Braised beef: four cuts of beef ideal for slow cooking
These beef cuts are perfect for low and slow cooking.
It is that time of year where we start to crave richer fare and slow-cooked meat dishes are an essential part of that. Time is their friend: as they slowly braise at low temperatures, you not only get resonant, rich flavours and meltingly tender meat but also a rich, nourishing sauce or stock to go with it. Braising slowly turns the collagen in meat into unctuous gelatine, creating a mouthfeel like no other.
“The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat,” goes an old saying. How true that is. Bone conducts heat and long, slow braising gets all the goodness of the meat and bone into the braising liquid. Beef short ribs are a perfect example of this. The marbled meat around the bone needs long, slow cooking and results in an exquisite, meaty stew. Brown the ribs in hot fat on all sides first, then sweat some onions, carrots and celery and proceed with any flavour base you like: chopped tomato and vegetable stock, red wine and bay leaves, mushrooms or root vegetables or Chinese five spice.
Oxtail is a traditional dish across Europe, making for a substantial meal from what was once a cheap cut of meat. Today, even oxtail has its price, but it is still far more economical than any cut of steak. After browning, you can braise them whole with onion, celery and carrot and make a rich red wine stew as they do in Pamplona, Spain, to make rabo de toro. Or, once braised, you can take the meat off the bones, chop it up and make an oxtail soup with the stewing liquid flavoured with tomato and mushroom. More practised hands in the kitchen can make an oxtail terrine from the very soft, cooked meat, cleaned of any sinew and fat, and the concentrated stewing liquid.
Shin of beef is possibly the most quintessential stewing meat. This cut is from the leg, with parts of marrowbone surrounded by muscle, sinew and fat. It takes long and slow cooking but makes a wonderful stew. Start our with smoky bacon, then sear the meat and give it a long, slow braise with onion, garlic, tomato, mushroom and carrot. It is a wonderful dish to feed a crowd on a cold day, and is equally good served with mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or rice. When cut in whole slices from veal, it is the famous northern Italian dish of osso buco, traditionally served with gremolata and risotto Milanese.
Brisket is taken from the breast of the cow and is sold without any bone. It is an ideal cut of beef to make meat stock. If just boiled along with onion, leek, celery, carrot, clove and bay leaf, you can cut the meat into pieces and serve it with noodles and some fresh carrots and leeks in the hot stock. Versions of this have sustained hungry families across Europe for centuries: brisket is part of the Italian bollito misto or the French pot au feu. But brisket can also be braised with less liquid and makes for wonderfully tender meat. You will not even need a knife to eat this. Naturally, brisket is also famous as a slow-smoked barbecue speciality from Texas.
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