Stracotto di Manzo

Braising is one of the simplest and most reliable techniques for cooking meat to perfection. It just takes a lot of time. It also utilises cuts that would not be very enjoyable without this technique and are therefore not used by many people. When we eat meat, which is becoming increasingly less frequent, we often buy what others didn’t want at a place we trust and only then decide what exactly to cook from it.

Meat has shorter fibres and is more tender when the muscles are not used much. If the muscles do a lot of work, the fibres are longer and interspersed with connective tissue. This is why many parts of an animal’s limbs are particularly suitable for braising, where this firm connective tissue is transformed into soft gelatine. If meat with short fibres was braised, it would become hard and dry. If meat with long fibres was roasted for a short time, it would only become tough.

“Stracotto” means “cooked through” and “manzo” is beef, which means that only parts with a lot of connective tissue are used for this dish. This could be the shoulder and haunch, for example. Unfortunately, the name of the cuts varies from country to country, so we can’t describe them all by name. If in doubt, ask for advice when buying.

We use plenty of vegetables and also fennel for this dish. However, it is often prepared without fennel and with about half the amount of vegetables specified here. We peel onions and carrots, wash celery and fennel and cut everything into cubes of about 4 mm. We also use bay leaf, rosemary and thyme. Sage goes very well with this dish too.

We cut the meat into large pieces 7 – 8 cm long and put it in a large container with the vegetables and herbs. We also add some coarsely chopped garlic at this point, but that’s up to taste.

A whole bottle of good quality red wine, not too fruity in flavour, is poured over it and the ingredients are left to marinate overnight in the fridge, covered.

We take out the meat and dry it a little on kitchen paper. The marinade is poured through a sieve and the herbs are separated from the vegetables.

Now you need a casserole, preferably made of cast iron, or a high braising pan with a lid. If the lid is heat-resistant, the dish can be braised in the oven later, which makes things easier. However, with a little more attention, it can also be done on the cooker. If you are using the oven, preheat it to 150 degrees Celsius.

We heat a little olive oil and sear the meat on all sides. A high heat is required here, as the meat should caramelise on the outside, but not be cooked for too long. To do this, do not place too many pieces in the pan at the same time and wait until they have browned well before turning them to the next side. If you are cooking a large amount of meat, you should do this in batches so that you have enough space at the bottom and the meat does not lower the heat too much. Constantly stirring the meat at this point would be completely wrong! Once browned, we place the meat in a bowl to catch any juices that ooze out.

In the same pan and possibly a little more olive oil, we now sauté the vegetables for three minutes over a medium-high heat, then create some space at the bottom and roast tomato paste for another two minutes while stirring.

We press some juniper berries slightly with the flat side of a knife blade so that they release their flavour better and fill them into a spice ball together with the herbs. A spice bag or muslin cloth is also suitable for this. This way, we don’t have to remove the berries and stems of the herbs individually later and the needles of the rosemary won’t get into our finished dish.

The meat and its juices are added to the vegetables in the pan and the marinade is poured over it. Everything is stirred well, taking care to dissolve any roasted bits at the bottom of the pan with the liquid. This is all flavour, which we want to go into our dish. We also place the spice ball in the liquid.

Everything is brought to a gentle simmer once and then gently braised in the preheated oven for 3 1/2 hours with the lid on. If you don’t have cookware with an ovenproof lid, leave the pot or pan on the cooker with the lid on and reduce the heat to a very low level, for us that would be 2 out of 10. But then you have to keep checking the temperature, especially during the first hour. Only a few bubbles should rise from the liquid, but under no circumstances should the meat boil, as this would make it hard and dry.

After the time has elapsed, the meat should almost fall apart, otherwise we give it half an hour more time. Then we remove the meat from the liquid and put it on a medium-high heat to finish the sauce.

We boil the sauce without the lid until it reaches the desired consistency while seasoning it with salt and ground black pepper. It will become darker in colour and more intense in flavour. If you want more liquid but a thicker sauce, you can gradually stir in flakes of cold butter with a whisk. Alternatively, stir 1 teaspoon of starch into 2 tablespoons of cold water until smooth and then add to the simmering sauce to bind and thicken it. However, neither is usually necessary.

Once the sauce is perfect, the meat goes back in and is served coated with sauce. It goes well with potatoes, polenta or purées. However, this time we eat it with pasta, shredding the tender meat with our fingers and adding it back to the sauce.

Always remember when preparing pasta: The pasta is first gently mixed with the meat and sauce and left to rest for two minutes. Only then has it taken on its full flavour and can it be served.

Enjoy.

And may the taste be with you.

Ingredients (for 4 people):

800 g beef for braising, e.g. shoulder

2 onions, 2 carrots and 2 celery stalks (approx. 150 g each)

1 fennel (optional)

2 cloves of garlic (optional)

1 bottle of good quality red wine, dry

2 bay leaves

1 – 2 sprigs of rosemary

3 – 4 sprigs thyme

1 sprig sage (optional)

5 – 6 juniper berries

A little olive oil

1 tbsp concentrated tomato puree

Salt and pepper

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