Don’t freak out. You can do it!! Something I love about braising big meat is that it’s basically the same technique every time. Follow this method with chuck roast, short ribs, pork shoulder, or lamb shanks, and you’ll get that delicious fall-apart meat you can’t help but crave on cold Sunday nights. Yes I realize its currently 100 degrees outside, but lamb shanks were on sale at Sprouts and I’m not going to let an opportunity like that pass me by.
Here’s the basic steps home cooks need to remember for a clutch braise:
- Start with a hard sear. Get your frying pan or dutch oven ripping hot with about a tablespoon of oil, aggressively season your meat, then brown the meat on all sides. When you’re done, set it aside on a plate. See that brown stuff leftover in the pan? That right there is money! Loads of flavor packed into those little bits so DO NOT wash your pan.
- Add flavor elements. This is when you want to add your aromatics, veggies, tomato paste, spices, etc. Let them sweat, toast, and bloom, and allow for some more delicious browned goodness to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Deglaze. This is most commonly done with wine, but beer, vinegar, or another flavored liquid may be used. Pour it right into your cooking vessel and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. The browned bits (aka fond if we’re being fancy and cheffy) will dissolve into the cooking liquid and make everything flavorful.
- Low and slow cooking. Put the meat (and any accumulated juices) back in the cooking vessel and add enough broth so that the meat is about 80% of the way covered with liquid. Crack the heat up to high until its just boiling. From here, you have a few options. If it’s in a dutch oven, throw a lid on it and move to an oven set at 300-325 degrees F for around 2-4 hours (depending on what kind and how big your meat is). If you planned on using a slow cooker, transfer it over (carefully, that ish is hot!) and let it braise on low for around 8 hours. If you planned on using an Instant Pot/pressure cooker, well you should have done all the previous steps in the vessel itself, and now its time to pressure cook on high for 40 minutes or so.
Remember these steps. These are the basic fundamental techniques you can riff on. Today I spiced my lamb shanks with 5-Spice powder and ginger because I’ve been craving those flavors, but it easily converts to French, Italian, British, or Persian flavors. I’ll get to that part later.
- 3-5 lamb shanks, one per person plus enough for leftovers if that’s how you roll
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of Chinese 5-Spice
- A small onion, diced
- A carrot, diced
- A stalk of celery, diced
- A clove of garlic, minced
- A tablespoon of minced ginger or ginger paste
- 1/2 a cup of whatever wine you have leftover in your fridge
- 2 cups of chicken broth (or water and bullion cubes, whatever
- 4-5 springs of fresh herbs, rosemary and thyme are good
- Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, couscous…whatever you want to soak up the yummy sauce
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Throw the lamb shanks in a bowl and toss with the 5 Spice and several large pinches of salt. Put your dutch oven on medium high and drizzle in some oil. When the oil’s screaming hot, GENTLY place the meat in the pan with tongs. Sear on all sides (that means 4 sides, not 2) for 3 minutes or so per side, so there’s a nice brown caramelization (brown = flavor). Put the shanks on a plate and set aside.
- In the vessel that you seared the lamb in, lower the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, and celery (hey, that’s called a mirepoix!). Let the veggies soften and sweat for 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and leftover 5 Spice powder you tossed with the lamb, and let it all toast for 3-4 more minutes, stirring constantly. There should be lots of crusty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. Your house smells awesome right now.
- Add wine to your pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of your pan. The liquid will make this super easy! (PS remember this little method next time you have a mess of a stubborn pan to clean–heat with a splash of water and go to work!).
- Add the broth, herbs, lamb, and any accumulated juices back to the cooking vessel, and crank the heat until the liquid boils. Cut the heat, cover, and transfer to the oven. Check the meat after an hour and a half–you want it tender and falling off the bone. Remove the lid and let braise for 15-30 minutes longer. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving over your chosen starch, with the sauce and veggies drizzled on top.
Remix The Dish: there’s a million flavor profiles you can tack on to the shanks. Here’s a few ideas (for all of these, leave out the 5 Spice and ginger):
- French – deglaze with red wine, up the amount of fresh herbs
- Italian – saute tomato paste with the veg, deglaze with red or white wine, stir in plenty of dried or fresh oregano
- British – deglaze with Guinness and stir in a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard before simmering
- Persian – dust the shanks with cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and cardamom, deglaze with warm water steeped with saffron threads. Garnish with mint.
I made Persian shanks a few years ago and threw it up on instagram. The yellow hue comes from the turmeric and saffron. So money.
I kinda stumbled into this dish. I’ve been traveling and didn’t want a bag of blueberries I got in my farm bag to go to waste, so I started out making them into a syrup I could freeze and use for cocktails, desserts, or pancakes down the road. After I had it jarred and ready to go, I realized how awesome it would taste with the dinner I had whipped up. Boom roasted, an okay dinner into a clutch one with a simple good idea.
A gastrique is basically just a sweet and sour fruit sauce. This version is pretty basic (just a weeknight dinner) but you can fancy up the sauce with garlic, shallots, and herbs if you’re feeling it. The tangy sauce tasted great with the smokey pork chops, and the sweetness complimented the spicy mustard and vegetal Brussels sprouts. For a meal on the fly, it turned out super balanced!
- Pork chops, thick cut
- kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons of course grain dijon mustard
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil, plus some
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar (red wine vinegar is my default, but apple cider or even white would do in a pinch)
- A pint or so of blueberries
- 3/4 cup or so of sugar
- Lemon juice (the vinegar you used earlier would be fine if you don’t have a lemon)
- Brussels sprouts (eyeball it…I used like 8 big ones for 2 portion sizes and still had some leftover)
- Smoked turkey leg (crumbled bacon would be ideal, I just didn’t have any at the time. Or leave this out, totally not a necessary component. You can find these at most grocery stores near the bacon and sausage. They’re super cheap too!)
- In a jar, shake together the mustard, olive oil, honey, and a pinch of salt. Salt and pepper both sides of your pork chops, and pour some of the dressing on top of the pork chops to marinade. You don’t need a ton, but enough so that all surfaces of the pork chops receive some lovin’. Leave on a plate to soak in the flavors while you work on the rest of the meal. Add the vinegar to the unused dressing and shake to combine. Set aside.
- Throw the berries and half a cup of water, and the sugar into a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then use a potato masher to break up the berries and release their juices. Add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt, then taste, taste, taste. Does it need more tang? Add more lemon. Is it too cloyingly sweet? Add another pinch of salt. Too thick? Splash in some water. If you’re feeling adventurous, add some fresh thyme or rosemary! Let bubble and thicken on low for 10-15 minutes, checking often to make sure you like the taste and consistency. If you want your fruit sauce chunky, use it as is. If you want it more homogeneous, toss into a blender. If you’re just nuts like I am, blend then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer. This will keep well in the fridge for a week or pretty much forever in the freezer.
- Trim the stalky bottom of the Brussels sprouts off and cut into quarters. Use a small knife and your hands to strip the meat the smoked turkey leg, and roughly chop the meat. You’ll have a ton extra, which I like to throw in a jar and freeze to use on other occasions such as this. I also freeze the leftover bone to make stock from, but I also realize that I’m kinda insane. Hashtag nose to tail.
- Turn your grill on medium high heat. While the grill is heating up, drizzle the bottom of a frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and saute the Brussels, making sure they get some nice caramelization on them before stirring around so their opposite sides get some color. After a few minutes, toss in a handful of the smoked turkey.
- Grill the pork chops 2-3 minutes on each side for some clutch grill marks, then move to indirect heat until they’re finished. Be sure to cut into one and check before serving…the only thing worse than overcooked pork is undercooked pork. If you’re using a termometer (you should) I like my pig around 155 degrees, but apparently new studied say 145 is safe to eat.
- Once the Brussels sprouts are cooked to your liking (I dig them tender-crisp), take the pan off the heat and stir in several spoonfuls of the mustard vinaigrette, tasting often and adjusting for salt if it needs it. Plop a pile on a plate, lean a pork chop up against them, and drizzle the gastrique around it.
Remix the dish: Use this same technique to turn strawberries, cherries, peaches, blackberries, or raspberries into a syrup. Mix them into cocktails, drizzle over ice cream, or eat with pancakes, french toast, or biscuits.
If you wanted to go real fancy with the sauce, treat it like a pan sauce and simmer it in a frying pan with shallots, garlic, herbs, and some butter. I just wasn’t into putting that much effort into it that night.
If you’re strapped for time and just want something sweet, fruity, and tangy for a dish, throw a few big scoops of good jam into a frying pan, thin with water, and heat with a dash of salt and some dried herbs/garlic powder. Poor man’s sauce!
There’s such beauty in the simplicity of a great roasted chicken breasts, hugged by a sauce generated from its own comforting flavors. (Ugh I think that was the most Pioneer Woman-esque sentence I’ve ever written). That being said…for a simple dish, there are a lot of steps needed to bang this out and a handful of places where it can all go wrong. Don’t worry though, ya girl Chelsea’s here to troubleshoot for you. Here’s the four main things to keep in mind:
- The Cut. This recipe is not for boring and deceptively expensive boneless skinless breasts. Chicken thighs and legs are delicious, but for another post. You need skin-on split breasts for this–don’t worry, I’ll show you how to de-bone them.
- Get A Thermometer Already! Your chicken, steaks, pork chops, everything you sear, grill, or roast will never taste good until you shell out the whole $15 for an oven-safe thermometer on a wire, so you can check the temperature without having to constantly open and close the oven. Plus you can set an alarm, so you’ll know the very second your meat comes to temperature. One of the most important tools you can have! It’s the trick to having perfectly done, moist meat.
- The Pan Sauce. Yup, that mystical and delicious thang. I’ll be honest, even with a little help from my buddies gelatin and cornstarch (thanks Kenji!) it still sometimes doesn’t thicken up the way I want it to. If I were REALLY looking for a viscous gravy I could take a roux thickening approach, but that will yield a really heavy sauce. Unless you’re serving mashed potatoes it’s really unnecessary. Your pan sauce will still pack an awesome punch of flavor even if it doesn’t turn into a restaurant-like syrupy glaze.
- Time. Because there’s butchery and chopping of vegetation involved, plan for about 45 mins to an hour for this to all come together. Good things can’t be rushed!
- Skin on split chicken breasts, one per person
- Kosher salt and several grinds of pepper
- Olive oil
- A small shallot
- A clove of garlic
- 1/2 a cup of white wine
- 1/2 a cup of chicken broth
- 1 packet of gelatin (optional but helpful)
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- A little cornstarch
- Soy sauce (trust)
- 2-3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, whatever is at hand (parsley, chives, tarragon, dill, or rosemary)
- Set the oven for 425 degrees F. Pour the chicken broth into a cup with the gelatin, whisking together with a fork. It’ll need some time to gently re-hydrate. Chop the shallots, garlic, and herbs.
- Nextt we’ve got to de-bone the chicken. Basically, you’re going to make a diagonal slice through the chicken, as close to the bones as possible, in fluid strokes so the portion doesn’t get all hacked up. Hold the sharpest knife you have with your dominant hand, and wrap the other hand in a towel, using it to stabilize the meat. Go slowly, separating the breast and the bones like a book. When you’re almost all the way through, your knife will hit a small rogue bone–use small controlled cuts to gently remove it. Now you’ve got yourself a skin on chicken breast, just like the restaurants! Okay not like the restaurants, if this is your first time doing this is probably looks like an uneven piece of crap. It gets wayyyy easier with practice, you’ll be an expert in no time. Flip the chicken over, there will be a distinctive “loose” section. That would be the chicken tender. Pull that off and throw in a plastic bag in the fridge to cook later in the week. Coincidentally, it should make your chicken portion more even! Even meat = even cooking. Check out this link for more in-depth instructions.
- Toss a few good glugs of olive oil in an oven-safe frying pan and set it over medium heat. Salt and pepper both sides of your newly butchered chicken breasts and put them in the pan, skin side down. Fry until the skin is golden and crisp, about 5-6 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready because the chicken will release easily from the pan, not sticking at all. Monitor this stage carefully–you want golden chicken skin, not burned! Flip the chicken over, insert your thermometer into the center of the thickest part of one of the breasts, then cook until the thermometer hits 158 degrees F. Remove from the oven and set on a plate or a cutting board to rest for 10-15 minutes, or however long it takes you to make the pan sauce. The chicken’s temperature will spike another 10 degrees or so as it sits, finishing the chicken then redistributing the juices as it cools. Note: if you’re cooking for a big crowd, you can skip the frying pan part and stick the seasoned chicken skin-side up in a roasting straight into the oven. Broil the last few minutes of cook time to get that crunchy, golden brown skin. The pan sauce will turn out a little less chicken-y, but that’s a small sacrifice if you’re entertaining.
- Set the same chicken pan over medium heat with some olive oil and whatever is left in the pan (all that juice, chicken fat, and browned bits are a flavor goldmine!). Keep an oven mitt handy for adjusting the pan–the handle will be super hot! Sauté the shallot in the pan for 8 minutes, adding the garlic for the last 2. Add the wine, and use a wooden spoon or a whisk to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. (PS, this is called deglazing!!). Add the gelatin-y broth, crank up heat to medium high, and let the liquid bubble and reduce by about half.
- Drop the butter into a small bowl of cornstarch so it’s nice and coated with it, then add to the pan sauce along with a splash of soy sauce (umami bomb!) and a little drizzle of honey. Let the cold butter bubble with the sauce, at a hard boil for at least 30 seconds. Cut the heat, then add the chopped herbs, stirring constantly. This sauce will thicken like whoa as it sits, so slice up the chicken and serve soon after you finish. This would be clutch with roasted potatoes, roasted veggies, and a simple salad on the side. Pan sauce love for all!
Remix The Dish: this is the recipe for a classic and simple pan sauce, but there’s a million ways to tweak it depending on what flavor you’re going after. Try adding in Dijon mustard, orange marmalade, blackberry or cherry preserves, red wine, maple syrup, or vinegar. Taste and taste again to identify what’s missing, and use your brain and your pantry to tweak it until it tastes the way you want it to.
Also: here’s a funny little Snapchat video of me making this. The production value is just outstanding.
The same trip to Chicago that I visited Girl and the Goat, we also ate lunch at Frontera Grill. I’ve been a huge fan of Rick Bayless from seeing him on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. He’s one of the most genial guys in the business and treats Mexican culture and cuisine with such a reverence. I ordered his chicken mole enchiladas, completely cleaned my plate, and they haven’t left my mind since.
Mole is a rich Mexican sauce, usually flavored with chiles, spices, seeds, fruit, and chocolate. I am for real. It sounds strange, but the spicy, sweet, and bitter notes come together in a thick dark sauce that just sings. Authentic mole is no joke–I’m talking 36 hours and 40 ingredients kind of tough. I was pretty stoked to find a well, completely bastardized version in the Chopped cookbook, made from pantry staples like peanut butter, soy sauce, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Somehow the peanut butter mimics the rich and complex sweetness you’d get from traditional sesame seeds and dried fruits normally used, and the soy sauce give the sauce a hit of umami flavor. It’s nowhere near the version an Abuelita would make, but my modifications made a tasty approximation, especially when compared to the freaky motor oil concoctions sold in jars at the grocery store.
The poblano rice is visually stunning and will keep well for several days. Save time and upcycle what’s in your fridge by using a rotisserie or leftover grilled chicken.
For the Poblano Rice
- 1 cup or basmati, jasmine, or any long-grain white rice
- 3 poblano peppers
- One bunch of cilantro
- A shallot or half of a small onion
- A clove of garlic (hell, use the pre-chopped stuff in a jar, whatever)
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Like wedges for garnish
For the Chicken Mole
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or save a step and use whatever chicken is leftover in your fridge)
- Olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of Chili powder (ancho is preferred but regular is fine)
- 1/2 tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice (can sub for cinnamon instead)
- A clove of garlic, minced (or use a small scoop of the jarred version, it’s cool)
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- A heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder
- Several big shakes of soy sauce
- A big dash of sugar
- A couple big squeezes of honey (optional)
- Kosher salt
- First we’re going to prep the poblanos. The peppers have a thick skin that tastes best when charred and removed (treat Hatch chiles the same way). Turn the oven up on a high broil, coat the poblanos in olive oil, set in a foil-lined roasting pan, then place directly under the broiler until they’re blistered and black, 8-10 minutes. Flip the poblanos over and broil the other side until they’re good and charred. Let the poblanos sit on you kitchen counter until they’re cool enough to handle, 10-15 minutes.
- While the poblanos cook, start the chicken. Toss in kosher salt and a dash of th Chinese 5 Spice and chili powder, then sear in a skillet with a little oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set to the side on a plate (they won’t be cooked through yet). Don’t wipe out your skillet, those leftover browned bits of chicken are a flavor goldmine! Obvi, skip this step if you’re using leftover chicken.
- Toss a little more oil into your skillet, and over medium heat, toast the 1 1/2 tablespoons of chili powder, 1/2 a tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice, and minced garlic, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 a cup of water and use your spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Whisk in the peanut butter, cocoa powder, soy sauce, sugar, and a dash of kosher salt, and let bubble and thicken over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT: you must taste the sauce at this point and use your spidey senses to figure out what it needs to make it taste balanced and delicious. Needs more spice? Add more chili powder or some cayenne. Lacking in flavor? Add more kosher salt. Mine was a little thin and I couldn’t taste the sweetness, so I drizzled in honey and it made it perfect. If you’re cooking fresh chicken, add them and any accumulated juices back to the skillet and coat in the sauce. Turn on low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Back to the poblanos. Use your hands to gently peel the skin off the peppers and remove the bulk of the seeds. Throw them in the carafe of a blender, along with a clove of garlic, a peeled shallot, and a dash of kosher salt. Chop off the stem base from the bundle of cilantro and toss into the blender as well, then blend until smooth (scrape down the sides of the blender if you need to). You’ve now got yourself some bangin’ green soffrito! Pour half into a jar to store in the fridge and use later (we’ll get to that) and set the other half aside to use in the rice.
- Pour a couple teaspoons of olive oil and the rice into a small saucepan and turn to medium heat. Stir the dry rice constantly, toasting it but watching to make sure it doesn’t scorch. You’re done when the rice turns opaque white, about 2-3 minute in. Toasting the rice gives it a toothsome texture and helps keep the granules separated, not sticky. This technique is what makes a rice pilaf a pilaf–it’s not just “rice with stuff in it” as that poor girl on Food Network Star believed. Once the rice is good n’ toasty, pour in 1 1/2 cups of water, a big dash of salt, and the rest of the poblano soffrito. Turn to low, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the heat and let it steam covered for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the lid and stir, so the poblano soffrito is well incorporated.
- Put the rice and chicken on a plate, and enjoy! Garnish with lime wedges and sour cream.
Remix The Dish: the next day I tossed some chopped chicken up with the leftover mole sauce, rolled them up in corn tortillas, and baked on 375 degrees for 20 minutes. BOOM insta enchiladas. The soffrito is great to have in the fridge as well–stir into eggs before scrambling, whiz in the blender with some Greek yogurt and a splash of water for a tasty sauce/salad dressing, mix with sour cream as a dip, or spoon over goat/cream cheese and spread over bread.