by Cynthia Kennedy for The Healthy Butcher, a ‘Certified Good Food Fighter‘
As the weather becomes cooler and the rain and wind don’t offer the cooling relief they once had on a hot summer’s day, I’m drawn to warm sweaters and braising. Braising is probably the easiest, and for sure the most rewarding, of the “one pot” dinners. Whether you have a crockpot (that old wedding gift you hardly ever use) or an enameled cast iron le Creuset, you can, with very little effort make a delicious meal…. even in your sleep.
Braising is a method of cooking foods in a small amount of liquid over low heat for a long time. The added benefit to braising is that the best cuts of meat to braise are also the LEAST EXPENSIVE cuts. (shank, neck, shoulder, tail, cheek) We are a “nose to tail” butchery. We buy the whole animal from our farmers and we make every cut possible available for sale. This respects the work done by the farmer and it values the animal’s contribution to our existence.
After years of making osso buco from shanks of practically every animal sold here (including the “Awesome Buco” Elk shank), blade roasts, braised oxtail, and pork or beef cheek, I’ve now taken to braising neck. We know that a more active muscle group has more blood flow so it is usually slightly darker in colour. It can be chewy or tough if not cooked with care. These cuts are ideal when braised. Ryan Klauke (one of this year’s Top Butcher contenders) has nicknamed my efforts as “neck-o-buco”. While that name may not catch-on, I think as people discover this cut, and try braising, it will gain popularity.
When you think about the mechanics of a grazing animal, their heavy head is constantly being lifted up and down by those really active neck muscles. If you get a crosscut neck medallion of lamb, beef or game meat, you’re getting this tasty muscle and enough bone to add a robust flavour to the braise.
I love to start a morning with browning the meat and tossing it into my now popular crockpot… for bigger braises, I bring out the giant le Creuset (enameled cast iron pot) and oven braise. By the time I return home from work, my house smells amazing, and dinner is ready. Sometimes I’ll brown the meat at night and let it cook overnight in the oven or crockpot at low heat. It is a thrill to wake up to the smell of a good braise. The additional benefit of an overnight braise is that everyone’s lunch is simple to pack and will totally satisfy!
To learn more about braising cuts, check out our YouTube channel for: Shank, Brisket, Mock Tender and more braising cut videos to come. Be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest videos as they are released.
This simple recipe for Osso Buco can be adapted for practically any braise:
Make an impressive meal with very little effort, that will keep you going in these colder months ahead.
Cynthia Kennedy is the Online Manager of The Healthy Butcher’s RealFoodToronto.com.