This month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was a little different, in a way that I really appreciated. Rather than a specific type of food, this month's challenge was about a method of cooking.
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”.
In a nutshell, braising is combination cooking - it is not merely "dry" cooking (ie: baking, roasting, broiling, sauteeing...), and it is not only "wet" or "moist" cooking (ie: boiling, poaching, simmering...), it's, well, both! In order to braise, the food is first seared in a very hot pan, which begins the cooking process with a dry method. The food is then submerged in some sort of liquid (water, stock etc) to finish cooking using a wet method. The combination of cooking methods can increase both the flavor and tenderness of what is being cooked, and can make for some super delicious meals.
While I have technically braised before, in the form of pot roasts and stews, I never really thought of what I was doing as braising. Sure, I was searing the meat and then going for a slow, moist preparation (usually in the crock pot), but I never thought of it as a true braise. When I think of a true braise, I think of short ribs. Because braised short ribs are outstanding. It's actually what I really wanted to prepare for this challenge.
Unfortunately, time and meat supply were not on my side this month, so I changed things up and went for something completely different. I found this delicious sounding recipe for chicken braised in dark soy sauce and knew that I'd found my challenge recipe.
The reason that it spoke to me so much was probably largely due to the searing step in this recipe. The chicken was not merely seared in the pan, it was seared in caramel in the pan. Seriously, the first step of the recipe is to sprinkle sugar on the hot pan.
The sugar quickly caramelizes, and it is in that sweet, sticky goodness that the meat is seared.
You can kind of see it around the edges of the meat. It happens pretty quickly, so I didn't get a good photo of it... since I wanted caramel, not just burned sugar.
But check out that delicious sear.
Once both sides were seared, it was a simple matter of covering the chicken pieces with the braising liquid - in this case, water that had been "flavored" with dark soy sauce, crushed cloves of garlic and a healthy sprinkle of peppercorns.
The liquid came to a boil, and I then lowered the heat and allowed the whole pot to simmer, covered, for almost an hour.
The resulting chicken was sweet and delicious and falling-off-the-bone tender.
I will admit that it wasn't quite as flavorful as I'd been hoping - the sauce smelled so good, but the flavor was very diluted by all of the water.
I will, however, give this another try to see if I can intensify the flavors a bit. Because you just can't go wrong with caramel and soy sauce for dinner!
And I will try braising short ribs one day. That is a promise.
Carol, thank you so much for this interesting, informative and beautifully prepared challenge. To see the amazing dishes braised in the Daring Kitchen this month, check them out here.
Braised Chicken in Dark Soy Sauce
(only slightly adapted from Have You Eaten?)
8 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
4 tablespoons sugar
8 cloves of garlic
Approximately 15 – 20 white peppercorns
4 tablespoons dark soya sauce
Add sugar into a large pan which has been heated up. Let the sugar caramelise (turn liquid and brown). This happens faster than you imagine so have your chicken on hand!
Once the sugar is fully caramelised (it’ll be a honey brown colour), add chicken pieces (carefully!) and let it “sear” for a couple of minutes on each side. Watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn.
Add water to cover the chicken by 1 to 2 cm. Add the rest of the ingredients as well.
Once water begins to boil, reduce to medium low heat, cover lid and let it simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.
Stir occasionally so the chicken brown evenly on all sides. You will find the sauce will start to thicken slightly and when the garlic softens, crush it up lightly with the back of your spatula.
Serve over hot rice.