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Warm Winter Meals In A Breeze

Braising is a simple way to make a delicious, warm, comforting winter meal.

Cooking teacher and cookbook author Tori Ritchie showed The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm how it's done, in the "Five Minute Cooking School."

"Class" was held in the Manhattan flagship store of specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma.

Braising, Ritchie explains, means browning and then simmering food in a moderate amount of liquid over low heat in a covered pot. The technique results in amazingly tender meat, poultry or fish, and a heavenly sauce.

According to Ritchie, anything that's braised is perfect winter food.

Short ribs and lamb shanks are two familiar dishes that are typically braised. However, fish and chicken can also be braised, which many people may not realize.

A deep, heavy pot is essential for braising, Ritchie says. A Dutch oven is your best choice when braising large items such as pot roasts or short ribs, while a round braiser works for chicken or fish. If you don't have either, a sauté pan with a lid can substitute.

With chicken, for instance, Ritchie advises that you season it with salt, pepper, and flour.

Next, you sear the chicken in hot oil. Don't turn or move it until it's released naturally from the pot's bottom. Move it to a swap-out pot when the chicken is ready to be removed. Place the chicken on a plate and then add onions and mushrooms to the pot.

Chicken doesn't need to braise as long as other meats. If you were preparing a meat dish, you might wait and add the vegetables later, since the total cooking time would be longer.

After the vegetables have softened, add wine and chicken demi-glace to deglaze the pot. Demi-glace is a liquid made by simmering chicken stock and aromatics for hours, so the mixture develops an intense, complex flavor. Return then chicken to the pot and add all other ingredients.

Finally, you cover the pot and let your oven do the rest. You want the liquid to reach a simmer: small bubbles just breaking the surface of the liquid. If the liquid is boiling, it will eventually dry out. Chicken typically takes about 45 minutes to cook. Use bone-in chicken, because boneless tends to become too dry.

Short ribs and pot roasts take about one-and-a-half hours to braise.

Beef and chicken braises are even better when cooked one day and eaten the next.

When you chill the dish, any fat rises to the top. You can then lift off the fat and reheat the dish.

Any meaty fish, such as swordfish or halibut, is a good candidate for braising. Fish braises only take about 20 minutes.

You want to serve braises over pasta, rice or potatoes, to sop up all the yummy sauces.

RECIPES

Braised Short Ribs with Carrots

This is the kind of homey French food, meaty short ribs and carrot chunks slowly simmered with only a handful of other ingredients, that the average Parisian, often too busy to cook, is happy to discover is the plat du jour in his or her neighborhood bistro. The generous measure of cumin, a reflection of the influence of North African immigration on Parisian cuisine, heightens the natural sweetness of the carrots, workhorses of the French kitchen. Serve the short ribs and vegetables in shallow soup plates, with the rich sauce ladled over the top.

The dish is even better if served the next day. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, lift the solidified fat from the surface and discard. Re-warm the ribs, carrots and sauce over medium heat and serve.

6 bone-in beef short ribs, kosher cut,
5 to 5 1/2 lb. total
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups beef stock
1 to 2 cups water
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Generously season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Spread the flour on a plate. Dredge the ribs in flour, coating all sides. Shake off the excess.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until nearly smoking. Add half the ribs and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining ribs.

Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the excess oil, and stir in the chopped garlic and cumin. Return the ribs to the pot and set over medium-high heat. Add the stock and enough water to almost cover the ribs and bring to a boil.

Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Add the whole garlic cloves and carrots and bake until the meat is just tender, about 1 hour more.

Uncover the pot and bake until the meat and carrots are very tender and the liquid is reduced to a flavorful sauce, about 30 minutes more.

Spoon off any fat from the sauce. Transfer the ribs, carrots and sauce to individual shallow bowls and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Paris, by Marlena Spieler (Oxmoor House, 2004).

Chicken Braised in White Wine

This simple braised dish gets a boost from chicken demi-glace. A secret ingredient of professional chefs, demi-glace is made by simmering stock and aromatics for hours, so it develops intense, complex flavors.

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 chicken, 3 to 4 lb., cut into 8 serving pieces
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 oz. white button mushrooms, quartered
2 cups white wine
2 Tbs. chicken demi-glace
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 lb. red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch
pieces

Preheat an oven to 375ºF.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat evenly.

In a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add half of the chicken and brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Brown the remaining chicken and transfer to the plate.

Add the onion and mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine and demi-glace. Set the pan over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the demi-glace, about 5 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the chicken is very tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove the bay leaf and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Braised Monkfish with Bacon and Tomatoes

To peel tomatoes, bring a pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow "X" in the bottom end of each tomato. Immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch them for 15 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to the ice water to stop the cooking. Using your fingers or a small knife, peel the tomatoes. To seed, slice the tomatoes in half crosswise and lightly squeeze and shake, using your finger if needed to help dislodge the seeds.

2 Tbs. olive oil
6 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 to 4 lb. monkfish on the bone, skin and dark
membrane removed by the fishmonger
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely
chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbs. chopped fresh basil

In a heavy flameproof casserole dish or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and garlic and sauté until the bacon is fairly crisp and the garlic is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Push the bacon and garlic to the side and lay the monkfish in the dish. Sear until lightly browned on both sides, using tongs to turn the fish. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and pile most of them and the bacon mixture on top of the monkfish.

Add the wine and basil and stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the flesh starts to pull away from the backbone, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the fish to a warmed platter, and surround and top the fish with the vegetables. Serves 4.

Note: Monkfish has firm white flesh attached to a central bone, and there are no rib bones to contend with. Cooked in one piece, monkfish absorbs flavors well; bacon, tomatoes, garlic and basil suit it perfectly.

Variation Tip: Thick mahimahi or sand shark fillets can be used instead of the monkfish.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Fish, by Shirley King (Simon & Schuster, 2002).

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