Q: Im braising lamb shanks with red wine and chocolate. Should I marinate beforehand?
Braising is perhaps my favorite winter cooking technique. Its a long but entirely painless process that when done correctly reliably results in restaurant-quality flavor and tenderness.
Marinating the meat overnight isnt a criminal offense, but its not necessary. The beauty of braised lamb or beef or pork shoulder is how the flavor of the braising liquid infuses the protein as it slowly simmers.
A few notes on braising:
• Season your meat with salt and pepper before you sear. Searing adds color and texture to the finished dish. Seasoning beforehand adds to the depth of flavor.
• Choose complex and concentrated flavors for the brining liquid wine and pastes that will add a flavor to the dish. The braising liquid acts as the marinade as it cooks slowly for hours (and hours).
• Cover your heavy-bottomed pot tightly and let the pan do the work. Once youve added vegetables and herbs, then reintroduced the protein to the liquid, step away from the stove and let the mixture bubble away.
The red wine and chocolate combination is a stroke of genius: a mole-esque braise thats sure to wow your dinner guests.
One of my favorite preparations of braised lamb is a dish of lamb shanks with leeks and grapes. If youre feeling ambitious, make your own stock. Homemade stock isnt imperative, but it will change the quality of the liquid and therefore the finished dish. Stocks can be frozen for weeks, so double your batch and store the stock for your next braise (or soup or risotto).
Use a rich grape, like Concord, to bring a sweetness to the meat. Cook slowly and you cant go wrong.
Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is Molto Batali, published by Ecco.