Braising, Bone Broths, and Instant Meat Stews
It’s a cold winter, which is a perfect time for cooking low and slow. I just enjoyed an awesome bowl of leftover turkey thighs in a gelatin-rich bone broth: the simplest possible stew, and absolutely delicious.
If you aren’t experienced with braising meat, you need to get familiar, and soon. Fatty cuts that are filled with connective tissue and bone are perfect for braising. You need a heavy covered sauce pan or dutch oven (I am not a fan of crock pots… a poor substitute), and you need to be willing to let the meat cook all day. When I do braised meats, the prep gets done in the early AM, and the cooking starts before work.
Braising usually involves a combination of searing and fluid, but it’s not always necessary. You can also brown food in high heat and then add fluid, cover, and braise. That’s how I made my turkey legs. After 40 minutes at 375, I added one cup of water, covered, and let them cook about 6 hours at 215. They were falling off the bone tender. That night we served the tender turkey thighs over mashed celery root (celery root pureed with butter, which is awesome), with asparagus.
The leftovers included a good deal of turkey and about 2 cups of a deep brown salty fluid. When chilled, the gelatin in this fluid turns it into a giggly solid. Turkey jello.
Gelatin comes from the collagen in bones and connective tissue, and is released into water through low and slow cooking techniques. When you braise up your meats, especially if they have lots of skin and bone in them, the watery environment and long cooking time causes the collagen to dissolve into the water and break down into its constituting proteins, mainly Glycene.
Gelatin is not at all gross. It melts right away at a low temperature and makes the perfect base for very delicious, silky smooth sauces and cooking fluids for meats and veggies.
Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough: the stuff is REALLY GOOD FOR YOU. To learn more about the many benefits of gelatin, you could just google “gelatin and health”, or you could read this awesome article that lays out the science of gelatin’s health benefits in full: “Gelatin, Stress, and Longevity” by Dr. Ray Peat. Bottom line is that the magic ingredient in gelatin is probably the amino-acid Glycene, which is its main protein. Glycene and the other big, puffy proteins in collagen promote relaxation, sleep, regularity, metabolic health, muscle growth, and tissue repair… in short, gelatin is the bomb.
So, save that stock in a tupperware in the fridge! Then, the next day, take a cup size scoop of gelatin, mix it with a cup of water, heat it to steaming, chop up leftover meats, heat them up in the melted meat jelly and BAM. Instant recovery food. The best winter food and it only takes 5 minutes to prepare from your dinner leftovers.
I’m not trying to get fancy here, but you could obviously throw any old leftover veggies in with the meat to make your stew better; or you could cook sweet potatoes, carrots, or other roots in the broth for 10-15 minutes before adding your chopped braised meats.
You can also save the bones or carcass from almost any kind of animal, or buy bones directly from the butcher, and slow cook those with water on the stove top or oven, and you’ll get the same basic gelatin rich stock… perfect for using to boil up some veggies, throw in some pre-cooked meats, and enjoy instant stew.