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Braising Lab #1, Discussion

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Please use this topic to share your results from Braising Lab #1. All are free to read along, but please post here only if you participated in Lab #1. Thank you!

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Fat Guy   

I started off by weighing each sample and taking its temperature. I was able, by sorting through the short ribs, to find four samples that were within a +/- .25 ounce range. For greater precision I also weighed each piece in grams.

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Sample 1 raw 5.5 oz 158 grams

Sample 2 raw 5.5 oz 156 grams

Sample 3 raw 5.25 oz 152 grams

Sample 4 raw 5.75 oz 161 grams

For temperature readings, all were almost exactly 40 degrees F when raw. (They were no doubt colder in the refrigerator, but they sat out for a bit while I got everything organized.)

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At this point I started my trusty timer. It occurred to me at that point that I hadn't asked for a digital kitchen timer as part of the basic equipment for the lab. I hope you all at least had a watch or clock you could use to record elapsed time. T+19 seconds, mark.

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I proceeded to brown each pair of samples. I browned the Le Creuset samples in the Le Creuset pot, the Calphalon samples in the Calphalon pot, and the Corningware and aluminum foil tray samples in two cast-iron skillets. I used olive oil, two tablespoons in each pot. I browned for 7 minutes, rotating everything pretty uniformly. One thing I noticed here is that the uncoated cast-iron skillets provided superior browning to the Le Creuset or Calphalon Professional Nonstick II (which provided similar browning to one another).

Uncoated cast-iron

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Calphalon Professional Nonstick II (same in appearance as the Le Creuset)

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I added stock to the cast-iron skillets, scraped up the brown bits, and transferred one skillet worth of liquid to the Corningware and aluminum foil tray, and I added stock to the Le Creuset and Calphalon pots, all to about 1/2” depth.

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I was disappointed to learn, in the middle of the experiment, that it was not possible to get all four vessels onto a single shelf in my oven. Naively, I had assumed that since they all fit on the stovetop together, and the oven is below the stovetop, they would fit in the oven together too. But of course the oven has thick walls and therefore it can't accommodate as much on one level as the stovetop. Then I figured, no problem, I'll just rotate the vessels every 30 minutes to even things out. But the way the grates fit in, the only workable solution I could come up with was putting the two shallower vessels on top and the two deeper ones on the bottom. I put my oven, which had been preheated to 325 degrees F, on convection, figuring this would help even out the heat a little, maybe. After those delays, everything went into the oven at T+22 minutes. By the way, after browning, each sample read about 62 degrees F on the instant read thermometer.

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I checked the samples every 30 minutes for temperature (I had two samples in each pot but only one was the official sample; the other was just there for backup so does not appear in the notes I'm posting). I was a little surprised at how quickly things heated up. At T+52 minutes, the Le Creuset and Calphalon samples read at 168 and 167 degrees F, respectively. On the upper deck, I got 165 from the Corningware and 163 from the aluminum foil tray. I also felt the liquid was simmering too quickly, so I turned the oven down to 300.

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I measured temperature at T+1:22, T+1:52 and T+2:22. At T+1:22 the two bottom samples read at 179 degrees F, and the two top samples read at 177 degrees F; apparently something had evened out. I turned the oven down to 275 because I still felt that things were running hot and that the simmer was too bubbly. Temperature readings at T+1:52 were all almost exactly 180 degrees F. At T+2:22 all samples felt fork-tender and were continuing to read at close to 180, so I pulled everything out and allowed the four samples to cool until T+2:42 at which point the samples read about 120 degrees F internally.

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And so, I tasted them.

I started with the Le Creuset sample. It was delicious, by the way. I had been surprised at a two-hour timeline for doneness, but the sample was tender and pulled apart easily while still maintaining some structure and toothsomeness.

The Calphalon sample was the same. I tasted back and forth three times and couldn't detect any difference.

Despite the lags in temperature readings, the Corningware sample also tasted the same (same taste, texture and aroma) as the Le Creuset and Calphalon.

Now for the big surprise: the sample I prepared in an aluminum foil tray totally sucked! It was rubbery, dry and didn't have that luscious flavor and texture. It was a total bust. I thought maybe it was just from a bad cow, so I checked the backup sample from that pair, and then compared all the backup samples: again, three luscious ones and one rubbery piece of crap. I have not yet come up with the explanation for this result, and I should add that I had expected all along that it would be the same as the others. So, we can talk more about this. But first, I'm interested to hear what you all observed today.

The cosmetic differences in browning that I observed above were not, by the way, evident in the finished samples.

(I'll post some notes later on my subjective experience using each piece of cookware.)

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First off, I’d like to thank Mr.Shaw for conducting this seminar. Braising is one of those mystery topics to a lot of people, and this a great forum for teaching and learning more about the process.

Braising Experiment

Day One 2-14-2005

For my experiment I used cross cut beef shanks. I wanted to use whole shanks, but that wound up moving in the realm of being cost prohibitive. By chance, the store I went to had an oddball shank cut on sale, so I decided it would work for this experiment. I began today by selecting my steaks, and the three largest that were approximately the same size. I weighed each, but the accuracy of my scale makes it more difficult. It weighs in 2 oz increments in American measure, and 50 gram increments in Metric. All three pieces weighed in at 8 oz, 1# 10 oz total and about 200 grams each, but totaling 650 grams between the three, I could not identify the source of the missing 2 oz (50 g). I am lamenting my lack of an ideal braising pan, but I’ll work with what I’ve got. It reminds me of what a friend of mine said, “You’re a cook. Improvise!”

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All three pieces tested at 40ºF prior to going into the pan for initial browning. I began by dredging the meat in seasoned flour (kosher salt and black pepper), then proceeded to brown all three pieces at the same time in my straight sided sauté pan (functioning as a metal Dutch oven) using olive oil as my fat, browning took a little under 8 minutes at medium high heat on an electric range.

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After browning, I transferred the meat into the three separate containers, and measured stock into each one to a ½” mark. For my stock I used a combination of chicken and vegetable stock. Unfortunately I had to use bullion cubes for the vegetable stock (the chicken stock was made Saturday). Not having previously dissolved the vegetable bullion, I heated up water and added the cubes. I then combined the vegetable stock and chicken stock, but the temperature it was at may lead to problems in my experiment, as the stock measured 100ºF prior to being added to the respective cooking containers. My understanding of braising leads me to believe that using stock which is not cold goes against one of the guidelines, but frankly, I’ve always wondered if it would work correctly, so I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

1. Aluminum

Amount of stock used 3 cups

2. Pyrex

Amount of stock used 1 cup

3. Metal

Amount of stock used 3 cups

0:07 Temperature before entering oven

1. 82ºF

2. 80ºF

3. 76ºF

0:43 after 34 minutes in oven

1. 172ºF

2. 172ºF

3. 191ºF

1:32 after 83 minutes in oven

1. 184ºF - appearance between the other two, still tough/rubbery

2. 190º F- appears rubbery, has turned up on the ends, some shrinkage

3. 190ºF - very attractive piece, still tough/rubbery, has begun to shrink

2:07 after 120 minutes in oven. All three smell good, but I can tell there’s no mire poix (it all smells a little flat)

1. 180ºF – beginning to fall apart, still tough in the center

2. 191ºF – looks much better, beginning to soften

3. 188ºF – still looks the best of the three, connective tissue is almost dissolved

2:40 after 153 minutes in the oven

1. 182ºF - Looks about the same, still not done

2. 182ºF – looks dry on top, not quite done

3. 188ºF – very close to done, bone fell off when I was taking the temperature

2:57 after 170 minutes in the oven

3. 183ºF – Done -6 oz cooked weight (25% loss)

3:03 after 176 minutes in oven

2. 183ºF -Done – cooked weight 6 oz (25% loss)

3:10 after 183 minutes in oven

1. 165ºF – probably due to oven being open, not quite done, turned oven to 350ºF

3:46 after 219 minutes in the oven

1. 168ºF –Done –cooked weight 6 oz (same on all three)

Future use?

1. Saved without cooking liquid

2. Saved with cooking liquid

3. Saved with cooking liquid

One other problem I noted with the scientific aspect of this experiment. I unconsciously chose the best cut for the metal pan, since I expected the best results from it. I’ll consciously choose the best cut for a different container tomorrow. I also kept the aluminum foil pan on the bottom shelf of the oven, and had some trouble keeping a simmer consistently on all three; in retrospect it would’ve made more sense to use the container that is the best at holding heat in that position, I’ll try it tomorrow.

Results

Aluminum

Texture Very good, moist and tender, can be cut with a fork

Flavor Good, no seasoning needed. Just tastes like shank should. Probably the best of the three

Appearance Very good – again probably the best of the three – the only one that the bone stayed attached

Pyrex

Texture Very dry, use of less liquid probably led to this result, can be cut with a fork

Flavor Good, but flat (needs seasoning)

Appearance Lousy - dry and crusty on top

Metal

Texture Moist throughout, can be cut with a fork

Flavor Very good, moisture makes up for the lack of seasoning

Appearance Good – not quite restaurant quality, but certainly presentable

Conclusions – Total weight loss was equal based on the results of my scale. I think the extended cook time contributed to the fact that the aluminum foil pan produced the best results. It also had a lower temperature for the duration of the cook time, and I’m sure that played a part as well. I need to do a better job of maintaining consistent temperatures, utilizing oven placement in a better manner. I don’t feel that my stock being hot played a part, as the best results I got are comparable to the best results I’ve ever had cooking lamb shanks in a restaurant kitchen. Mainly I feel much more focused on avoiding differences between containers, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s experiment.

Edited to add the pictures.


Edited by ChefDanBrown (log)

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tamiam   

I sampled using two pots; an uncoated cast iron dutch oven, and a porcelain (maybe Apilco) casserole. I browned all in iron, deglazed, then shared the deglazing liquid between the two pots.

Ran into the same trouble fitting my two pieces in the oven, but it worked. Glad I did not try 3 as I'd planned to. Became envious, wondering about all the really big professional ovens that everybody else must surely have to work with.

Since my store didn't have any beef ribs, I used pork. They are smaller, so my cooking was completed in little over an hour. I say that because I took them out at 160F/1:30 minutes, but thought they were overcooked. The iron pan heated up faster, and cooled more slowly, probably accounting for the fact that its ribs were more done than the porcelain.

In order to achieve that perfect balance of fall off the bone and structure, what is a good internal temperature to remove at? And what temp would you seek after a rest? Since the liquid and the pan retain so much heat, would it be wise to pull the meat out of the pot to rest?

Thanks for the class!!

Edited because I can't type


Edited by tamiam (log)

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Since my store didn't have any beef ribs, I used pork. They are smaller, so my cooking was completed in little over an hour.  I say that because I took them out at 160F/1:30 minutes, but thought they were overcooked. 

There's always a long period during braising when the meat appears overdone, but is, in fact, underdone. The connective tissues have to dissolve completely in order to get that "fall off the bone" finish. I don't think a temperature that far below a simmer could produce the results you were looking for, but God knows, I've been wrong plenty of times before.

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Boris_A   

Oven was preheated to 180/355 [C/F]

Two beef shanks, cut into 8 pieces, total weight before/after [g]; loss [%]

copper vessel: 470 / 306; 35%

pyrex vessel: 420 / 228; 46%

cast iron vessel: 384 / 234; 39%

alufoil vessel: 380 / 248; 35%

core temp after preapring and cuttin: ~ 12C/ 54 F. After slow browning (12-15 minutes) 35-40C/100F

For liquidity I used a rather thin vegetable stock. For browing ts clarified butter.

kept oven temp at 180/355 (no convection)

After 30 min, core temp:

copper: a bit more than simmer boil: 80C/176F

pyrex: simmer boil: 75C/167F

cast iron: even less simmer boil: 75C/167F

alufoil: no boil: 70C/158F

After 60 min:

copper: almost boiling: 92C/198F

pyrex: less boiling, 87C/187F

iron cast: even less boil, 82C/180F

alufoil: no boil: 70C/158F

After 90 minutes: no change in temps anymore (though reading was rather difficult and random and dependent from proximity of measuring zone to the bottom of meat piece (close to the simmering liquidity)

Cooked fo 180 minutes (unfortunately, when manipulating the vessels, the lid on the iron cast Dutch oven got shifted a bit and it came close to a roast with strong maillard. Here and with the pyrexvessel I had to add liquidity (water) during the braise.

Observations wrt. meat:

copper: meat was tender, juicy and mellowing, perfect at the outside

pyrex: meat was dryer (also due to liquidity loss), not much difference in the core though.

cast iron: strong maillard, hence a somewhat odd sample, the core of the meat still tender. Tasty caramelization. (!)

alufoil: meat seemed to be rather boiled/steamed than braised, but still tender and juicy. Not bad at all.

Observations wrt. vessel:

copper vessel was easy for browning, lid sealed well, hence not much loss of liquidity, temp was rather too high for copper.

pyrex: very easy to control temp (boil can be watched), lid was not so sealing, hence more loss of liquidity, meat was somewhat dryer.

iron cast: easiest for browing, zwero stick, boil was rather a simmer at 180C (even less boil than in pyrex(?)), difficult to assess because of incident

alufoil was difficult to handle (torsion), not much loss of liquidity though.

My conclusion: Copper and cast iron preferable, mainly for simplicity with browning and handling, copper somewhat more economically wrt. temperatures.

Well sealing lid seems to be very important.

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tamiam   
In order to achieve that perfect balance of fall off the bone and structure, what is a good internal temperature to remove at? And what temp would you seek after a rest? Since the liquid and the pan retain so much heat, would it be wise to pull the meat out of the pot to rest?

Looking at other people's time and temps, plus that my meat was falling off the bone, but a bit dry, I suspect that my temp readings were not accurate. I was using a borrowed thermometer since I was not at home, and I forgot to calibrate it. More importantly there weren't many places to poke and not be near bone. My liquids were at a medium and steadt simmer I got shirnkage on the ends so that bone was exposed. No camera or I'd post for your evaluation.

I'd still like to understand ideal temps for various meats better, and to figure out whether to rest the meat in or out of the hot braising liquid. When doing this, I quickly realized that I truly did not know when to stop.

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scd98   

Hello all. This is my first post so please bear with me. My thanks to eGullet and Steven for creating such a remarkable site and for this interesting class.

I used beef short ribs. I braised three samples in three vessels. A Pyrex casserole (#1), an aluminum Dutch oven (no brand visible, a hand me down, #2)), and a disposable aluminum pan (#3). Sample #1 and sample #3 were individually browned in a 12 inch All-Clad MC2 skillet which was deglazed with eGCI beef stock between samples.

Sample #1 (Pyrex): 150g

20 min. 153F

50 min. 206F

80 min 207F

Sample #2 (Dutch Oven): 122g

20 min. 161F

50 min. 204F

80 min. 205F

Sample #3 (Disposable Pan): 125g

20 min. 126F

50 min. 188F

80 min 193F

Samples #1 and #2 were tender and flavorful. Sample #3 was not. I was surprised 80 minutes was enough time to sufficiently tenderize any of the samples but even more surprised that a temperature differential of 12 degrees made an enormous difference in the texture of the samples. Other notes:

• I need a larger oven.

• The aluminum Dutch oven is most convenient because I can sear and braise in it.

• The disposable aluminum pan is a hassle. It has no lid so I fashioned one out of foil. Every time I need to check on the meat I have to wrestle the foil off and then crimp it down again when I am ready to put the pan back in the oven.

• The Pyrex is nice. Again, I dislike that I must brown the meat in a different pan than the one I use for the braising. The smaller volume is good because I can use less liquid for the braising.

I plan to experiment with Image Gullet later this evening and hopefully post pictures from later labs.

Scott

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Safran   

My oven is an older electric 27 inch GE...so I changed the fuses before starting. And yes, I had done a trial run with the size and fitting on Sunday and had to change plans as the chosen pots did not fit. So, finally, I did four short rib samples, the first in a LC round , the second in a round Corning, the third in a round stainless steel casserole with alum. bottom and the fourth in a Pyrex 5 x 8½ loaf pan with a makeshift foil cover. The first three were approximately the same size: 8 to 8½ inches in diameter and from 3½ to 4½ high. I have a hot spot in the back left side of the oven so I made sure to rotate everything. All pieces were 200 grams (I took a bit off some to get the weight). The first one to be done was the LC, by a good 20 minutes. It also had the nicer texture. The last one to be done was the stainless steel pot.

I started with ½ inch of stock in all pots. The LC lost the most. I finished with 3/16 of an inch. The stainless steel and the Pyrex both ended with 3/8 inch liquid while the Corning had 1/4 of an inch. I had not used parchment with the lids.

I hated having to take the Corning in and out of the oven. It was a round model with no handles.

The meat was very good in the LC, good in the Corning and the Pyrex and I think I would have left it longer in the ss had I not been on a deadline. It was cooked but not as falling off the fork delicious as it could have been. Also, trying to get an even simmer within all four pots wasn't easy. If the LC was happy, the Corning and Pyrex weren't, so some adjustment and constant monitoring had to be made.

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jgm   

I'm still in the middle of my experiment, but it's already an eye-opener. First of all, as a non-professional cook, I've never paid all that much attention to braising. Throw the stuff in the crock pot and come back 8 hours later. This is a different approach for me.

I couldn't fit 4 vessels in my oven. I ended up with a Le Creuset pot and a very small All-Clad pot on the bottom and the aluminum foil contraption in the upper portion of the oven. The samples all were 9 1/4 ounces.

The sample in the All-Clad pot was browned in that pot; the aluminum foil sample was browned in an All-Clad saute pan. Both did a much better job than the Le Creuset, which was frustratingly slow and didn't really do a good job.

Having the two large pots on the bottom of the oven produced a dramatic difference for the aluminum foil pan on the top. It's consistently lagged behind by 30 to 50 degrees, but catches up as time goes on.

A little over an hour in, the sample in the Le Creuset pot is the most tender. The one in the All Clad pot is next, and the one in the aluminum foil pan is stilll pretty tough.

Everything smells wonderful and the dog is becoming anxious. :unsure:

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Fat Guy   

Keep these reports coming, folks. For now, I'm going to sit back and read, because I think some people in other time zones may still post results. In the morning I'll offer some observations and we can keep the discussion going throughout the day. Also, very soon, I will post the instructions for the Lab 2 experiments that are to take place tomorrow, which will seem pretty simple now that we've all been through Lab 1. Many thanks!

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Smithy   

Well, the first thing I'm learning from this is that I'm a total piker, playing way out of my league. But hey - I'm here to learn, and I know diddly about braising. I did the full-blown experiment on Sunday and overcooked everything - I think - and realized that it's too much to try to keep track of 6 different pots. Tonight I redid the experiment with only 3 dishes. I'll post the writeup of yesterday's 6-pot exercise first, then follow up with tonight's experiment, which was better controlled.

Braising Lab 1, Sunday (first attempt)

Equipment/Bottom Dimensions (inches)

o Le Creuset enameled cast iron covered dish 8"x8-1/2" rectangle

o Ovenshire steel? Dutch oven, round bottom i.d. 8-1/2"

o Corning Ware lidded casserole, round bottom i.d. 6-3/4"

o All-Clad braiser, stainless steel, round bottom i.d. 10"

o Egyptian clay pot, seasoned at home, bottom i.d.

o Foil brownie pan 7-1/2" square

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A note on the Ovenshire dutch oven: it's a family warhorse, probably 60 years old. The mass is roughly comparable to the Le Creuset. The lid doubles as a skillet. The metal is grey and not very shiny. I'm not sure what the metal is - some kind of steel, I think, but not magnetic. It doesn't seem to be reactive as aluminum would be. The pot and lid both have special slots to insert a bakelite handle that came with the set. You can flip the lid over and back, use it as a skillet, with this seemingly wobbly handle that doesn't lock in place, and it doesn't fall off. Well, almost never. I've only dropped the lid once.

The meat:

o Bottom round roast, cut into steaks approximately 1" thick, then sliced into pieces roughly the size of the short ribs described in the lab briefing. Initial weights of these pieces of meat ranged from 3-1/4 oz to 4-1/8 oz; most pieces weighed 3-3/4 or 3-7/8 oz. The meat appeared to be well-marbled (for a bottom round roast); see photo.

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The procedure:

Browned all meat (2 pieces per pan) in 1T oil on medium heat on large burner of electric stove. The meat for the Le Creuset, Ovenshire, All-Clad were browned in their respective pots. Meat for the clay pot, Corning Ware and Foil pan were browned in the lid of the Ovenshire pot, which doubles as a skillet. In each of those three cases, the pan was deglazed using ¼ c. broth, and the scrapings added to the respective pan. Beef stock (made at home this weekend) was added to each pot to bring the depth to ½". Since I was using only 1 burner for this operation, and running a number of pots, browned meat sat a bit, cooling, before being placed in the oven.

Browning notes: The meat browned as well in the Le Creuset but seemes to leave more residue, with marked imprints of the meat. It may have been an illusion caused by the increased contrast between the brown fond and the whitish interior (as opposed to the silver/grey metal interior of the other pans).

gallery_17034_795_2627.jpg

Meat released very easily from the All-Clad braiser during the browning. The Le Creuset and the Ovenshire pan both required the use of a spatula to loosen meat during the browning phase.

Placed all pans, covered (with foil over the clay and foil pans) into an electric oven preheated at 325F. Started taking temperatures after ½ hour. (This isn't what the lab said to do; I misread the instructions. I don't know when things reached a simmer.) Meat was deemed done when the instant-read thermometer probe inserted and was removed easily, with little pressure required from a fork to hold the meat down. Temperatures at ½ hour intervals were as follows:

Top rack of oven (2 pieces of meat per pan)

What 8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00 11:00 11:30 12:00

Ovenshire 1 165 165 169 165 176 181

Ovenshire 2 154 163 162 167 185 189

Clay Pot 1 120 133 133 133 147 *169 181

Clay Pot 2 124 136 133 140 144 *185 181

· Moved pot to bottom rack at 10:20 because it still wasn't simmering

All-Clad 1 144 147 151 151 165 165 169

AC 2 145 145 147 144 162 172 172

AC 3 136 145 158 147 165 176 174

Bottom Rack:

Le Creuset 1 165 169 147 151

LC 2 160 169 156 158

Corning 1 154 154 154 156 180

Corning 2 149 158 151 158 172

Foil 1 135 133 133 135 131 176 172 171

Foil 2 129 154 154 133 133 176 172 172

The last temperature in each line indicates when the meat was deemed done.

Notes on the cooking:

· This experiment was not well-controlled for temperature. Every time I opened the oven to measure temperature, the interior temperature dropped and meat started to cool off. Since I had 13 pieces of meat to measure, the oven door was open several minutes at a time. The temperature drop was most noticeable in the foil packet, which I never actually caught simmering although it was on the bottom rack next to the Le Creuset.

· The Le Creuset came to a simmer and actually boiled a good deal of the time, as I hadn't thought about rack position and what that would mean to temperature, and didn't have a plan for juggling pots in such a full oven. The meat was done first in that pot.

· Nothing on the top rack simmered (Ovenshire, clay, All-Clad). The bottom rack was definitely hotter – but only the Corning and Le Creuset appeared to simmer; the foil pack did not (or else it cooled too quickly for me to see the bubbles)

· The bottom rack of the oven was definitely hotter than the top rack. However, the Le Creuset and the foil pack, next to each other on the bottom, were the first and last dishes (respectively) to be finished.

· I suspect the high thermal mass evened out any temperature fluctuations due to opening and closing the oven, or oven control irregularities, and helped keep the cooking going. With a properly-set oven and a good gauge of doneness, the high thermal mass pots might produce a more reliable result. Since all of my meat was overcooked, I'm only speculating here.

The cooked meat pieces ranged in weight from 1-3/4 oz to 2-1/8 oz. Without going to the trouble of typing these into a table, I'll just say that I couldn't make a correlation between pot type and mass loss of the meat.

General notes:

· First, I have to say that every bit of meat was overdone from what I can tell. I've never braised meat this way, so maybe I don't know what to expect. None of the meat was tough. All of it seemed a bit dry. All of it was well-done. I'm envious of those of you who report fall-off-the-bone tender. Even if I'd had bones, I don't think this would have qualified.

· The juices in the Le Creuset thickened and caramelized to the appearance and texture of molasses. These bits of meat were by the far the prettiest, because of their glossy coating, and the glossy coating tasted wonderful. The meat may have been drier than the other meats.

gallery_17034_795_21374.jpg

· Corning pot was done next. Juices were nicely browned, but not thickened. Meat seemed a bit more moist than in the Le Creuset.

· Ovenshire pot batch was done next. There may have been more juice than in the first two pans. The meat may have been drier than the Corning batch.

· Clay pot batch was somewhat more chewy, but still tender. The pot, which has a distinctive earthen flavor, had imparted that flavor to the meat.

gallery_17034_795_19146.jpg

· The All-Clad batch produced a lot of brown juice. The meat may have been more flavorful and slightly less tender.

· The foil pan was the last to be pronounced "done" because the meat really never got tender. I never saw the juices simmering. The meat was definitely drier and less tender than the other batches, but it also cooked the longest.

If all this sounds inconclusive as to preference, it is. I strongly preferred the appearance (as well as cooking time) of the Le Creuset batch. I didn't care for any of this well enough to serve it to company.

Cleanup notes:

· The All-Clad stainless braiser was the easiest to deglaze and clean. It really does act like a nonstick surface for these purposes, even though it's just highly polished stainless steel.

· The Corning pot looked like a nightmare but cleaned easily.

· The Le Creuset cleaned almost as easily as the Corning – a bit more elbow grease was needed, but nothing that would make me get rid of the pot. I really loved the caramelized juices.

· The Ovenshire pot, which goes back to the early 1950's or late 1940's, required the most work to clean. Cleanser did the trick.

· The foil pouch, of course, was easiest. Into the trash it went.

Tonight, I repeated the experiment with only 3 dishes: another foil pan, the Le Creuset, and the Ovenshire. All three fit on the bottom rack of the oven. I preheated the oven to 325F while prepping the meat. I used the same browning technique as before, and browned the meat for the foil pan in the lid of the metal Ovenshire pan.

Even though all 3 pans were on the bottom rack, the LC always was at a high simmer and I still never could detect a simmer in the foil pan. After 1/2 hour I switched pan positions to try to keep things more even, and turned the heat down from 325F to 300F. Initial weights in all cases ran from 3-1/2 to 3-7/8 oz. Finished weights in all cases were 2 oz. Here are the temperature results:

Pan/ meat After browning simmer time/temp After 1 hour

Ovenshire 1 88 18 min/131F 163 F

Ovenshire 2 90 18 min/129 162

Le Creuset 1 84 14 min/136 169

Le Creuset 2 90 14 min/136 167

Foil 1 102 never / 138 at 1/2 hr 154

Foil 2 104 never/ 140 at 1/2 hr 156

Compared to last night, these seem ridiculously short times, but the meat was definitely more flavorful and less dry than last night. I thought the meat was still a bit dry, with the foil meat being the driest of the bunch. Certainly it was all well done. It's worth noting that none of it was tough.

The LC STILL came up to temperature more quickly, and I can't explain why. I can understand thermal mass evening out the temperature fluctuations, and maybe that's the only difference. The foil pack never seemed to simmer, regardless of its position in the oven.

This time, the LC juices didn't caramelize, and I couldn't detect a difference in the juices among the three pans. I think the caramelization of last night is an indication of just how much I overcooked things.

I nearly lost this whole post just now, so I'm going to post it, then mess with Imagegullet and add photos in - or give a pointer to my album. Plan to see a "this post was edited" notation.

Edited to add some photos, and a link to the album in case anyone's interested in the exhaustive bundle.


Edited by Smithy (log)

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I began with 8 pieces of boneless beef short ribs and four different cooking vessels. My meat pieces varied in size substantially. I used a Corning ware dish, an all clad pan, a Le Creuset French oven, and an aluminum foil pan.

Clad stainless 04 oz and 04 oz

Aluminum Foil 05 oz and 06 oz

Corning Ware 11 oz and 11 oz

Le Creuset 06 oz and 09 oz

I browned all of the pieces of meat on a cast iron pan at the same time for the same amount of time.

I preheated the oven to 325 degrees. I did not preheat my stock, which I would have done had I thought of it in time, but I didn’t.

I placed the meat in the oven at 7:02 pm. I wanted to achieve a nice simmer on all of the pans, but they did not cooperate.

I did not begin taking temperatures until I had gotten the simmering under control, which was at 8:30 pm.

Clad stainless 163

Aluminum Foil 170

Corning Ware 186

Le Creuset 206

I kept a probe thermometer in the Le Creuset and the Stainless Steel. This is because the stainless steel was at the back of the oven and the Le Creuset in the front. I monitored the temperatures of these two pans primarily from this point on…

9:07 pm

Clad stainless 170

Le Creuset 208

9:25 pm

Clad stainless 181

Le Creuset 212

9:38pm

Clad stainless 190

Le Creuset 212

The finished weights were as follows:

Clad stainless 02 oz and 03 oz

Aluminum foil 03 oz and 04 oz

Corning Ware 06 oz and 07 oz

Le Creuset 03 oz and 05 oz

The temperatures remained the same until I took the meat out of the oven at 9:52 pm.

The braised product from the aluminum foil was a little under/over cooked; I really don’t know which. It is kind of dry looking and tasting and too firm, but there are visible amounts of undisolved fat and a tendony chewiness that could go away with further braising.

The meat from clad stainless steel also appeared kind of dry and over cooked. It was firm, but with good moisture.

The Corning ware meat was very moist and still retained a bit of bite. The meat was noticeably more tender than the meat from the aluminum foil and clad stainless, but had a lot more integrity left than the meat from the Le Creuset.

The corning ware had a difficult time getting up to a simmer and at no point did much more than occasionally bubble. I hesitated to increase the heat high enough to get the corning ware simmering regularly because the rest of the pans seemed to be doing fine and the Le Creuset was pretty much already at a full boil. I think I might have had better results with each pan had I used them individually. I probably would have increased the temperature for some pans and decreased it for others.

The meat from the Le Creuset was the slight favorite among our two-taster panel. The 2-quart dutch oven had cooked at a significantly higher temperature throughout. It took about 45 minutes to get simmering, but once it did it got the meat to a high temperature very quickly and kept it there pretty easily. By contrast the stainless steel and aluminum foil did not maintain a simmer easily and were noticeably affected as the electric oven cycled on and off and as I poked and prodded the meat. The meat from the Le Creuset was a lot more tender than the other samples, but it is arguable whether it had the best tenderness/flavor/moisture balance of the samples. It was decided that somewhere between the Corning ware and the Le Creuset would have been best.


Edited by fiftydollars (log)

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Fat Guy   

It's always humbling when preconceived notions run head first into the brick wall of the scientific method. I was completely convinced, before we did Lab #1, that the experiment was just a formality and that it would prove a simple point: that when braising in the oven the choice of braising vessel makes no difference.

Not so, it seems. Every single one of us noted differences in the way a piece of meat heats in vessels made of different materials. In particular, as far as I can tell, every result above is in line with the more massive/higher thermal capacity vessels reaching a high temperature sooner.

Why? Isn't the oven providing steady heat? If so, why should it matter what the vessel is made of?

I then thought about parallels in other types of cooking, and realized that in baking the mass/thermal capacity of a baking surface makes a big difference. Given a 300 degree F oven, a thin metal cookie sheet performs very differently from, say, a baking stone. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the baking stone absorbs heat from the oven and radiates it into the food, whereas the thin metal sheet mostly just transfers the ambient heat. As a result, there is what appears to be an amplification of heat. One thing I did this morning -- and maybe you all can do it too -- is I weighed the pots that I used. The higher temperature readings I got during the middle part of braising did seem to correlate to the mass of each pot, at least in terms of rank order.

It would seem to follow, then, that for most of us the samples in the aluminum foil trays were undercooked -- specifically, that the collagen did not dissolve and convert into gelatin (the fundamental chemical change upon which braising depends for its success). If so, it would also follow that if we had just left our samples in the foil for another 15 or 30 minutes, or if we had put the foil in a separate oven at a higher temperature, they would have come out well too. But can that be the case? We're talking about samples that were at 180 degrees F or thereabouts at their dead centers for an extended period of time. How could they be undercooked, and how could the collagen -- which we know converts at much lower temperatures -- not convert?

I don't know the answer yet. It may be that later in the week we should go back and try a foil experiment again, this time adjusting temperature or time to favor the foil and trying to let the meat in the other vessels overcook. It would also be helpful, I think, to get several temperature readings from that first 30 minutes of cooking, using two probe thermometers. Because the same absorption-radiation phenomenon that makes some vessels heat "more" than others has got to be that they are slower to heat because absorption equals insulation. Maybe at the very beginning and only at the very beginning the foil heats a lot faster because it's not providing insulation, and maybe this "shocks" the meat in some way, causing it to seize and become stubborn, and then maybe after 20 minutes or so the other vessels catch up and pass the foil. I don't know. I've already learned enough about the dangers of speculation for one week.

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Boris_A   

As I described, I couldn't see any boiling at all in the alufoil vessel (at 180C in a purely radiation oven), when sametime 2.5mm copper boiled a tad under vividly.

The evaporation of the liquidity is taking up a lot of joules, and the alufoil vessel seems unable to transmit the same amount of heat as the heavy ones. The liquidity gets' "cooled" by internal evaporation. Something like "a thin layer cannot take up/transmit the same amount of thermo-radiation".

I could imagine several problems with the higher temperature strategy: that you need a too high temeperature to reach a sufficient degree of evaporiation/condensation (think of the meat surface of the liquidity, heated by condensation/radiation/convection) an that you still have not enough radiation/convection inside of the alufoil vessel, and that some of your liquidity is getting burnt at a hotter circualr spot, where the alufoil is just in contact with the remains of the evaporating liquidity. Also burning/drying of the touching surface between meat at the ground could happen at higher temperatures.

What's about liquidity loss in pyrex vessels?

Mine was considerable. Normally, pyrex is used for gratins, where cooking time is rarely more than 1 hour and some evaporation/top surface browning is desired. So their seal is not required to be perfect, and would need to bee brushed or so for better sealing and less loss of liquidity. Well, at least my pyrex vessel was an old one.


Edited by Boris_A (log)

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jgm   

I didn't keep the careful notes that everyone else did, but in a nutshell, here are my results:

Aluminum pan: plenty of stock left; meat only somewhat tender.

All Clad pan: moderate amount of stock left; meat was tender.

Le Creuset: all stock boiled away, and at first meat stuck to pan, but with a little urging it pulled away. Meat retained its structure and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. This pan was purchased last weekend and this was the first time I used it; I am extremely impressed with its braising ability, and now I know a lot about how to work with it.

I haven't done much braising at all, so a lot of the details that were important to everyone else, didn't mean too much to me. I did take temperature readings and mine were similar to those reported by others.

I have a question. In one of Alton Brown's programs on stewing chicken, he indicated that the stock should not boil, because if the temperature of the meat is higher than 160 F for a prolonged period of time, the meat will be tough and stringy. My own results roughly bear this out. Is there a temperature at which beef and/or pork should not go? I became worried when the temperature of the Le Creuset meat climed to 200 F and higher, but obviously it didn't make the meat tough.

I don't know if I'll be able to find enough short ribs to continue the experiment throughout the week, but this one portion was definitely worth the effort!

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Bartow   

Hello, fellow Braisettes-

Because I'm still a 9-5er, I started Lab#1 yesterday evening and wrote down the last observation at midnight. Here's the Executive Summary: Le Creuset wins.

Detailed notes:

Pots used:

Le Creuset (hereafter LC) 5 qt "french" oven

4.5 qt Culinair copper fait tout (hereafter FT)

3 qt glazed stoneware casserole (SC)

3 qt terra cotta tagine TCT)

Aluminum foil brownie pan (aborted - see below)

I allotted 2 short ribs to each pot, & used 1T of olive oil to brown each pair for 1 min per side

I only did 2 pots in the oven at a time, necessitating 2 shifts (hence the midnight hour)

I used some homemade veal stock, augmented by 1 can of chicken stock, brought to simmer on top of the stove, hence minimal time to bring the braising meats to simmer in their pots.

The brownie pan sprung a leak at the beginning of its run, dripping juice onto the stove top (deleted expletives), so I switched its pair of ribs to the aforesaid glazed casserole.

General temperature notes: the LC and the FT brought the pieces up to their max of 190-195 deg the fastest; after 1/2 hour the temps read 180 and 185, resp. The meats in the TCT and SC pots were 175 and 170 deg. respectively after 1/2 hr. I kept the oven at 310 deg for the entire test.

Doneness notes: Probably because of the differential in the temp rise and the greater radiation from the 2 metal pots, the LC and FT meats were the same degree of doneness 1/2 hr before the TCT and SC meats, about 1:45 vs. 2:15. I declared that "done" meant that I could twist a piece of meat off of a rib after sticking a fork in it.

Appearance & taste: In order, high to low: The LC meat was tender, nicely browned, but moist inside and the braising liquid was a nice caramel color; the FT was also browned nicely, moist, but chewier and the liqid was paler; the tagine meats were on the dry side, brown and crunchy (I admit I like this), and the liquid was reduced by about half, all probably due to the loose fit of the lid; the stoneware casserole meats were chewier, less brown, and the liquid was a good deal lighter than those in the other pots.

Incidental notes: After cooking, the pieces of meat all lost about 25-28% of their initial pre-cooked masses. The greatest weight loss was by the tagine meats, again due to the loose-fitting lid.

Morning after note: Damn! the place smelled good!

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Bartow   

Reading Stven's reply ("It's always humbling...") concerning radiation, et al., I forgot to mention that all of my braising took place on an oven shelf that has a floor of terra cotta tiles, thereby increasing the radiation from beneath, and also steadying the oven temperature.

Generally, I think that the results pretty much parallel the relative efficiencies of the internal radiative surfaces of the pots: the Le Creuset has not only the iron sides but also a heavy lid, while the copper lid of my fait tout was relatively light. The ceramic and clay pots are relatively inefficient radiators.

Just my 2-cent ex post facto explanation.

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Fat Guy   

Here's what I'm thinking about as a hypothetical with respect to the progress of temperatures in foil and heavy metal:

gallery_1_773_9268.jpg

Of course, to test the hypothesis we'd need to do actual observation. I may try to do so one day this week, if I can find a second probe thermometer, and post the real results.

I still have some usability notes on the different pots that I'd like to post, but I was hoping others had their own observations to share first.

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Fat Guy   

So I had a few additional thoughts about these vessels.

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron:

It seems that in everyone's experiments the Le Creuset either produced the best results or was tied for the best results. This is both fortunate and unfortunate. It's fortunate because if you've already paid $200 for one of these pots you can feel better about your investment. It's unfortunate because I was really hoping we'd prove that these pots are a waste of money and that an aluminum foil tray does just as good a job. Clearly, it doesn't. We could probably do some adjusting of times and temperatures to make the aluminum foil perform better than it did in Lab #1, but that introduces a convenience problem. The Le Creuset pots seemed overall to have the tightest-fitting lids as well, making for less liquid loss. I assume this is a good thing.

Subjectively, there is only one thing I like about the Le Creuset: its appearance. These pots, and their Staub equivalents, are gorgeous. This not only makes them nice to look at but also makes them usable as serving vessels.

Everything else about the Le Creuset, I dislike. These pots are extremely heavy, especially when filled with liquid. They don't brown quite as nicely as uncoated cast-iron. The black "phenolic resin" handles on the lids are total crap: I have two Le Creuset stockpots, both with broken handles, and the Dutch/French oven that Sam Kinsey lent me also has a broken handle. Testimony from around the eG Forums confirms that these handles are crap. How could such a venerable manufacturer perpetuate such a blatant design flaw? The metal side-handles on the pots themselves aren't so great either -- they're too small for very good control. For this reason, if I do buy such a vessel, I will buy a Staub with a metal handle, not a Le Creuset.

Calphalon Professional Nonstick II Anodized Aluminum

Objectively, in my experiments, this pot performed as well as the Le Creuset. It lost more liquid but this did not seem to affect taste.

By far this is my favorite pot subjectively. It is light in weight yet has good thermal capacity (this is a good property of aluminum in general). It browns as well as the Le Creuset, despite a non-stick surface; and the non-stick surface makes it a breeze to clean. The thing I like most about it, though, is that the lid is made of heat-resistant glass and has a metal handle. Because the glass is see-through, you can see the rate of simmering inside the pot without having to lift off a heavy Le Creuset lid with a broken handle. I've had this pot since around the time we got married (around 10 years ago) and the lid -- especially the handle -- is still in great shape. The metal loop side-handles on the pot itself are also excellent -- big enough to grip for good control, but not so big that they get in the way. You can get these and similar pots cheap (under $50) at places like Marshall's and they often go on sale on Amazon.com.

Corningware

Although I appreciate the glass lid, I would never choose this vessel over the above-mentioned vessels for the simple reason that you can't brown in it. It also has poor side-handles -- they're more like tabs than handles. I do like that you can present it at the table, and it is the most dishwasher-proof of all the vessels (the dishwasher will over time erode the Calphalon and the enameled cast-iron (if not its performance, then at least its appearance). From a cost perspective, these vessels are quite cheap.

Aluminum Foil Tray

I guess this doesn't work very well, and it's also the most inconvenient, unattractive vessel -- so it's off my list unless I need to do a large-production job at some point.

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Safran   

The black "phenolic resin" handles on the lids are total crap: I have two Le Creuset stockpots, both with broken handles, and the Dutch/French oven that Sam Kinsey lent me also has a broken handle. Testimony from around the eG Forums confirms that these handles are crap. How could such a venerable manufacturer perpetuate such a blatant design flaw? The metal side-handles on the pots themselves aren't so great either -- they're too small for very good control. For this reason, if I do buy such a vessel, I will buy a Staub with a metal handle, not a Le Creuset.

They sell these handles separately...I always have two extra ones ( two different sizes), just in case...and don't , don't, don't tighten them with all your strength. I think the reason so many of us have Le Creuset is because they've been handed down...they're that tough.

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Smithy   

My temperature readings don't match up with your hypothetical graph; if anything, I seemed to get the reverse of what you sketch there. The LC and heavy metal pots' meat temperatures came up more quickly than in the foil or the clay pot on my first attempt, with the Corning pot somewhere in the middle as far as temp rise rate. Granted, the first set of measurements may be flawed because the meat in the foil, clay pot and Corning pots all had time to cool before going into the oven, whereas the metal pots and their contents went in straightaway. (I wanted everything to go in at once, and I didn't measure the internal temperature of the meat after searing on that run.) During the second test, I did measure internal meat temperature after browning. The foil meat was a bit hotter to start with because I had it on a hotter burner. Nonetheless, after 1 hour it was cooler than the meat in the other two pans. I had been juggling everything to keep the heat as constant as possible and eliminate pan position as a variable.

As far as the usage notes go, I made a number in my earlier post. I was surprised to find, counter to my expectations and your experience, that the LC seemed to brown as well as the All-Clad or the older steel pot. I liked the conveniece of being able to brown in the pot I planned to use, and would be more inclined to use one of the metal pieces for this reason. However, until I can get actually good results I personally won't discount the Corning. It may have the best combination of utility (clear lid, good seal) and thermal mass, not to mention price, to represent an optimal solution.

Something's rumbling around in the back of my head about thermal mass and heat radiation, with analogies to resonant frequencies, but so far it all sounds like rubbish when I try to write it. I'll try anyway. Is all infrared energy the same, for our purposes, or are some frequencies in the heat range more useful than others? Sam says these pots are merely conducting heat and not radiating it, but any warm body radiates heat back to its environment. Under some conditions there's a frequency shift downward during the absorption/re-radiation process. Is it possible the foil is so light, so to speak, that it just sits and quivers in the thermal equivalent of a high-pitched whine whereas the heavy pots are booming at a lower and more useful radiation frequency? Or am I just getting carried away with analogies?

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Fat Guy   
My temperature readings don't match up with your hypothetical graph; if anything, I seemed to get the reverse of what you sketch there.  The LC and heavy metal pots' meat temperatures came up more quickly than in the foil or the clay pot on my first attempt, with the Corning pot somewhere in the middle as far as temp rise rate.

The issue is that not one of us seems to have taken temperature readings during that first half hour. The hypothetical proposition of my hypothetical graph is that a lot of action may have taken place during the first 30 minutes and that it may have had the foil racing out ahead in temperature and then being overtaken by the time we measured. Of course, a hypothesis usually isn't worth much until it's proven. So at some point someone will have to test this with probe thermometers so we can take readings every 5 minutes without constantly opening the oven and triggering the uncertainty principle by affecting the experiment with our observations.

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Smithy   
My temperature readings don't match up with your hypothetical graph; if anything, I seemed to get the reverse of what you sketch there.  The LC and heavy metal pots' meat temperatures came up more quickly than in the foil or the clay pot on my first attempt, with the Corning pot somewhere in the middle as far as temp rise rate.

The issue is that not one of us seems to have taken temperature readings during that first half hour. The hypothetical proposition of my hypothetical graph is that a lot of action may have taken place during the first 30 minutes and that it may have had the foil racing out ahead in temperature and then being overtaken by the time we measured. Of course, a hypothesis usually isn't worth much until it's proven. So at some point someone will have to test this with probe thermometers so we can take readings every 5 minutes without constantly opening the oven and triggering the uncertainty principle by affecting the experiment with our observations.

Hmm. I have 1 thermocouple-based thermometer and an older Taylor instant-read thermometer with the small dial on the end of the probe, like the one you show in your first lab instructions. Is that dial oven-proof? If so, I'm in business after a calibration check.

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Fat Guy   

According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

Instant-Read thermometer- This type is best for all other cuts of beef, but can be used with oven roasts, too. It registers the internal temperature in 10 to 15 seconds. It is not heatproof so it cannot be left in the meat during cooking.

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