove at a bare simmer. The oven works equally well.

2-3 hours and the lamb is moist, tender and just right. In fact the lentils are the pacing item.

#8 OliverB

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 03:33 PM

I think it was Williams Sonoma (or maybe SurLaTable) that had a Tagine with a recipe book for quite cheap in a nice set not too long ago. That might be a good investment, especially if you want to experiment more with Moroccan, which I believe the book was about or at least covered to quite some extent. I might have seen this a year ago (pre xmas) so it might be a good time now to look for it.

Wait, I just looked, it's Surlatable.com and they still have it, Tagine, book and some spices for $60. they also have Tagines by LeCruset and some other company with a metal base, personally I'd stick with the completely earthenware original though. And those are really quite cheap and probably a lot of fun to play with. Definitely on my shopping list :-)
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#9 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 11:02 PM

Finally. After about fourteen hours the lamb shank was tender and just right. The rest of the dish was quite edible, but not as good as I had hoped. Nothing had cooked down. Except for a slightly darker color everything looked as I had originally put it in the pot. The garlic cloves were whole, the tomato quarters were intact. The liquid had not reduced. I had been hoping for a nice thick sauce.

I couldn't degrease as the liquid did not come up to the level of the beans. All I could think of was to strain the solids, chill, and then degrease, but I did not feel up to doing that tonight. On the plus side, the bottle of malbec after having been open for a day was much improved! I would love to have ideas how I could improve the sauce for leftovers. For one thing I intend to bake some bread this weekend.

As for tagines, I looked at those from surlatable, thanks. I already have two tagines on order, but it was interesting to see what surlatable offered. The Le Creuset they have is tiny. It is only 8 inches. I live by myself but that seems too small even for one person. And I don't like the red color. The earthenware tagines they have are glazed, which is not what I would want.

I have an unglazed Moroccan tagine on order from bramcookware. And because I am not at all sure I can cook with unglazed earthenware, I ordered a Le Creuset. But a 12 inch Le Creuset, not one of the smaller ones, and not red! Probably any Berber woman could cook a tagine in unglazed clay, and maybe Paula Wolfert. But I am not they. Two of my friends have told me of disasters when their clay has cracked. But I'm going to give it a try.

#10 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 11:25 PM

I think Mjx is right.

Do everything as you did, but submerge the lamb shank or at least nearly so.


From reading the braising seminar, the participants concluded (I think) that braising with less liquid turned out better.

http://forums.egulle...-#2-discussion/

#11 Mjx

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Posted 20 October 2012 - 12:53 AM

I can't remember where I got the 'to about halfway-up' or 'a couple of inches for really large cuts' (either way it's never more than the latter, and usually less), but this does ensure a volume of liquid substantial enough to maintain a consistent temperature, and not cook away in a hurry if the lid isn't on perfectly.

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#12 patrickamory

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Posted 20 October 2012 - 12:12 PM

For a tagine, I really highly recommend the 11.5" unglazed Rifi from tagines.com. You have to season it but the unglazed clay adds a completely irreproducible flavor that I really enjoy. It's only $40 and every braise I've made in it has come out beautifully.

Be aware that you need a flame tamer and since earthenware has to be brought up to heat slowly, even longer cooking times!

#13 pacman1978

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Posted 20 October 2012 - 04:13 PM

No matter what I am braising I would not consider anything less than 3 hours and that would be at around 175 C. In my opinion braising is the amongst one of the simplest ways of cooking as it allows you to get on with other stuff. I particularly like making a jus out of the cooking liquor at the end as well!

#14 C. sapidus

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Posted 20 October 2012 - 04:55 PM

Braising has never been something I've done well. . . .

All About Braising by Molly Stevens is an excellent resource for general information about braising, different cuts of meat, cooking vessels, etc. Fantastic recipes, too. Excellent eGullet thread:

http://forums.egulle...-molly-stevens/

#15 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 21 October 2012 - 11:17 AM

Thanks! Molly Stevens All About Braising is now on its way to me from the library. To join the following, which have been living on my dining table:

Ghillie Basan, Tagines & Couscous
Madame Guinaudeau, Traditional Moroccan Cooking
Meera Freeman, A Season in Morocco
Jeff Koehler, Morocco
Mourad Lahlou, Mourad New Moroccan
Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
Paula Wolfert, The Food of Morocco

Koehler and Wolfert's books are the ones I would cook from. The other works were interesting, but the recipes are impractical (i.e. a Guinaudeau recipe calls for six pints of honey) or don't particularly speak to me.

Also on my dining table is Molly Stevens, All About Roasting, which I just realized (duh) is by the same author.


As to my poor lamb shank, last night I removed the meat from the pot and strained the broth. I reheated the beans for my dinner. Not sure yet what I want to do with the lamb and broth.

#16 Stephen Bosse

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 01:57 PM

Not really much for me to add to this thread, since it's mostly covered already. But I would like to urge you not to get discourage. Braising is one of my favorite cooking methods and produces some of my favorite dishes. I would recommend trying a traditional Bolognese Sauce made from cubes of veal and pork. I use a 2:2:1 ration of veal stew, pork shoulder, and beef stew. Brown, deglaze with onions, garlic, and wine, add tomatoes and herbs, cover and simmer for 3 hours. The BEST.

#17 SylviaLovegren

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 06:05 PM

I think your temperature is a bit too low, hence the lack of reduction and the vegetables not really being cooked enough. Up the temp a bit and shorten the cooking time.

#18 nickrey

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:44 PM

I check every couple of hours to make sure not much of the liquid has cooked away (I use a Le Creuset, too, and the lid isn't super tight, so there's some loss).


Just reread this. Try a cartouche, it should reduce the liquid loss.

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#19 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 08:53 PM

There has been some progress.

First, thanks for the additional comments. Yes, I realize now that my cooking temperature was way too low. I did use a cartouche (not that I knew what it was called) and I had essentially no liquid loss from my braise.

I have not tried making it in years, but I used to cook a Bolognese sauce recipe from The Romagnolis' Table. This was back in the 1970's before I had Le Creuset. I might be tempted to try again this winter. And now I am hungry for lasagne.

Last night I degreased the broth and used it to make risotto Milanese, with which I served the lamb shank reheated in a splash of wine, on a bed of cilantro. The result was something I would have been pleased to be served in a restaurant.

This afternoon I received my unglazed earthenware tagine and was planning to cook in it tonight. However the seasoning process is long and I ran out of time. It's cooling in the oven now. What I did have for dinner was the rest of the lamb shank. Nothing was left but three pieces of dry bone.

What I plan to fix for the first dish in my new tagine is "lamb tagine with medjoul dates" from page 387 of Wolfert's the Food of Morocco. I have been drooling over this recipe for weeks. I am undecided whether to make it straight or to add a pinch or two of Zamouri's ras el hanout. I wonder whether the tagine will be able to take the heat of a 400 deg F oven, even though the company I purchased the tagine from assured me it would be OK, as long as the tagine was already hot when it was placed in the oven. We shall see.

#20 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 09:07 PM

...made from cubes of veal and pork.


I just noticed "cubes". Do you not grind or mince the meats in this version? That sounds like it could be really good.

#21 patrickamory

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:21 PM

400 degrees sounds hot for an unglazed tagine... however if the company says it's okay, it probably is...

#22 Stephen Bosse

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 12:40 PM

...made from cubes of veal and pork.


I just noticed "cubes". Do you not grind or mince the meats in this version? That sounds like it could be really good.


No I don't mince the meat. After it has had a good 3 hour braise, it shreds down rather easily. In fact, here are a couple of pics of the Bolognese recipe that I did last week.

First is pre-braise. Second is finished result.

Posted Image

Posted Image

Rough-hewn Tagliatelle

Posted Image

#23 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 04 November 2012 - 08:02 PM

My braising experiments were interrupted by hurricane Sandy. As an update, I received my Le Creuset tagine, and I now have two tagines: the Le Creuset and the unglazed Moroccan one from bramcookware. I have braised in each of them. The lids are the same diameter, and I can use the unglazed earthenware lid on the Le Creuset bottom!

The first recipe I made was the Lamb Tagine with Medjoul Dates that I mentioned above. I braised in the Moroccan tagine, but then I transferred to the Le Creuset bottom as I did not have the courage to place the unglazed earthenware in the very hot oven.

The dish was quite good, however I am still having a problem with braising times and temperatures. In the 2005 tagine thread http://forums.egulle...g/page__st__150 Paula Wolfert suggests 170F for a tagine braising temperature. However, at least in my hands, that low a temperature just does not work for the cooking times given in her recipes.

I next made Spicy Shrimp Tagine, from page 156 of Jeff Koehler's book Morocco. Indeed I have now made it twice. I used the iron Le Creuset as I did not want shrimp flavors in the earthenware. Results were perfect. The finished dish looks better than the pictures and it was easy. The shrimp braises for only 12 minutes however. Leftovers from the second batch should be my dinner tonight, possibly with pasta.

The next experiment was Chicken with Dried Apricots and Pine Nuts, Wolfert's The Food of Morocco page 282. Wonderfully delicious, but again I had to cook way longer than the recipe calls for.

As was suggested I've now read Molly Stevens' All About Braising. There are a couple of recipes that interest me, including Neapolitan Beef Ragu, which sounds similar to a Bolognese but with a whole piece of meat. Now that stores are starting to open after the hurricane, tomorrow I hope to be able to find something to braise, or at least something to eat.

#24 BKYLN

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 03:40 PM

I did a major double-take at the amount of liquid you used. That's your problem, plain and simple.

#25 pacman1978

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 03:50 PM

I can't see where it says how much liquid he used - where is that? To me it is just a sensible ratio that covers well but not drowning

I love the bolognese idea of shredding the meat after braising I've done something similar a couple of times to make a duck ragu and that was fantastic so will definitely try that in the future.

#26 radtek

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 04:08 PM

Braising temps are around 200-225F but the oven needs to be closer to 375F and will take up to 4 hours depending on cut of meat, size etc... It's a little easier to do braising stovetop but also easy to dry the meat out as well.

You'd think it would be simple and it is but can easily be F'd up- especially if one is on a deadline and doesn't get the parameters right.

#27 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 04:29 PM

I did a major double-take at the amount of liquid you used. That's your problem, plain and simple.


If the liquid reply was to me, for the lamb shank I used a level of about an inch in my smallest Dutch oven. For the other recipes that I mentioned I followed the authors' instructions as exactly as I could. Were you thinking I should use less liquid or more liquid?

My latest experiment was pork spareribs braised in balsamic vinegar and red wine. I got the idea from someone named Nemmie in a blog I found from google:

http://scottnemmiefa...onzola-polenta/

I started with a full rack of ribs, parboiled then browned them. After seven hours on the stovetop the ribs were tasty but not tender, After five more hours in the oven at 225F the next day, they were tender but a bit stringy. Good, but not perfect. By education (decades ago) I was a protein chemist, and this is very frustrating. Now I'm wondering if I cook the ribs further if they will just get tougher.

#28 radtek

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 05:32 PM

You might have got one bad rack of ribs. Happens sometimes. What impressed me though was the polenta!

A trick to ribs is to do your rub, marinade etc and then a visit in the pressure cooker for 5 minutes with a natural release. Then smoke or braise. The juice from the PC can form the basis for the sauce. No rack of ribs should take more than 5 hours at 225 even without parboiling!

#29 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 06:23 PM

The polenta I made for the ribs was plain with butter on it, which is how I like my polenta. I don't think the ribs were bad, just that I don't have the right combination of time and temperature yet.

#30 Margaret Pilgrim

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 06:47 PM

Braises are my idiot-proof dinner party go-to. I brown large cuts (osso buco or lamb shanks) or smaller chunks of lamb or pork, less frequently beef, deglaze the pot (All Clad dutch oven) with appropriate wine, pile the meat on browned onions, garlic cloves, a bouquet garni, add appropriate broth almost to cover. Cover with a paper lid and put in a 275 to 300F oven for 3 to 5 hours, checking on doneness after 3. Always, always tender as love meat and ambrosial juices.
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