The “Tender Trap”: Is Braising “Tough Love?”

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In addition to your loved ones, tender isn’t the ONLY thing that’s wonderful.

In the food world, the expression “tough love” has a whole new meaning, and it’s a cooking method enjoying a larger and larger following nowadays.

Tough love? Cooking? Read on!

True enough, when it comes to steaks, tender is where it’s at, but the quest for tenderness has its price. As you scale the tenderness ladder, from top round to N.Y. strip to the king of tender, tenderloin itself, the prices climb accordingly.

Unfortunately, tenderness is not necessarily a sign of quality, a poor-quality fillet of beef can still be more “tender” than a high-quality N.Y. strip steak.

Many, caught up in the quest for tenderness only, overlook flavor, much of which comes from fat. That VERY fat is generally lacking in a low-quality fillet but found abundantly in a high-quality N.Y. strip that gets passed over.

Sometimes, meat lovers can get caught up in this “Tender Trap” and not realize what they’re really missing out on.

Mainly, some GREAT flavor.

Of course the “Holy Grail,” for most, is a very tender steak FULL of fat (marbling) and flavor. Kobe and Wagyu beef fillets fit that definition. Their price? You don’t want to know.

But there is an alternative if you love both tenderness and flavor.

It’s called braising.

The “Tender Trap”: Is Braising “Tough Love?”

Braising’s main claim to fame (sort of) is pot roast, which automatically turns some off if they don’t remember “Mom’s” rendition so fondly.

The whole idea of braising is to utilize less-tender cuts of meat like the round, the chuck, brisket or ribs, and then gently simmer them in a slow, controlled way to both tenderize and coax out all their delicious flavors.

Braised dishes can make great dishes–truly inspired dishes.

And best of all, they’re tender and FULL of great flavors.

Did I mention tender?

For those of you not fortunate enough (from a culinary perspective) to have parents who are/were chefs, and might, therefore, have had a deft hand at braising, I’ll share.

Case in point–here’s my recipe for Honey & Soy Braised Short Ribs. I’ll thank my friend and colleague Chef Paul Grosz of Cuisine Restaurant in Detroit for turning me on to the difference soy sauce and honey can make in a braised beef recipe.

Although this is my (likely) simpler version, I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s terrific!

 Honey & Soy Braised Short Ribs

This recipe serves approximately four people.

Ingredients:

4 Lbs Beef, Short Ribs
2 TBSP Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Sweet Onion, Cut 1” Dice
½ Cup Carrot, Cut 1” Dice
½ Cup Celery, Cut 1″ Dice
1 ea Garlic Cloves, Chopped
1 ½ Cups Beef Broth
¼ Cup Honey
½ Cup Soy Sauce, Low Sodium
2 TBSP Kitchen Bouquet® Liquid Seasoning
Pinch Oregano, Dry Crushed
Pinch Basil, Dry
To Taste Salt & Pepper

Roux: (Cook together over medium heat approximately 3 to 5 minutes)
3 TBSP Butter
5 TBSP All Purpose Flour

Method:

  1. Heat oil in skillet or braiser. Sear the short ribs on all sides until well browned, and then place the short ribs in a deep, oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting lid of the appropriate size to hold all the short ribs.
  2. In that same skillet, sauté onions, carrots, celery and garlic cloves for a few moments to soften and then add to the beef.
  3. Pour beef stock, honey and soy sauce over beef. The pan size should be selected so that the liquids just cover the meat.
  4. Add Kitchen Bouquet® and seasonings to the liquids and cover the pan tightly.
  5. Cook in a 335 F oven for 3 hours or until the largest piece of meat is fork tender, being careful NOT to break apart the meat pieces.
  6. After meat is tender, carefully remove meat from the cooking liquids, being careful not to break apart meat pieces. Carefully trim the meat away from the rib bones and place all the meat pieces in deep-sided service dish.
  7. Strain the resulting cooking liquids into a sauce pan, skim off ALL the resulting fat from the surface and THEN, over medium heat, whisk in the prepared roux a little at a time, until the sauce is JUST thickened slightly.
  8. Strain sauce once more, adjust the sauce’s seasonings with salt and pepper, and ladle the sauce over the meat to coat.
  9. Reserve additional sauce for those who would like more sauce.

*Additionally, if you love mushrooms, sear large, diced, white mushrooms and serve them over the ribs or stir them into the sauce.