Quick Tips for Favorite Fall Recipes

Lesson 17 - Braising and Stewing

Fall is upon us and in celebration of our favorite season of the year, here are a few, quick and simple tips you can try out to take those good fall recipes to great.
Nothing says fall to me like Pot Roast. Though I like to change it up in the kitchen, on those cool autumn nights, nothing is as comforting and satisfying as big plate of pot roast with sweet carrots, peas, mushrooms, seasoned garlic and a few bay leaves.

Better Pot Roast
This season, bring that pot roast up a notch or two by selecting choice pot roast or smaller brisket or “sizzle cuts” with a good amount of fat. Browning the meat is the #1 way to get that desired umami flavor and liven up the sauce. Browning the right way takes a fair bit of time and patience. First, dry the meat off with paper towels. In your roasting pan, heat high-smoke point oil (approx. two tablespoons for the avg. roast) on a medium high heat until shimmering. Brown meat to golden brown on all sides.

America’s Test Kitchen recommends salting the roast prior to cooking to improve flavor. For larger roasts, they found separating the roast into two lobes before browning it resulted in a more evenly cooked roast. Their favorite seasonings, like mine, don’t stray from the predictably-pleasing: garlic, tomato paste, red wine, bay leaves and thyme.

After that, you may be tempted to put the lid on and cook that roast stove top. Braising or simmering in the oven is the newest, most exact way of getting an evenly cooked roast.

So, dry off that meat, brown it well, then remove the meat and cook up those onions and garlic and deglaze making sure to get all those tasty brown bits stirred up well. Plop the roast back into the pot, put on the lid (you can add layer of aluminum foil to better seal it) and oven braise i.e. “bake” in the oven at 325 degrees for approx. 2 hours.

Add your vegetables after that. Dried mushrooms soaked in water are a nice addition as are turnips, or you can just stick with the classic pea, carrot, potatoes trifecta which never disappoints. Lid and bake again, another 45 min at 325. For extra richness, try adding a tablespoon tomato sauce and/or beef’s best friend—low sodium soy sauce.

Better Pork Chops
Sure you can get super fancy with these guys if you want to, but why? Isn’t part of the appeal of the pork chop it’s tasty, salty porky goodness? Consensus out there is for marbled, fatty pork chops over those anemic looking or bloated (injected with liquid) chops you’ll see out on the shelves.

The Pioneer Woman champions the down home appeal of the pork chop too. Her slightly elevated recipe calls for a dredging mix of flour, seasoned salt and lots of black pepper. She seasons the naked pork chops liberally with more black pepper and salt, then dredges on both sides and fries on medium heat in canola with a bit of butter added for golden goodness.

Sounds simple enough? Want to add some punch? Sweet chili sauce made in Thailand or Malaysia complements pork chops better than anything I’ve tried. Even when you’ve managed to overdo them, folks will want seconds once you add this sauce.

Now for the high-brow types who want to push the envelope.

Apparently brining is great for pork chops. More and more we’re hearing about the miracles of brined turkey, brined chicken and alas, now brined pork chops are what we’re onto (see link at bottom to learn more). Despite the momentary trendiness of this preparation method, eaters are raving about the brined swine. So, here’s the recipe for a good pork chop brine posted on The Food Network website:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 c apple juice or cider
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

FYI, brining takes a minimum of 8 hours or 24 hours in the fridge (the way I’d go), so plan on planning ahead.

Better Beans
Nothing can replace the simple, uncomplicated appeal of well-cooked beans. Whether we’re talking pinto, black, cannellini, lentil or any other legume out there, I love beans. Want to make perfect beans that don’t have a chalky texture and don’t fall apart?
So is it a question of to soak or not to soak? Are we talking about cooking at low temp for many, many hours or doing what my mom does and adding heaps of olive oil and garlic?

The answer to better beans is to soak those dried beans in salt water, yup, brine them.

More than pure hype, when you brine your beans what you’re doing is introducing sodium ions which penetrate the skin of the bean and weaken it. This enables the bean’s interior and exterior to cook at the same time, resulting in a bean of better consistency.
Other tips, simmer those beans in the oven, not the stove, at around 250 degrees.

When it comes to adding anything acidic to the mix, do it after the beans have cooked. Tomatoes, vinegar, corn, olives, squash, rice etc. should be kept out of the pot until beans are done. My solution for bean and vegetable soup: two separate pots.

Better Greens
Leafy greens typically fall into two categories. You have the thinly textured and the thick textured, all with varying degrees of bitterness, which I love, but can prove overwhelming for kids and folks who aren’t big on sour.

So, first things first, thinly textured greens like spinach, dandelion greens and carrot tops will cook down in a flash when you heat up some oil and cook them with the lid on. Typically, this will take no more than 2 minutes or less, so if you want garlicy spinach, you’ve got to sauté it well first, then throw in your greens, put the lid on, reduce and they’ll be ready in a jiff. Want to add some oomph? Try crushed hazelnuts, a dash of truffle oil or a dash of red pepper flakes. High quality olive oil, pepper flakes and a little parsley are the classic Italian way to do greens and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better, healthier way to do spinach. Dandelions too sour? Cook them in a sauté pan with a bit of water. That will dilute the sourness of the vegetable. Though it’s sure to sound counterintuitive, mustard powder or a squeeze of good quality mustard can also round out the flavor or you can opt for a slightly sweet solution and drizzle in a bit of honey or maple syrup, tasting as you go. Sweet potatoes, carrots and other naturally sweeter vegetables do a nice balancing act.

When it comes to thicker leafed vegetables like kale, collard greens, mustard greens and turnip tops, cooking them in a hot pan will scorch them rather than cook them. Liquid is essential to cooking any of these greens. Adding a bit of oil to a shallow pan and introducing the greens and then adding broth or water is the best way to make tender, flavorful greens. As with almost anything sautéed garlic and onions are your friends. Sharper tasting greens mellow with the addition of fat. Hence the staying power of Southern Collard Greens (Guy Fieri’s recipe here). Sure, they’re a little bit more work but if you want to knock it out of the park, a little fat back (salt pork), bacon or some ham hocks will help achieve a complex, hearty flavor that can covert even the staunchest of non-greenies.

Have fun tweaking those recipes and seeing how new and improved preparations are helping us take those old standards to a new level of the culinary sublime.
In other words, Happy Eating!

On Brine and Brining
New Lower Pork Temperature USDA Approved.

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