Saturday, November 21, 2009

My first braise

I mentioned on here that we'd be attempting a lamb braise--lamb provencal--in our new dutch oven. And we did!

We invited Deana and Brian over for dinner, and against the wisdom that says don't try a brand new recipe when you're having people over for dinner, I tried the lamb for them anyway. And--praises be--it worked.

I got home from campus at 4pm on Tuesday and right away started prepping for the recipe--chopping onions, measuring spices, dredging the lamb in flour for browning. I first browned the lamb in the dutch oven--a smoky affair with the extra flour burning in the oil--and then set the lamb aside while I cooked the onions, tomatoes and spices in the dutch oven, adding chicken stock and white wine to create the braising liquid. For those that don't know--and I didn't--to braise meat means to cook it very slowly (about 3 hours) in a stock or liquid of some kind. This makes the meat tender and very flavorful. I learned about this technique from a meatseller at the farmer's market and then followed up on it by searching the internet for a recipe. It turns out to be a really easy way to make delicious meat.

After I got the braising liquid ready, I put the lamb on top and...was almost ready to start baking. The way I cook is usually to have my laptop on the kitchen counter with me so that I can scroll through each step. This is probably not a wise choice, given the likelihood that I will spill white wine on it or get lamb tendons in between the keys, as well as the fact that you can only see so many steps at a time before you need to scroll again (thereby getting the keypad a little, mmm, grimy shall we say?). So this night, I was also using the computer and at this step I was ready to put the lamb in the oven and I realize, CRAP! I don't have parchment paper. What is parchment paper? Apparently it's supposed to go over the lamb while it bakes (but under the lid of the dutch oven). In a rush, I ask (or desperately cry out) for Micael to call the market around the corner. They have it! He runs over there while I stare at the lamb--I mean, what else am I going to do? sit down? I'm already behind schedule to get this thing in the oven, and am having a frightening vision of another 10:45 dinner. Micael calls me from the market--the parchment paper has silicone on it--is that ok? I have no idea. What is silicone? Is it something I want in my food? This has been a question that keeps plaguing me as I research cooking materials and especially, the food itself. Trying to find a pure, uncontaminated way to cook. He reads to me from the box that silicone is a naturally occurring, organic substance and that this parchment paper producer seems to have consumer and environmental health in mind. Ok! lets go with it.

He arrives with the parchment paper, we throw it in the pot, trim the edges and into the oven it goes. It now has 2 1/2 hours to cook.
In the meantime we prep the remaining ingredients--olives, parsley and lemon wedges--as well as get the potatoes ready to mash. The apartment starts to smell really good, Deana and Brian show up, and we have a glass of wine while we finish making dinner. The last half hour is crazy. The potatoes are cooking in 3 batches because we don't have a pot big enough for all of them at once, then after they boil they need to sit in a dry pot on the stove to let the moisture evaporate. Then Deana mashes with butter and cream while we chop kale, pull out the lamb, reduce the sauce, add the olives, etc, and try and find room for plates on the completely trashed counter.

At the last minute it all comes together--so quickly that I don't even have time for photos. We sit down, dig in, and it's good, really, really good. I definitely recommend trying this recipe out--or any kind of braise, for that matter. Try lamb shanks, lamb necks, pork chops, oxtail...

Micael puts on my Halloween glasses while he cuts onions. (It doesn't work--he still cries)

Isn't he handsome?

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