"The better I got as a cook," my chef in culinary school once said, "the more I loved the cheap cuts." Anyone can grill a good steak, he meant, but only a real cook can take gristly meat and make it great. On this point, we disagree a little. I think anyone with a couple of hours and some pride can learn to braise bony, tendony meat into tender, delicious submission, to wield the transformative power of a slow, rich, aromatic simmer. Here's a recipe for a simple braised beef, flavored with smoke and beer – but really, you won't even need a recipe once you learn the process behind it. Get comfortable with this method, then mix and match your favorite ingredients and flavors.
Smoky Beer-Braised Beef
- 2 lbs beef chuck or other braising cut, such as short rib
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- 12 oz porter, stout, or other beer
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón), plus more to taste
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 pints beef or chicken stock
- Soy sauce, to taste
- Brown sugar, to taste
- 6 small radishes, thinly sliced, for finishing
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped, for finishing
Read on for preparation instructions.
A Braising Primer
Pick anything but what you'd order in a steakhouse. You want meat that's tougher, with bones, tendons, and marbling. (No thick fat around the edges, though.) The more gristle, the more it melts into delicious gelatin, so go for chuck, shoulder, rib, brisket, or belly cuts of beef, pork, or lamb; bone-in legs and thighs for birds.
This is everything you add for flavor (not just scent). Vegetables bring sweetness and melt into the sauce for texture, too. Tomato paste is classic (seasoned with pimentón, it takes on a barbecue-sauce-like flavor), or try mushrooms and peppers with herbs and spices. You can even flavor meat with more meat: Feel free to drop in some salami or bacon.
Any stock will work, but if you have plenty of good ingredients, you can make a credible stew even with water. Beer and wine are also great sources of flavor. Avoid salty canned broths or very hoppy, bitter beers – cooking concentrates flavor, so everything that goes in is stronger coming out.
Credit: Charles Islander / Getty Images
Most sauces like something at the end – fresh herbs, a pinch of salt if the flavor seems thin, a few pats of butter if you like it richer. Add lemon or vinegar for brightness or a little sugar or honey to round it out. Then add garnishes for texture – fried onions for crispness, diced or shaved raw veggies for snap, croutons for crunch.