Episode 116: Cooking Ahead

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.

Recipes

  • Braised Short Ribs
    Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, page 279
    Recommended side dishes: Creamy Baked Polenta, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, page 259
    Recommended Wine Pairing: Merlot or Zinfandel
  • Duck Confit in an Oven Bag
    Sara’ Moulton Cooks at Home, page 91
    Recommended side dishes: Roasted Lemon Potatoes, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, page 252 and Green Beans Stewed with Tomatoes and Mint, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, page 238
    Recommended Wine Pairing: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir
  • 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.

    Ingredients

    A Short-Rib Primer
    There are two main kinds of beef short ribs which you will find at the supermarket or at the store and either would work fine in this recipe. However, it is confusing because they look very different. Short ribs are cut from the 12 ribs that extend from the back toward the belly and are found in the plate, rib section, chuck, and brisket; butchers don’t usually indicate which section the ribs come from. English-style short ribs are cut parallel to the rib bones and between each rib. They are boneless and have a rectangular shape. flanken-style short ribs are cut across the ribs bones and have a longer rectangular shape. I prefer the flanken-style because the attached bones give the final braised rib more flavor. Either kind is going to come with a fair amount of fat, which I remove after cooking.

    Grits, cornmeal, polenta – what’s the difference?
    All three come in different grades of coarseness:

  • Grits – a meal made from ground dried hominy. Hominy is white field corn, soaked in an alkali, husked, degermed, and then frozen, canned or dried.
  • Cornmeal – a meal made from ground dried white or yellow corn kernals whose outer husk and germ have usually been removed. (Whole-grain cornmeal, meaning cornmeal with the germ still in, is not only more flavorful but more nutritious and can be found at health food stores. It turns rancid quicker, so keep it in the fridge).
  • Polenta – is the same as yellow cornmeal. Instant polenta and instant grits have been precooked.