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eGCI Team

Braising Lab #4, Discussion

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Please use this topic to share your results from Braising Lab #4. All are free to read along, but please post here only if you participated in Lab #4. Thank you!

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Fat Guy   

This lab yielded some interesting results for me. I hope it did for you all too.

I started out by browning one short rib under the broiler . . .

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. . . and one in the braising vessel.

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I combined those with an unbrowned rib. The short ribs I used today came from the freezer, where they had been since last week. I also added one fresh (non-frozen) short rib, unbrowned.

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Now a convert to stovetop braising, I brought the liquid up to temperature and then set the pot to simmer for about 2.5 hours.

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I was pretty amazed by the results here: I couldn't really detect any difference between the browned ribs and the unbrowned ones, or between the two methods of browning, or between the frozen and unfrozen. They all tasted pretty much the same, and had similar textural properties.

More unusual, their appearances were not all that different. Somehow, the braising process "de-browned" the browned pieces somewhat. And, somehow, the braising process did a little bit to "brown" the unbrowned ones. It seems that the exposed part of the meat undergoes some sort of chemical reaction that, at least cosmetically, is not all that different from browning. This didn't happen early on, but as the braising liquid started to reduce slightly, the surface of the unbrowned ribs started to change a bit. I would like to experiment more with this phenomenon -- for example, I wonder what would happen to the surface if I finished it uncovered in the oven.

I also reheated, for the third time, the Lab #1 samples, and to my surprise they keep getting better. More tender, more flavorful, more juicy -- yet they haven't become mushy like I thought they would. I may reheat them one more time tomorrow, just for fun.

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Smithy   

Hmm. My results are a bit different than Fat Guy's.

The treatment:

-Each piece of meat was rubbed with a spice blend of paprika, salt, pepper, freshly ground coriander and some spice I know as bohaar - possibly allspice, but the ground berry doesn't really smell like allspice.

-3 pieces of meat were browned in 3 different ways: one in a stainless steel All-Clad pan, one in a teflon-coated skillet, and one under the broiler. The 4th piece was left unbrowned.

- The cooking vessels were identical ceramic bowls, approx. 2cup capacity, with foil covers.

-1/4 c. wine (merlot, it was the calmest thing I could find around here) was used to deglaze the browned pieces, and was simply added to the unbrowned piece. The deglazing liquid was put with its respective piece of meat.

- another 1/8 c. of beef broth (from cubes! I'm out of the weekend stuff!) was added to bring the liquid level up to roughly half the height of each piece. 1 small (1/2") red dried pepper was crushed and added to the broth in each bowl.

- The covered bowls were set in the oven on the bottom rack. I did it this way for two reasons: first, I've had better success using oven braising so far, and second, I thought we were again supposed to keep all the dishes separate.

- The initial oven temperature was 300F. After 1/2 hour, when nothing was simmering, I stepped the temp up to 350F. After an hour I had vigorous simmering under way so I reduced the temp to 320F, remember belatedly that we'd been using that temperature earlier in the week.

-I kept track of temperature, and every time I measured I rotated the bowls to ensure more or less even heating.

Results:

-The browned meats were done at the same time, 1-1/2 hours after they went into the oven.

-The unbrowned meat took more than another half hour to reach the same stage of doneness, based on my (admittedly inexpert) fork testing. 28 minutes after the others were done, it was still not done. I next checked it at 47 minutes after the others were done, and it was done. That may have been 10 minutes' overkill but it wasn't 20 minutes' worth. That's 2:20 total cook time for a 2-1/8 oz. piece of meat!

-I agree that there's little to no difference in appearance among the 4 samples. As Fat Guy said, the browned meats had lost some of their brownness in the liquid and the unbrowned meat had gained some in the heat.

-It probably won't suprise anyone that the deglazing with wine produced better results in the All-Clad pan than in the teflon-coated pan. The sauce from the AC sample seems a bit richer than from the others. (Yes, I deglazed the broiler pan too, but that was a much messier affair and shouldn't count.)

-It's difficult to be sure without a blind taste test, but I think the All-Clad seared meat had a better texture than the teflon-seared meat or the broiled meat.

-The broiler-seared meat ws cooked more, and initially seems a bit more chewy, than either of the pan-seared meats. So far the unseared meat seems the loser in terms of texture and flavor.

Caveat: I'm discussing very small differences, and as has happened in almost every one of my labs this week, none of the meat has been something to share with company on the first night. Once again, I thank you, Fat Guy, for the insight to the meat cut. It makes me feel good that I've gotten a few good results at all!

Reheating experiments: I reheated 3 of my original 6 dishes, and found all three to be drier than they had been last night or the night before although their flavor was still good. The relatively high oven heat (I was doing the braises at 300F at the time) may have contributed to the meat's demise. I can test that tomorrow with the last of my Sunday/Monday samples. Based on what I've seen so far, though, I'd say the flavor and texture improved on the first and second reheatings, and deteriorated on the third.

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I began with three rather large pieces of boneless beef short ribs to be braised in veal stock. I went with enameled cast iron on the stovetop because I liked the results of yesterday's stovetop sample.

I was also very surprised by the results. Especially when I first saw the samples. The unbrowned sample (bottom rib in the picture) was not only brown, it was actually darker than the other samples.

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But when you turn the samples over you can see a big difference in color between the browned and unbrowned samples.

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Nonetheless I will agree that the meat was agreeable either way and I kind of liked the silky softness of the palest part of the unbrowned sample. It lacked the coarser texture brought by browning and was therefore different than the other samples cooked this week.

I still prefer the browned samples and I prefer to brown on the stovetop. Mainly because I like having a rib that has good color on all sides. I also get a much better sear on a skillet than in my broiler and I just think it's a little more convenient not having to use the oven... especially if you plan to braise on the stovetop like I did here.

Which brings me to stovetop vs. oven... I think I would go back to the oven because that’s where I think the Dutch oven does its best work. I couldn't tell you why but I think it is beneficial to have heat coming in from all sides.

But I will also concede that the stovetop gets excellent results. In the end I might wind up braising on the stovetop most often because it seems quite a bit more convenient to me for some reason.

I think the most valuable thing I have learned from all this braising is that braising is an incredibly forgiving, adaptable, and flexible method of cooking beef short ribs. I just don't see how you could get it all that wrong (I even learned to do it in my sleep!)...and if you really don't think it turned out right, put it away and reheat it tomorrow, it will probably be great by then (How bizarre is that?).

I'd like to thank Steven and the rest of the eGCI team for putting this together. I know I had a whole lot of fun and I think I learned a lot.


Edited by fiftydollars (log)

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Smithy   

Yes, I'd also like to thank Steven and the eGCI team. This has been a very instructive and gratifying class. I've learned a lot of technique this week, raised a lot of questions and answered a few. This has been a great line of scientific inquiry.

I've also made some darned good meals this week, applying my new braising knowledge to projects outside the scope of the lab sessions. Thanks for helping me get another cooking method into my repertoire.

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Smithy   
I began with three rather large pieces of boneless beef short ribs to be braised in veal stock. I went with enameled cast iron on the stovetop because I liked the results of yesterday's stovetop sample.

Fiftydollars, are you using gas or an electric stove? If you ever said, I missed it.

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I began with three rather large pieces of boneless beef short ribs to be braised in veal stock. I went with enameled cast iron on the stovetop because I liked the results of yesterday's stovetop sample.

Fiftydollars, are you using gas or an electric stove? If you ever said, I missed it.

I have an electric stove... a bad one at that... I look at the photos of Fat Guy's gas burners and cry jealously.


Edited by fiftydollars (log)

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Fat Guy   

The low simmer is a weakness of most electric cooktops, which typically cycle on and off to maintain an average temperature rather than a constant one. I have a feeling this is why mass-market recipes rarely if ever recommend stovetop braising, even though it's so convenient.

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Mottmott   

I was unable to give enough time to do this experiment, but I did do a short-rib braise last night as in my ususal way of just throwing it together rather than trying out someone's recipe. I've arrived at this procedure over the years, often varying the liquid for the braise and the seasonings, accompaniments, etc.

I'm happy to benefit from reading all the braising posts (and especially happy that it mostly supported what I've been doing for years). It was wonderful to see all these documented efforts to help us tweek our braising and will be invaluable for beginners. Those who did all this work deserve a big round of applause.

I usually don't use short ribs and would like to say that though they are very good, I prefer something with a bit more meat on the bone such as shin or oxtail which also give a more gelatinous quality to the final product. Let me say in advance, that my haphazard approach to timing does occasionally subject me to overcooking the meat, particularly if I give it extra next-day time to flavor the additional vegetables.

I caramelized about 3 lb ribs in the LC 5 1/2 qt stovetop, removed it, caramelized the mirapoix, put together a cachet of herbs and spices, removed veggies and deglaze with wine (usually most of the bottle, this time an Australian Grenache Sirah), returned meat and veggies to the pot, and topped it off with about a quart of beef stock, brought it all up to a vigorous simmer and popped it into a preheated 325 oven covered with a round of parchment. This started the meat (on top of the veggies) almost submerged in liquid but ended with the meat mostly exposed at the end. I then went upstair to work, checking the braise only when the come-eat-me aroma wafted up to where I was. (Probably about 3 hours, my ah-I-can-smell-it-now method allows me to be completely off the clock.) Starting it out in 3-4 times as much liquid as I expected to end up with ensured that I need not pay too much attention to it and yet wind up with an adequate amount of sauce. Fork tender Delicious!

If I were doing this as a company meal, I would be less casual about stopping the cooking process, checking it along the way more. I would cover it with a lid for awhile to conserve more liquid so that I could then thicken it by blending it with some of the vegetables cooked with the meat. (Though the deeply reduced gravy is really good.) The next day, I'd defat it and serve it with other vegetables that had been roasted separately, It would be optional whether to serve them on the side or heat them up with the braised meat long enough to let some of the flavors to meld. This allows me to carefully defat the dish after refrigeration. I also have thge option of warming up the separately roasted vegetables in the liquid to meld the flavors together.

Again, I tip my fork to all the participants who did all this work for us.

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Sorry to be late in posting, but I didn't have time to do the experiment yesterday. I just fired it and I'll post in a few hours when I'm finished.

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Fat Guy   

Please report your weights in 1/4 ounce and 1-gram increments. Thanks.

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Braising Experiment Day 4 2-18-2005

I had a job interview in the afternoon yesterday that did not permit me to do the experiment. I’m conducting it today, Friday. The interview went well; I’m doing a working interview tomorrow afternoon at Kevin Taylor’s new restaurant “Prima,” wish me luck, and hopefully I won’t need it.

In order to have finished the seminar, I hope no one will be opposed to me posting a day behind schedule, and if so, you have my humblest apologies.

Question: Is the final product in braising substantially different when browned on a stovetop, browned on a broiler, or not browned at all? Will frozen steaks work for braising?

For my experiment I will be using the last three cross-cut beef shanks, which are frozen. I browned the first (A) using the broiler of my electric range, the second (B) went to the stovetop in olive oil, and the third © went frozen, into pan with the other two.

A, B, and C in sequence top to bottom before braising

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Having used all my stock, and patience for cooking food without mire poix, I’ve made what I believe is the culmination of what I’ve learned from altering the cooking liquid. I deglazed the pan with the Talus Merlot, and then put together the following recipe

1 cup red wine

3 cups water

1 carrot – loose chop

1 leftover celery heart – I’m not concerned about the bitterness of the dissolving celery leaves, I think this short-cook stock will benefit from it.

1 yellow onion – skin as well – I needed the caramel color

¼ teaspoon black pepper

I’ll make a reduction sauce of the stock once the dish is finished.

In the pan, ready to go, still in sequence A, B, C

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I began broiling the first rib at -0:20, and had finished browning both and had a stovetop simmer at 0:00. As they’re frozen, the first temperature reading, wasn’t taken until 1:00

0:00 Frozen (just a home freezer, not frozen below 26ºF

1:00 178ºF-182ºF – simmer looks great, meat shows visibly shrinkage, smells great

2:00 182ºF – everything’s tightened up, steady simmer

3:00 182ºF – meat is relaxed, perfectly done

The results would’ve surprised me a lot more had I not read the other posts first. They really are indistinguishable from each other. The browning is consistent with the exception of the underside of the un-browned piece.

The finished pieces A, B, and C

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I also re-heated my last leftover form the first day in the oven, as well as pork ribs from day 3. The shank was starting to fall apart, but was still maintaining structure on the third re-heat. The pork ribs really didn’t improve in any way with an additional heat and cool.

The other thing I was really hoping to learn from this one was whether or not the frozen meat would work just as well for braising as thawed meat, and the answer is a definite yes. Browning was equal with all the pieces, and therefore I think I may have done a lot of work this week to teach myself the easiest dish to cook from scratch in my repertoire.

Lastly the weight results-

Piece A – Broiled 8.5 oz raw – 6.125 oz cooked / 18% loss

Piece B – Stovetop 5.75oz raw – 4 oz cooked / 21% loss

Piece C – Raw 5 oz raw – 3.75 oz cooked / 25% loss

I tasted a little of each, but then my fiancee offered to finish dinner, mashed sweet potatoes, grilled asparagus and the braised shank with the reductions sauce. She reduced it to 4 oz, and dinner was delicious!

Thanks again for conducting this seminar, I look forward to the next one, and kudos to Smithy, I think you were the only one who did all four on the assigned days, as well as to Fiftydollars for sticking it out after the hazardous Jerry Lewis skit you did in the kitchen earlier in the week.

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Fat Guy   

Well, I think that does it. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who chose to become my colleagues in the "Truth About Braising" seminar. As with much of scientific inquiry, I think we both learned a lot and raised a lot more questions than we answered.

We took a bit of a risk when we designed this class: there was some speculation that not a single person would participate, and we considered bringing in some ringers from the Institute staff so that we'd guarantee a minimum level of participation. I'm glad we didn't. What we had this week was the real deal.

At this point, all are welcome to comment on the four lab topics as well as the general Q&A topic related to this seminar. And the organizational scheme here is such that, even if you missed the "live" seminar, it's never too late to do these experiments on your own. I'm hoping that we'll see more people doing these tests over time, learning from earlier reports and tweaking the new tests to reduce unwanted variables.

I'm also hoping that we see some new experiments. Every day, I think we saw places where we could have gone in multiple directions in addition to the ones we chose. There was a limit -- just the 20 or so experiments we did were exhausting -- but now we have the whole future ahead of us. You've all seen how to do it now -- the gang wrote up some great lab reports -- so try it on you own.

Thanks again to all who joined in, and also to all who read along.

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