Braises

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)

Congratulations, so you’ve finally realised that you simply can’t live without kimchi. Fantastic! As my partner would say, you are now officially a bona fide “stinky kimchi-freak” just like me. Charming I know, but he’s most definitely not a fellow fan. Nevertheless, welcome to the Club.

So now that you’ve confessed your insatiable appetite for kimchi, you may be asking yourself the inevitable question, “What exactly does one do with a massive vat of homemade fermented cabbage?”

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)Whilst delicious just eaten as a side dish (known as banchan in Korea), the truth is that plain mak kimchi can get a little monotonous after a while. Thankfully, however, there’s no shortage of ways in which to enjoy your kimchi-fix. Such is their love of kimchi, the Koreans seem to have based much of their cuisine around its consumption, resulting in a seemingly endless array of dishes that can be made using this spicy Korean staple. Kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakeskimchi risotto and even kimchi ice cream, there are no limits to the wacky ways in which kimchi can be eaten. However, one of the more traditional dishes remains one of the most popular – Pork & Kimchi Stew.

Known in Korea as kimchijjigae 김치찌개, the first time I tried the dish was as part of a Korean BBQ at Galbi in Cape Town, where it was served at the end of the meal with a bowl of rice. To be honest it was the low-point of an otherwise great meal (their sweet potato fries are to die for!), as it was a tad insipid and tasted more like watered down tomato soup than the amazing spicy stew I had been eagerly anticipating. It was not a good start to my budding love affair with kimchijjigae, but considering the restaurant’s actual kimchi was also rather tasteless, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise that their kimchi stew would also be somewhat lacklustre. Disappointed, but undeterred, I did what I typically do when I feel let down by a dish – I set about making it myself

Mercifully, kimchijjigae is actually very easy to make and only requires a few of the more basic Korean pantry staples. It was only after tasting my first attempt at making it, that I appreciated what a great dish this should be and why it warrants its enduring popularity. Simple and relatively economical to make, kimchijjigae is both deeply satisfying and is the perfect way to showcase kimchi’s hidden depths. Much like kimchi risotto, this stew actually serves to bring out kimchi’s complexity of flavour, something that is typically masked by the spiciness of the kimchi.

Any dish that makes kimchi taste even better is, in my mind, a dish worth making…but then again, if I’m to be perfectly honest, you already had me at kimchi. 

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Sticky Beef Short Ribs

If I had to pick a favourite cut of beef, it would simply have to be short ribs; cheap, tasty and meltingly tender, I just can’t get enough of them.

Sticky Beef Short RibsThe perfect marriage between meat, bone and fat, short rib is my go-to cut of beef for whenever I am doing a long braise, as it is perfectly suited to being cooked for extended periods. Whether it’s for a spicy Mussaman Curry, a comforting bowl of Beef Phở or a simple cider braise beef, short ribs works a treat with just about any style of cooking, so long as it is afforded enough time to work its magic.

Which brings me to this delectable dish! Robustly flavoured and so tender you can literally suck the meat off the bone, Sticky Beef Short Ribs is a great way to prepare this special cut. Although the dish has all the hallmarks of a classic Chinese style braise, the addition of Korean Soybean Paste (doenjang) does muddle the waters somewhat, resulting in a dish that is equally suited to both a Chinese or Korean spread. If you can’t source any doenjang, regular Chinese Bean Sauce would suffice, or, if you wanted to add a Japanese twist to the dish, you can always try some miso. Personally, if you can, I would stick with the doenjang as it adds a distinctly earthy depth to the dish that neither miso nor Chinese Bean Sauce does.  

Note: As with most other Asian braises, this dish is always best if made the day before, but is still delicious if eaten immediately. If you are making the dish in advance then it is best not to reduce the sauce immediately, but rather wait until you are going to eat it to do so.

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Slow Braised Brisket

Ah, slow-braised brisket – could there be a more quintessential culinary expression of Jewish motherly love?

For me, sadly, Jewish food has always been the forbidden fruit of world cuisine, but considering I grew up in a country which doesn’t recognize the state of Israel, it is hardly that surprising that my knowledge of Jewish food isn’t as intimate as I would like it to be!

Slow Braised BrisketUnfortunately, like so much in life, what little I do know about Jewish cuisine has been gleaned from that most dubious window into the world: 80s television. As a youngster, I loved nothing more than watching my weekly staple of disapproving 5th Avenue matriarchs and their well-heeled families. Aside from their wonderfully mordant sense of humour, I was always most drawn to the food they ate, marvelling at the mysterious treats they dished up at their vast family gatherings. Matzah balls, brisket, lox and latkes – to my ear they all sounded wonderfully exotic and the characters’ enthusiasm for the food was infectious. Of course, given my complete lack of exposure to all things Jewish at the time, I had no idea that these delightfully brisk people were anything other that well-to-do Americans. The fact that they (and their food) were Jewish was utterly lost on me. I simply assumed that all New Yorkers invariably had amazing apartments, a psychologist in the family and almost always wanted to marry their daughters off to “good boys” and doctors. As a child I did, however, know one thing for sure: more than anything else, I desperately wanted to know what brisket tasted like.

Some 30 years later, I am pleased to say that I have finally tasted the allusive dish and damn it, brisket is as delicious as I had imagined it would be! I was so excited the first time I made brisket, I could scarcely contain myself – 3 hours in the oven is an eternity to wait to taste a childhood dream. Meltingly tender, wholesome and served with a richly flavoured sauce, this is essentially the ultimate pot-roast, but made with a very special cut of meat.

Simple, classic and worthy of its iconic status: whether you know its Rosh Hashanah or not, a good brisket is always worth the wait! 

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Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄

Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄I love food that you can just gooi into a pot, forget about for a few hours and it still comes out tasting like heaven. Thankfully, Asian food is abound with such dishes, particularly so in Chinese cuisine.

Whilst synonymous with the much hackneyed “stir-fry”, Chinese food does love a jolly good braise. Beef ribs, pork belly, chicken feet – it would seem that the Chinese maxim is clear: if you have a pot big enough for it, then it’s good for a braise. Thankfully, it seems, pork hock fits both the maxim and the pot!

Richly flavoured, red-braised pork hock is an old school Chinese classic and is the perfect way to cook an otherwise troublesome cut of meat. Slowly simmered in what is essentially a classic master stock, the meat and fat is rendered meltingly soft – so much so, one can “cut” through it with just a chopstick. Stained a redish brown from the dark soya sauce, the silky sweet meat is tempered with depth, whilst the aromatic sauce is enriched with the rendered juices from the braised pork.

Admittedly, however, like most home-style Chinese cooking, braised pork hock isn’t the most aesthetically appealing dish. Resembling something of a gelatinous heap of meat, skin and bone, it is hardly a feast for the eyes. Rest assured, however, once you’ve taken your first bite you will quickly forget what it looks like.

Indeed, this dish is a triumph of flavour over style.

Note: the stock quantities may initially seem excessive, but the Master Stock can be kept indefinitely and develops depth of flavour each time it is reused. Simply strain the stock and store in the freezer until needed. Add a fresh set of aromatics to the stock and you are good to go.

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Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter Beans

A true one-pot wonder, this simple Spanish inspired casserole is big on flavour and refreshingly light on effort. Other than the initial stages of browning the ingredients, this dish pretty much takes care of itself and rewards with a tasty family friendly meal that can be adapted to cater to almost all tastes and preferences.

Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter BeansNow I have to be honest, this wonderful casserole is about as Spanish as chow mien is Chinese or California rolls are Japanese, but these days cultural authenticity is hardly an impediment to being the poster child of world cuisine. The modern maxim seems to be, “If a dish tastes good, who cares?” and rightfully so. After all, when the results are this tasty, I’m all about the muddled.

So whilst only vaguely Spanish, this simple dish is nevertheless brimming with classic Iberian flavours and, for a change, all the ingredients are perennial pantry staples. Admittedly I take it for granted that my larder resembles an over-stocked cornucopia of random ingredients, but this isn’t the sort of dish that calls for long forgotten packets of shrimp paste, bamboo leaves and jellyfish (yes, I do actually have the latter lurking in the depths of my fridge!). I digress, however.

Thankfully, significantly less exotic pantry staples are required for this dish, namely tins of butter-beans, chopped tomatoes, chorizo and smoked paprika. Admittedly smoked paprika isn’t necessarily a staple pantry item, but is readily available at most supermarkets or it can be substituted with regular paprika and a pinch of chilli powder or flakes. You can also use chickpeas instead of the butter beans and the fennel seeds can be omitted if you don’t have any…like I said, this recipe is nothing if not adaptable.

Note: As with most stews and casseroles, this dish will be all the better from a night chilling in the fridge.

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Cider Braised Beef Short-ribs

Being half Asian I naturally adore food packed with flavour and usually in my kitchen that means spicy and exotic, but sometimes I crave the simple home-cooked comforts of my mother’s land. It may be the inner-Brit in me, but there are days when you can just keep your kimchi and beef rendang – all I want is toad-in-the-hole or a proper Sunday roast!

Without a chilli nor spice in sight, this dish is the epitome of what I would call real British comfort-food. Made with just a few seemingly unassuming ingredients, this humble stew seems to come out with more flavour than was put in! Uncomplicated and yet rich with depth, this dish is the perfect example of good food, made simply.

Adapted from Leiths Meat Bible, this amazing braise goes well with just about anything. Feeling sophisticated? Serve it with classic mash potato and some sautéed kale with grapes. Feeling rustic? Just grab some fresh crusty bread and mop-up the delicious sauce!

Kimchi and beef rendang? Lord knows I still love them, but when old-school British comfort-food tastes this good, you could be forgiven for never wanting anything else!

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Ossobuco

OssobucoArguably the figlio preferito of Lombardy’s regional cuisine, ossobuco is, perhaps, the ultimate Italian braise. This is not a dish for the fainthearted, this is real stick-to-your-ribs fare! I would categorise ossobuco as lick-your-plate food, something that, even in the politest of company, I cannot help but do!

Sadly though, like many other Italian classics, ossobuco has suffered more than its fair share of well intended culinary-meddling and is, more often than not, worse off for it. Of course, there is never a definitive version of any Italian recipe. Familial traditions and regional variations are the norm throughout Italy and, as a result, there are countless interpretations of how to cook ossobuco. But as with all culinary classics, there are always rules and whilst none are ever truly set in stone, these are the three “ossobuco rules” that I recommend adhering to:

  1. Meat: Ossobuco should only ever be made with veal shanks. Unfortunately this isn’t really negotiable, as it simply would not be ossobuco if it was made with beef shanks, or perish the thought, lamb. Whilst the braise still works well with either beef or lamb shanks, you could not in good conscious call the dish ossobuco if you used either of these.
  2. Bone-marrow: Ossobuco literally translates as bone-hole, so it should come as no surprise that bone-marrow is an inescapable part of the dish. In fact, sucking out the tender veal-marrow is integral to the joy of eating ossobuco. If you are still haunted by Mad Cow disease, then this most definitely isn’t the dish for you!
  3. Accompaniments: In truth, ossobuco can be served with just about anything; whether it be with a crisp potato rosti or with buttery mash, it will be delicious. But just because it tastes good, doesn’t make it right! Traditionally ossobuco is always served with risotto alla Milanese and is typically garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata. Sometimes tradition knows best and this is such a time, the combination of all three elements is simply stellar! Even if you don’t serve it with the risotto, I would urge you not to skip the gremolata – it is very easy to make and elevates the ossobuco to an entirely different level.

For aficionados there are, of course, a myriad of other do’s and don’ts: should tomato be added, red wine or white? To be honest, our pantries and situations do not always allow us the luxury of perfection so, rules or no rules, we have to make do with what we have available.

As much as I absolutely love ossobuco, I usually have mixed emotions whenever I see it on a menu and I never order it lightly. Despite my mind being awash with those pesky “rules”, provided the basic tenets are adhered to, my leap of faith is invariable justified and I still enjoy my dining choice irrespective of my skepticism. Testament, perhaps, to ossobuco’s infinite variability and appeal. I guess you just can’t keep a good dish down!

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Vietnamese Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu)

Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork in Coconut Water)This venerable Vietnamese classic is traditionally made to celebrate Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but is popular all year round. Packed full of flavour, this sweet and tender braise of pork is simmered in coconut water and is a firm favourite throughout Việt Nam, especially in the South.

The first time I encountered this dish was in a restaurant in Hồ Chí Minh City. My uncle, who was working in Việt Nam at the time, took us out for a lavish Vietnamese dinner and this dish was the undisputed star of the meal. After simmering away for hours in its delicious coconut broth, the pork was achingly tender and sweet, but the real revelation was the generous layer of fat. Soft and rich, yet surprisingly light on the tongue – the fat had been transformed into the true master-stroke of the entire dish. This was pork fat in all its gelatinous glory!

Whilst I’ve always made this dish with pork belly, in truth you can actually use any number of cuts of pork, as long as the meat isn’t too lean. Personally, though, I prefer sticking with pork belly for this dish as it doesn’t dry out from the extended cooking time and the fat imparts a wonderful flavour into the broth.

Traditionally eaten with rice and often accompanied with a simple daikon & carrot pickle (Đồ Chua), I also love to pair this dish with some water spinach stir-fried with garlic.

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Lamb Tagine with Dates

Lamb Tagine with DatesA firm family favourite, this tagine is sweet and intensely spiced.

So much so, I rarely make this dish for anybody else other than my partner. Not because it isn’t utterly delicious, but because it is almost bludgeoning in its intensity and is not for the fainthearted; this is real stick-to-your-ribs type cooking!

On the few occasions I have served it to others it has always gone down a treat, I just make sure that the friends I make it for like this style of cooking. The trick to getting away with serving a dish packed with this much flavour is to pair it with a simple side dish like plain couscous or a zingy lemon-soaked tabbouleh…or, if you are my partner, some plain white rice! And whilst I despair at the latter, it is a miracle that my partner likes this dish at all so I don’t push the matter, but I normally discourage such pandering and recommend couscous as the appropriate accompaniment.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes please click here or if you would like to read more about tagines please click here

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Cape Malay Tomato Bredie

A tomato bredie is the ultimate manifestation of South African home cooking.

Ostensibly a stew, bredies form an integral part of South African huiskos (home cooking), and whilst there are a number of different types of bredies, tomato bredie seems to be the most cherished of them all. At a glance, a bredie looks like a very basic stew, but there is a key element that differentiates it from being a regular stew. Instead of simmering in a liquid like a conventional stew, a bredie is self-saucing. Absolutely no water is added to a bredie and the sauce is formed from the rendered juices and fat from the lamb, which when combined with the reduced tomato, results in an intensely flavoured gravy which transcends its humble basic ingredients.

Tomato Bredie There are quite a few tomato bredie recipes out there but I’ve always stuck with Cass Abrahams‘s recipe, albeit with some unorthodox additions of my own. Cass Abrahams is widely regarded as the incumbent mother of Cape Malay cooking and her recipes are often the starting point for many of my own.

When I initially attempted to make a tomato bredie I found the results were a bit watery and that the meat would sometimes be a little tough. I got around this by first dredging the meat in flour before browning it thoroughly and then by cooking the entire thing in the oven and not on the stove as it is usually done. Bredie traditionalists would be mortified by my preferred cooking method, but I find that cooking it in the oven helps the tomatoes break-down and creates an intensity in the gravy that you wouldn’t otherwise get when cooking it in the conventional way. I have been making my tomato bredie in this way for a number of years and they have always been a success, the meat is invariably melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is thick and bursting with flavour.

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