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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 09:33 am

Braising ’round the world


Tagine of chicken with green olives and lemon

Americans think of braised dishes – those delectable concoctions of long-simmered ingredients surrounded by, but not submerged in, liquids – as quintessentially American or (primarily Western) European. True, there are many such, from American Southern smothered roasts and chicken fricassees to Irish stews and boeuf bourguignon. But braising techniques are used in recipes worldwide. There are tangy, mouth-searing Indian vindaloos, Greek stifados, Chinese red-cooked dishes, and South American cazuelas and countless others. Here are three personal favorites.

Like “casseroles,” Moroccan tagines refer to both/either the (traditional conical lidded) cooking vessels and/or the recipes cooked in them. Preserved lemons are a uniquely flavored Moroccan kitchen staple. Occasionally I’ve seen them locally at stores (like T.J. Maxx), but they’re easy to make by quartering lemons, packing them in salt, then aging them for a month. Using fresh lemon peel creates a different, but equally delicious result.

Tagine of chicken with
green olives and lemon
• 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
• 1 medium bunch cilantro, leaves and stems
   separated, 1 cup of the stems minced
• Large pinch saffron threads, crumbled,
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
• 3-4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 cup chopped onion, NOT super sweet
• 1 preserved lemon, or peel from 1 extra-large
   or 2 fresh lemons
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup cracked green olives (not stuffed)
• 1 cup chicken stock

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the peppercorns, cumin, paprika and red pepper flakes until they start to smoke. Remove from the heat, add the cinnamon and cloves, stir for about 20 seconds, then grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

 Put 3 tablespoons olive oil, spice mix, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, saffron, turmeric, salt and pepper in a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag. Squish until completely mixed. Add chicken and toss until thoroughly coated with the marinade. Squish out the air, seal the bag, then refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken; scrape off and reserve marinade. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

In a tagine or large casserole over medium high heat add 1 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Put in chicken pieces and lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes.

If using preserved lemon, rinse it well. Discard the flesh and pith; cut peel into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, bay leaves, olives and chicken stock. Cover tightly and cook over medium-low heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Discard bay leaves. Adjust seasoning. Serve in the tagine or casserole, or put chicken on a warm platter, spooning the olives and sauce over the top. Garnish with a handful of cilantro leaves. Serve with couscous. Serves 4-6.

The vast array of Asian braises include many vegetarian options, such as this warming Korean concoction.

Korean braised tofu and shittake mushrooms
• 1 pound block of firm tofu, cut into
   rectangles approximately 1 inch x 3/4 inch
   x 1 1/2 inch
• Salt
For the braising liquid/sauce
• 1 tablespoon water
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice or apple
   cider vinegar
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 1 tablespoon dark (roasted) sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, or to taste,
• 2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds,
   plus additional for garnish
• 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional
   if needed
• 2-3 cups fresh shittake, sliced and stemmed
• 2 tablespoons sliced scallion whites
• 4 tablespoons sliced scallion greens

Sprinkle the tofu very lightly with salt, then place in a single layer between layers of doubled paper towels. Top with a baking sheet and weight with a heavy skillet or pot for 1/2 hour.

Make sauce: whisk all ingredients together. Set aside.

Heat the oil to medium-high in a skillet, flat-bottomed wok or shallow casserole. Add the tofu and brown on both sides. Remove and set aside. Turn the heat to high. Add the shitake, stir-frying until they are browned and cooked through.

Reduce the heat to low. Add half the braising liquid and the scallion whites. Return the tofu to the pan, bring to a bare simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and half the scallion greens. Add the rest to the remaining sauce. Serve with rice and the additional sauce. 2-4 servings.

OK, Transylvania is part of Europe, albeit Eastern Europe. But this goulash is barely recognizable as a cousin to the more familiar Hungarian goulash, which in American is often just beef stew with paprika. Hungarian paprika’s flavor is crucial; it’s available in most local groceries spice section. I’ve been making this recipe for decades. If you like sauerkraut, you’ll love this recipe.

Transylvanian Szekely goulash
• 3 pounds pork shoulder or butt, cut into
   2-inch pieces
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 3 pounds sauerkraut
• Approximately 1/4 cup bacon fat, preferred,
   unhydrogenated lard or vegetable oil, plus
   additional if needed
• 4 1/3 cups chopped onion, NOT super
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 1 1/2 cups strong coffee, beer or chicken
• 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional
• 2 tablespoons imported Hungarian sweet
• 1 teaspoon hot paprika or other powdered
   hot pepper, optional
• 2 cups canned tomatoes, drained of liquid
   and crushed
• 1 cup sour cream or Greek-style yoghurt
• Chopped fresh parsley, optional

Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside while prepping and assembling the remaining ingredients.

Put the sauerkraut in a colander and let it drain for an hour. If it’s too sour and/or salty for your taste, rinse it well before draining.

Heat a tablespoon of the fat in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown well on all sides. You will probably need to do this in batches. DO NOT CROWD THE MEAT OR IT WILL NOT BROWN PROPERLY!

Remove the pieces as they are browned and set aside.

The bottom of the pot should have a light film of fat. If there isn’t enough, add a bit more; if there is too much, pour some off. Add the onions, stir to combine with the fat, and cover the casserole with a tight-fitting lid or foil. Let the vegetables sweat for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Remove the lid, turn the heat to low, mix in the garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown and caramelized, 15 minutes or more.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Turn the heat to high. Add the coffee or other liquid, and bring to a boil, stirring and incorporating the browned bits from the bottom. Add the caraway, if using, paprika(s), and tomatoes, then gently mix in the sauerkraut. Push the pork pieces down into the mixture until they’re almost, but not completely covered.

Cover the casserole tightly and place in the oven for about an hour, or until the pork is fork-tender.

At this point, the goulash can be cooled in its casserole by placing it in a sink full of cold water until room temperature, then refrigerated overnight or up to several days. Remove any fat that has risen to the top before reheating gently on the stove. Adjust the seasoning; though you probably won’t need additional salt.

Gently remove the meat from the casserole and keep warm. Stir the sour cream or yoghurt. Return the pork to the pot. Warm over very low heat; it shouldn’t boil. Sprinkle with parsley if using. Serve in shallow bowls alone or over noodles. Serves 6-8.

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