You can feel it in the air, can't you? Nights getting colder. Leaves falling. Sidelong glances at your Le Creuset or other braising pot of choice. In my kitchen, they're calling out their siren song and I'm listening. You all know what I mean. Well, excepting you all who live in warmer climes, who probably have no idea what I'm trying to say. Is it ever braising season in Phoenix? I mean, it's going to be 90 degrees there today! These must be zero incentive to throw some meat in your 380 degree oven for three or four hours. All I can say to them is "Poor bastards", because I LOVE this time of year.
Sunday was a perfect day to share some of that love with a group of friends. And what says "I care" more than a 4-1/2 pound hunk of chuck roast that has been cooking in the oven for several hours? For a dinner party, there is nothing easier than a long, slow braise. Not only is the prep incredibly easy, but that long cooking time allows plenty of time to get everything else working and ready for your guests. This recipe for Barolo Braised Beef is a dish I made for the first time late last winter, and it rocked the table. For something so easy, this is guaranteed to get huge praise from your pals.
Before I get to the instructional part of this missive, a note on the name. Barolo braised beef. Rule 1: Don't use Barolo!! My $40 bottles of red wine generally don't end up in a cooking pot. Any rich, full-bodied wine will work. I used an awesome Languedoc red from France ($11.95). According to Bill Buford in his book "Heat", at Mario Batali's Babbo in NYC, they use cheap merlot in their "Barolo" braised beef. Now that I've saved you all that money, here's the goods.....
BAROLO BRAISED BEEF
adapted from epicurious
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (3- to 3 1/2-lb) boneless beef chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 (4- to 6-inch) sprigs fresh thyme
2 (6- to 8-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo or other full-bodied red
2 cups water
*Special equipment: a 4- to 5-qt heavy ovenproof pot with lid
mise en place (aka prep)...the key to stress free cooking!
1- Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.
2-Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, pat meat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown meat in hot oil on all sides, about 10 minutes total. (If bottom of pot begins to scorch, lower heat to moderate.) Transfer to a plate using a fork and tongs.
Sautéeing the flavoring agents. Getting closer..........
3- Add pancetta to oil in pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, until garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a simmer, then return meat along with any juices accumulated on plate to pot. Cover pot with lid and transfer to oven. Braise until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
All that's left: slicing, reducing, consuming!
4- Transfer meat to a cutting board. Skim fat from surface of sauce and discard along with herb stems. Boil sauce until reduced by about one third, about 8-10 minutes, then season with salt. Cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices, arrange on platter, pour most of sauce generously on top and serve remaining sauce in bowl.
*Cooks' note: Beef improves in flavor if made 3 days ahead. Cool completely in sauce, uncovered, then chill in sauce, covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven until hot, 25 to 30 minutes, then slice meat.