We may have resuscitated Noah’s Ark in search of animals to cook. Mastery of moist heat cooking, however, is a most honorable cause, a cause for which chickens, rabbits, pigs, cows (not even babies were spared), and sea bass laid down their lives. The meat-centric menu reminded me of my father’s welcome home dinners, when he goes out of his way to have at least three different meat dishes on the table and enough food for me to eat, five times over. If I ever doubted that he loved me, I need only endure the train ride home (or the bus if I’m feeling super cheap and masochistic) to bask in the spread of animals inevitably sacrificed for my homecoming. No matter how many times I deem this ritual unnecessary, I can always count on the competing smells of animals simmering, roasting, steaming away when I step through the door.
Moist-heat cookery is pretty self-descriptive; it includes any type of cooking method that employs liquid, whether the food is full submerged in it (poaching, simmering, boiling), partially covered (braising, stewing), or cooked via steam (pressurized or not). Fans of “low and slow” will appreciate the cooking times measured in hours, fork-tender meat, and layers of flavor associated with braising, the technique on which the majority of our class was focused.
Warning: a potentially disturbing visual after the jump.
I was pleasantly surprised to see whole rabbits and chickens for the class to break down:
The rabbit was turned into a French-style stew (en blanquette) with carrots, onions, herbs, and served with sauteed mushrooms:
There’s no mistaking rabbit meat for chicken, but in texture and appearance (when cooked), they’re pretty similar. The flavor of rabbit is a little more robust, but not in an intimidating way; it wouldn’t take an adventurous palate to get behind it. Also, it strikes me that rabbit meat could make for an economical, sustainable protein alternative to chicken, beef, and pork; the buggers don’t need a ton of space to be happy and they like to make babies, which makes them ideal for raising on small farms. Americans would have to get over the trauma of killing Bugs Bunny, but we need to start considering other food sources if we’re to take a stand against mass-produced food products (meat and otherwise). The toll of these products on our national health demands it. Laying off the junk is part of the solution, as is nutrition and food health education; and so is expanding our notions of what sustainable alternatives exist in nature’s bounty. And making sure people and corporations don’t abuse the privilege we have of eating animals for maximum economic profit.
The chicken was braised in stock with pearl onions; the sea bass roasted over braised fennel with a chunky tomato sauce. My partner and I made veal osso bucco: veal shanks browned then braised in the oven for about an hour (closer to two is preferable, if you have the time and patience), with a sauce of the reduced braising liquids (browned bits, stock, mirepoix, herbs, tomatoes, white wine), finished with gremolata. Given enough time, the bone marrow will seep out of the bones and integrate itself into the surrounding liquid, eventually helping to create a sauce with the most unctuous mouthfeel. I also really liked the texture of the sauce that came from the mirepoix that had cooked down to velvety bits.
While the osso bucco was braising in the oven, I also braised baby artichokes on the stove in stock and white wine and lots of onions.
My favorite course of the night was the braised short ribs with dried cherries:
The sweet, mildly tart reconstituted cherries worked especially well here. The short ribs were kept in the sauce while it reduced, and having also tasted them as soon as they came out of the oven, I can attest that those extra 30 minutes on the stove amped up the tenderness of the meat. Call it cheating if you want, but in this case cheating trumped being fussy about what braising “really” means. And food is unmistakeably blunt in the sense that the proof is always in the pudding.