Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Boozy Braised Beef

Daring Cooks: Braving the Braise!

Braised Chuck Roast in the style of Beef Bourguignon

The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.  

Not that  Ruhlman is the only cookbook author to focus on this topic. (link) (link) My own copy of Molly Stevens' Braising: the Art of Uncomplicated Cooking is dog eared and splattered from use, and I have scads of other cookbooks with whole chapters that highlight braising. (link) (link) I'm still waiting for several more cookbooks to become available from my Reserve List at the local library. How is it that braising has become the latest new/old thing?

Braising is nearly universal, an ancient cooking technique reputed to be over 300,000 years old and widespread across many cultures. Here in North America generations of Moms have called it pot-roasting or slow or one-pot cooking and used this method to coax maximum flavor and tenderness out of otherwise tough cuts of meat.  

Braising is a two-step process. Initially meat is seared on all sides to produce a browned crust that holds in the flavor of the meat and creates pan juices and fond to flavor the sauce. Step two adds seasonings and a bit of liquid (usually acidic) to steam the meat in a covered pot at a low temperature in order to break down the tough fibers. There is magic hidden somewhere in that brief description, or so it seems when you enjoy a well-prepared braised dish. Just imagine a forkful of tender, juicy, beef glistening under a coating of flavorful sauce... mmmmmmmm, good! and so far removed from any lingering memory of the occasional overcooked, tasteless, shoe-leatherlike pot roasts in my past. (Nope, I won't name any names.) Braising is all about slow cooking at a low temperature, the main ingredient's flavor enhanced by well-chosen aromatics and additives.

We love, really LOVE the smooth, rich sauce of a traditional Boeuf Bourguignon. That sauce is scrumptious, tasty enough to eat with a spoon and tempt me to ignore the chunks of meat that go with it. If the bourguignon preparation works for beef cubes, why not for a larger cut of meat like a roast? With the cooking time adjusted and the meat simmered with considerably less liquid, that roast was a winner. The sauce was still good enough to eat with a spoon: so I did. Later on I indulged in a sauce-topped bowl of noodles for a late-evening snack. RL demonstrated mannerly restraint, and used knife and fork to enjoy a hot beef sandwich from his share of the braised leftovers. 

Boozy Braised Beef
Serves 6 to 8

Canola oil
2 bacon slices (not maple flavored)
1 large onion, quartered lengthwise, then cut in wide half-moons
3 to 4 pound beef chuck roast
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup Port (or Cognac, etc.)
1 1/2  cups (or 1 can) low-sodium beef broth
1 cup red wine (more as needed)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon mixed Italian seasonings 
6-8 stems of Italian parsley, in tiny mince
a handful of small carrot minis (optional)

10-12 large Crimini mushrooms (or more if you like), sliced thick
2+ tablespoons butter
a sprig or two fresh rosemary
a cup or two frozen green peas (optional)

Garnishes: minced parsley leaves, zest of 1 lemon, crumbled bacon

Heat the Canola oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat: fry the bacon until crisp and then set aside for use as a garnish when serving. Sear the onion slices until translucent; remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Tie up the roast (if needed) and lightly flour the meat on all sides (keep extra flour to use later) Sear the roast in the bacon fat to brown evenly on all sides (use tongs to turn it, not a fork). Season with salt and pepper.

Add the remaining flour into the pot and stir to incorporate and remove all lumps. Add the Port (or Cognac) and stir to loosen all of the tasty bits in the bottom of the pot. Keep stirring to evaporate the alcohol. 

Add the wine, beef broth, tomato paste, seasonings and carrots (optional) to the pot: stir to incorporate. Return the onions to the pot and bring everything up to a simmer. Cook until the liquid begins to thicken and become more sauce-like, about 15 minutes.

Cover the pot and place in a preheated 325 F oven to simmer for 90 minutes. Check the pot occasionally to be sure the liquid is cooking at a slow simmer, not bubbling vigorously. Adjust the oven temperature as needed: low and slow is the plan.

While the roast is simmering in the oven, prepare the mushrooms on the stovetop. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a dampened paper towel and cut from top to bottom into thick slices, about 4 or 5 per 'shroom. Melt the butter in a wide skillet; add the rosemary and mushroom slices and cook over low heat until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Cook down until the liquid evaporates; remove from the heat and set aside.

Uncover the pot and test the meat for tenderness. If fork-tender, almost fall-apart done, remove the meat from the pot and keep warm. Turn up the heat a bit and simmer the liquid until slightly thickened; taste for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Return the meat to the pot, add the mushrooms and peas (if using) and warm through. Top with desired garnishes, serve and enjoy.


  1. Are there any leftovers to share? This looks like comfort food to me.

  2. Everything looks so good the meat looks so tender and the mushrooms look so well fried and not steamed that is a good sign of a great cook. Fabulous work on this challenge. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.


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