Tough cuts are best cooked low and slow
I’m cold this winter. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s me, but it seems to take longer for heat to reach the extremities. Fingers and toes chill faster. I can’t believe that I consider spending as much on mittens (not gloves) as I might on shoes and that I find myself lusting for those thick SmartWool socks. That’s why cooking is even more of a treat in the winter. Having the oven for a long time at a low heat makes for great food and a warm me.
The real question is, how low can I go? Our gas range is about 25 years old. It cooks surprisingly evenly for what was a fairly inexpensive model. We talk of upgrading. Something with more insulation and an oven handle that doesn’t fall off would be nice.
Below 200F, the oven is fitful and I’m never sure whether food is cooking. Above 300F and I might as well go into roast mode. There really isn’t a middle ground.
Either I want my meat seared outside and rare within or I want it to cook low and slow. 425F for 15 minutes and then lowered to 325F to 350F is fine for chicken or a roast.
Tough cuts like chuck or shoulder are best cooked low and slow. Heat a Dutch oven or cast-iron frying pan with a little oil, cut the meat into cubes, then sear at high heat to brown the meat.
Remove the meat, cook chopped vegetables (onions, garlic, carrots, red peppers, parsnips, and celery are all good), deglaze the pan with chicken stock and red wine, put back the meat, cover and put it in the oven for several hours at about 200F. The same goes for chili (brown the ground meat, remove, add veggies and spices, deglaze with stock, add the meat, and cook at a low heat for a long time).
Just before serving, I might make a roux or mix cornstarch with water and add it to the gravy or just use tomato paste to thicken the sauce.
This gives me a hearty meal, probably one that will last several days.
The next day, I can add leftover stew to more stock and make soup, or take the remnants and mix them with rice or pasta. More than that, this approach to cooking gives me a toasty room to walk into even as simple food is transformed. This is what changes a house or an apartment into a home. It is the existential element of cooking and you can’t get this kind of nourishment from takeout.
If I am what I eat, then what I am cooking reveals my character. These days, I am content to go low and slow, to sleep in, to enjoy winter. I’ll wait for warmer weather before I get out the BBQ and aim for a little more of that hot and fast.
And here’s a little extra warmth: Grandma’s Potato Kugel.
My mother-in-law would have grated by hand, but it’s the food processor for Celina. This makes one 8” round pan. Use a spring form if you can.
Preheat oven to 350º.
• 5 med. potatoes, peeled & quartered. Cover with water until ready to use.
• 1 med. onion, peeled & quartered
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup oil
• 1tsp. lemon juice. (This keeps potatoes from discolouring.)
• 1tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. white pepper
• 2 tbsp. flour
• 3/4 tsp. baking powder
Coarsely shred the potatoes and onions in a food processor. Remove the mix from the processor. Add the lemon juice to the potatoes and onions and put them back into the processor bowl and reprocess with a steel blade until the mix is medium chopped. Remove this mixture to another bowl.
Add everything else to the food processor and mix till smooth with the steel chopping blade. Remove this from the processor and mix it into the potatoes and onions with a large spoon or spatula.
Spray the baking pan with Pam.
Transfer the kugel mixture to the baking pan and bake for one hour.
Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. Email him at Flavourguy@theseniortimes.com