It’s been about a full year of pandemic life, shifting nearly everything in ways we never imagined. A year of not commuting to an office for some of us, but rather staying home and cooking meals once, twice, three times a day.
So many of us are tired of trying to find ways to make dinners that are fast, delicious, healthy or, at the very least, comforting.
Cold weather still blankets swathes of the country and if you crave meat you likely turn to the usual suspects: a burger, ribs, a roast. But there are other cuts that require a little longer, slower cooking time but result in tender, flavorful meals. These cuts of meat all benefit from slow cooking and, like good soup, improve in flavor by sitting overnight. By adding seasonal vegetables — think carrots, parsnips, leeks, onions — you have a hearty meal in one pot.
Lesser-Known Cuts Of Meat Worth Experimenting With:
Boneless beef chuck roast, also called boneless shoulder pot roast or center cut chuck roast, is cut from the shoulder and neck region of the animal and is the ideal cut for a pot roast with winter vegetables. Chuck roast, which is slightly fattier than most briskets, has a rich flavor and produces incredibly tender meat when slowly braised.
A boneless beef chuck roast generally sells for around $4 to $5 a pound and because there is no bone, it will give you several meals. Look for it on sale and keep it in the freezer for up to two months.
Lamb shanks are cut from the lower section of the animal and can be from the foreshank (or front legs) or the hindshank (or back legs). They have a thin layer of fat making them ideal for slow braising. The idea is that after an hour or so of braising the meat in red wine or other liquid and spices, the meat is so tender it will literally fall off the bone. Lamb shanks have iron and magnesium and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Look for lamb shanks on sale and freeze until ready to cook. Lamb shanks range in size from 1/2 pound to almost two pounds. I always ask the butcher to cut them into smaller pieces, which makes it easier to serve, although many like the drama of serving an entire shank.
Although lamb shanks used to be considered a real deal, they have gotten pricier in recent years. But they’re still among the least expensive cuts of lamb. Look for them on sale and keep in the freezer for one to three months.
Pork belly comes from a hog’s underside or belly after the loin and spareribs have been cut. It is boneless, uncured and unsmoked. (Bacon, on the other hand, is generally cured and smoked with no skin.)
Pork belly is layered with fat and when cooked properly produces meat that melts in your mouth. The pork is incredibly rich and best served in smaller portions. It looks a bit like salt pork (what many New Englanders use to flavor their chowders): There’s the outside skin, a very thick layer of fat, and a lower, smaller portion of pink meat. It’s this layer of fat that makes pork belly so delicious.
Most butchers have pork belly on hand or should be able to order it. It’s almost always available in Asian food markets. Pork belly is best cooked slow — braised or slow roasted — or, like the Chinese method in the recipe below, cooked twice. Chefs consider pork belly far superior to bacon.
Pork belly used to be one of the great deals in the meat case, but in recent years it’s become highly sought-after by top chefs. You can generally find pork belly for around $3 to $6 a pound.
Other Cuts To Look For:
Skirt steak, flat iron steak, hanger steak, and bavette (or sirloin flap) are all steaks that have a higher fat content and tend to be tough. However, if you lightly marinate these cuts and then grill, sauté or roast, you’ll have a delicious steak.
Beef shanks, like lamb shanks, are located in the lower part of the leg or shin. They are best cooked with a long, slow braising method and have the bonus of containing rich, delicious marrow within the bone.
Lamb shoulder, a relatively inexpensive cut of lamb, is delicious and underused. It’s laced with fat and best braised or slow roasted. Lots of garlic, rosemary, and white or red wine are ideal flavors for shoulder.
What To Serve With These Meats?
For the most part these meat dishes are hearty and filling. Think about a side dish of polenta, mashed potatoes, or earthy, sweet mashed celery root (also called celeriac) or mashed parsnips or carrots. Roasted vegetables would also make a great side dish or base for these dishes. A green mixed salad will add lightness to the rich meat.
Braised Beef Chuck Roast With Winter Vegetables
This is the ultimate comfort food. Look for a good, well-marbled boneless chuck roast and you will be amply rewarded. Serve with mashed sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes, polenta or mashed celery root. This dish is also excellent served with applesauce and/or horseradish.
- About 1/2 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- One 3 to 4 pound boneless beef chuck roast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 small parsnips, about 9 ounces, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 carrots, about 9 ounces, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 small leeks, or 1 large, light green and white sections cut down the middle lengthwise, washed, dried and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large shallot or small onion, cut into thick slices
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 dry bay leaf
- For serving: horseradish and/or applesauce
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Place flour on a large plate and season with salt and pepper. Dredge meat on all sides. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large ovenproof pot or Dutch oven over moderately high heat. Brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- If the oil in the pot looks burnt at all, remove with a paper towel. Add the remaining tablespoon oil over low heat and add the parsnips, carrots, leeks, celery, shallot, garlic, half the parsley and thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine and scrape any bits clinging to the bottom of the pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and add bay leaf, salt and pepper. Place meat back in center scooping vegetables on top. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is very tender when tested with a small sharp knife. Baste the meat with the juices and vegetables once or twice during the cooking time.
- To serve, thinly slice, top with vegetables and pan sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Serve horseradish and/or applesauce on the side.
Braised Lamb Shanks With Parsnips, Carrots And Leeks
These lamb shanks can be made a full day ahead of time. The dish only improves with flavor as it sits overnight. After being refrigerated, you can easily spoon off any excess fat that has risen to the surface.
Add any winter vegetables you like: leeks, garlic, onions, parsnips, celery or celery root (also called celeriac), carrots and more. Serve with gremolata (a simple mixture of parsley, grated orange and lemon peel that adds brightness to the rich stew), salad, and mashed potatoes or polenta.
Serves 4 to 6.
- About 1/3 cup flour, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6 lamb shanks, about 5 pounds, left whole or ask the butcher to cut them in half
- About 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 leeks, the pale green and white portion, cut in half and then thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, 2 cut in half and 2 finely chopped
- 2 small or 1 large red onion, cut into 6 pieces
- 3 parsnips, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped (or 3 teaspoons dried and crumbled)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)
- 3 cups dry red wine
- 1 cup chicken or beef broth
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the 1/3 cup of the flour on a large plate and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the lamb shanks in the seasoned flour, coating them on all sides.
- In a large ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderately high heat. Cook the shanks on all sides until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the shanks to the side.
- If the oil in the pot looks burnt at all, remove with a paper towel. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot and place over low heat. Add the leeks, garlic and onions and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, carrots and half the parsley, the rosemary and thyme and cook for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to moderately high and sprinkle in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons flour. Stir to coat all the vegetables. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the stock and simmer. Reduce heat to low and tuck the shanks into the broth and vegetables. Remove from the heat and cover the pot.
- Bake on the middle shelf for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the lamb meat is practically falling off the bone and is very tender. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and taste for seasoning.
- If not serving right away, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove almost all of the fat that has formed on top of the stew (but do leave a little for flavor). Reheat in a low 275-degree oven or over medium heat until hot and bubbling. Season to taste.
- To make the gremolata: Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. The gremolata can be made a day ahead of time; cover and refrigerate.
- To serve: Spoon out the lamb and vegetables and juices from the pot and top with a sprinkling of gremolata.
Twice-Cooked Pork Recipe From "The Food of Sichuan" By Fuchsia Dunlop
Reprinted from THE FOOD OF SICHUAN by Fuchsia Dunlop. Copyright © 2019 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved."
This segment aired on February 25, 2021.