Why devote a show to slow-cooked recipes in a series whose prime purpose is speed? Because if you cook one of these dishes ahead of time on a weekend, when you have a little extra time, there’s nothing left to do on a weeknight but pull it out of the fridge and heat it up. And it’s delicious. The beauty of most slow-cooked dishes, stews, and pot roasts (besides the fact that slow cooking develops great depth of flavor) is that they actually taste even better a day or two later and they freeze well. They also recycle nicely–the first night it’s a stew, the next it’s a topping for pasta or polenta. And even though the total cooking time for all of these recipes is significant, I have made sure that none of them occupies too much of your hands-on time.
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Tips. What is the best way to skim off fat from a stew? The easiest method by far is to chill the stew overnight with everything in it (which keeps the protein moist and flavorful) and then the next morning the fat will have floated to the top and hardened and be easy to scrape off. If you don’t have that kind of time, a gravy separator (see tools) is a good idea. You can always just skim off the fat from the top using a large kitchen spoon which is ok in a pinch but not very efficient. If there is just a little fat left on the top I run a paper towel over it. The paper towel will just absorb the fat and leave the gravy behind.
Tools. You can find a gravy separator from most kitchen supply stores as well as kitchen mail order sources like cooking.com. A particularly good one is made by Oxo.
The right pot for a slow covered stew, braised item or soup is enameled cast iron. It provided the even heat of cast iron but because it is coated with enamel it doesn’t react with the food the way non coated cast iron can (particularly with acidic foods). A good brand which comes in many fun colors is Le Creuset.
A Short-Rib Primer:
Grits, cornmeal, polenta – what’s the difference? All three come in different grades of coarseness: