Tony writes: I often eat things or see techniques which I try to replicate at home. I like to think of it as an inspiration-and-emulation deal (rather than straight-up stealing). My latest pilferage involves a hybrid technique of braising, shredding and sauteing which I learned the other day from Marta, a dynamic Salvadorenan prep cook at b.good, and her staff lunch. I’ve seen lots of braises (particularly slow-cooked Latin American ones – ropa vieja is my go-to at Cuban spots), but Marta taught me to add a sauteing step at the end, after shredding the beef. The method (braise-shred-and-saute) is similar to the restaurant treatment of duck confit (but different, of course). The quick saute adds a measure of nuance and intensity to the tender, braised meat. It also surrounds the beef with the bright flavors (and colors) of sauteed vegetables. Ropa vieja, but kinda better. Here’s how:
– The method: This starts off as a regular braise: cut the beef into large-ish strips and brown them, evenly spaced. Marta skipped the searing step, but I couldn’t ignore the flavor it adds. After browning the beef, I advanced straight to the braise, adding in some sliced onion, a couple of bay leaves and some cumin, covered the lot with cold water, and then simmered until the meat became completely tender (about 2 hours). Then I shredded the meat and sauteed with spices until browned and almost crisp before finishing with diced plum tomatoes and chopped cilantro and jalapenos.
– The beef: I favor chuck, the front shoulder of the animal, for most all types of stews and braises. It just has a far better (ie: beefy) flavor than round, the other primary option for stewing. For this preparation, I picked up a 3-pound chuck eye roast though most relatively lean cuts of chuck will do. Trim off any fat or gristle before getting started.
The recipe (Serves 6 to 8)
1. Brown: Remove any fat or gristle from 3 lb. boneless chuck roast. Cut the beef into thick 1-inch wide strips and sprinkle generously all over with S+P (2 tsp. and 1 tsp.). Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large heavy-based pot over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 min. Add half of the beef (so it’s evenly spaced) and cook, undisturbed, until the beef easily releases from the bottom of the pot when you lift up an edge, 2 to 3 min. Transfer to a large plate and sear the remaining beef in the same manner (add a splash of oil if the pan is dry).
2. Braise: Return all of the beef to the pot, add 1 Spanish onion (thinly sliced), 1 jalapeno (halved), 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. cumin seeds (I also threw in some fresh cilantro stems). Add water (or beef broth) so it almost covers the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer (medium-low), cover, and cook, spooning off any fat (or foam) every 15 min or so, until the beef becomes completely tender (it should easily pull apart and shred with tongs), about 2 hours.
3. Shred: Transfer the beef to a large bowl to cool for a couple of min (Note: defat the broth and use in a soup or stew; I used it for the beans in the picture above). Using your fingers, shred the beef into small strips (the finer, the better) – I put on plastic gloves so my hands didn’t get all mucked up.
4. Saute and serve: Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil, 2 jalapenos (seeded and finely diced), and 2 garlic cloves (minced) in a large heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the garlic starts to sizzle steadily, about 1 1/2 min. Add 2 tsp. ground cumin and 1/2 tsp. pimenton de la Vera (or chipotle powder) and cook for 15 seconds so they become fragrant. Add the shredded beef and cook, stirring, until it heats through and browns in places, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 5 plum tomatoes (seeded and cut in 1/2-inch dice) and 1 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, about 3 min. Toss with 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro and the 1 lime (juiced), season with more S+P to taste, and serve with yellow rice, beans, and hot sauce.