Winter Braising

Chef Eric Skokan, owner of the Boulder, Colorado, bistro Black Cat, makes almost all his dishes using food he grows. But in the snowy Rocky Mountain winter, almost nothing grows. So he reaches into his root cellar, where he stores parsnips, celery root, turnips, and other typically ignored vegetables. Skokan’s secret weapon is the braise: an ancient, astonishingly simple form of slow cooking. He makes things like veal tongue braised with parsley root, rabbit braised with turnips, and diver scallops on a bed of braised radishes topped with hazelnuts.

Yes, it’s possible to eat varied, locally sourced winter meals if you learn how to braise.

WHAT IS BRAISING?
It’s essentially throwing things into a sealed pot with some liquid and sticking the pot in the oven on low for a long time. Braising makes tougher cuts of meat like short ribs and shoulder falling-off-the-bone tender. Or you can do all-vegetable braises, too (try this Cabbage Kimchi-Style recipe from Daniel Boulud).

YOU CAN GET CREATIVE
Extra flavorings you put into your pot (like dried mushrooms, miso, or smoked paprika) can take your creation in myriad flavor directions. “Right after Thanksgiving I cooked French green lentils with rice in the turkey broth with celery salt, carrots, and onions, and put [in] lots of fresh thyme,” says Jessica Prentice, a chef and one of the original worker-owners of the Three Stone Hearth community kitchen in Berkeley, California. This Daniel Boulud recipe even incorporates chunks of gingerbread.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
No special appliances, just a big, heavy-bottomed pot. The benefit of slow cookers and automatic braising devices is that you can leave them on all day while you are away. (If you braise in the oven, it’s safer to be home.) But if you don’t have one, three hours at home on the weekend folding laundry and puttering around—while it’s snowing outside—is eminently doable.

Mix-and-match ingredients for braising