Brasato lombardo – braised beef Lombardy style

This is the sort of slow braised beef dish I grew up with – the occasional Sunday lunch fare, eaten with mounds of buttery polenta.
I prefer to cook a brasato in the oven, at low temperature, at least one day before I want to eat it. Pre-salting the meat is crucial, ideally 24 hours before cooking it.
In the Italian fashion, I use a solid piece of meat that I ask my butcher to tie with string into a solid shape, rather than cubes – this way there is less risk of overcooking the meat and the size allows for a prolonged period in the oven. The alchemy of time and gentle heating delivers rich, deep flavours.

Beef chuck is the cut of choice – I also tried with a combination of shin, cheek and tail but did not like the texture of the final dish, which was too removed from the Lombardy model I am accustomed to.
The spices used are traditional, bar the star anise, which is my unconventional addition and which I think works a treat with beef (in moderation).

This being a Northern Italian dish, I prefer to brown the meat in clarified butter (until the early decades of the 20th century, olive oil was seldom used in Lombard cooking).

Note: not a great pic.  The meat was meltingly tender. This picture was taken on the second time we had this dish, with some fried polenta.

Note to self: next time I want to try to use red wine only, adding it gradually during cooking                    

Brasato lombardo – braised beef Lombardy style

4-6 portions

1.3 kg chuck, in one piece, tied with string into a neat solid shape, salted 24 hours in advance
with clarified butter, to brown the meat
100 g pancetta or unsmoked bacon, finely chopped
1 sage leaf , 1 bay leaf and 1 small sprig of rosemary
2 anchovy fillets preserved in oil
3 cloves, ground
half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and black pepper
a generous grating of nutmeg
a fragment of star anice (not much bigger than a rice grain)
200 ml full bodied red wine
2 carrots: 2 onions, 2 sticks of celery, 2 clove of garlic, finely sliced
200 ml beef stock

 

Use a heavy casserole with a lid, where the meat can fit snugly (a Le Creuset type).

Remove the meat from the fridge a couple of hours before you want to cook it, leaving it unwrapped on a rack. Blot with kitchen paper – you want it to be as dry as possible.
Pre-heat the oven to 140 C, static, medium rack.
On a medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped pancetta and herbs, stirring occasionally. When it is hot, add the meat and gently but thoroughly brown it all over: this will take up to thirty minutes. Do not move it too much, every five minutes or so – a golden crust is what we’re after.

Towards the end of this step, add the anchovies and the spices. Move them around to dissolve the anchovies and to prevent the spices from burning.
Raise the heat and add the red wine, scraping the fond. When the wine has evaporated by half, add the vegetables and the stock. Salt lightly. When the liquid is simmering, cover with parchment paper, cover the pot with the lid and place in the oven.
Check every hour, turning the meat in the liquid. When the meat offers no resistance whatsoever to a skewer, it is done – about four hours.

Remove it from the oven, leave covered and cool completely. Fish out the chopped vegetables, pass them through a muli-legume and store in a separate container.
Refrigerate the beef and vegetables for 24 hours.
Remove the meat from its liquid and skim off as much fat as possible. Slice the beef.
Bring the juices to the boil and simmer until reduced to your liking. Turn the heat down to minimum, add the meat and let it warm up. Sometimes, for a thicker finish, I add a teaspoon of cornflour, made into a slurry with a little of the meat juices – add the slurry to the hot meat and thicken it on low heat.

Rest, covered, for ten minutes before serving. Polenta or mashed potato would be my ideal accompaniments.

 

19 thoughts on “Brasato lombardo – braised beef Lombardy style

  1. This is really nice. The success of this depends greatly on the quality of the beef; when it is nicely marbled this will be glorious. Perhaps I should do a side by side experiment cooking this in the oven versus sous vide. I know with lean beef the sous vide will win, but with marbled beef probably the oven.

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    1. love your side to side…. getting off sous vide, I confess… it is useful for restaurants I guess, but I miss not having smells in the house and the possibility to peak and stirr ecc ecc… all in all it was the wrong gadget for me i think. why do u say that marbled meat might be better in the oven though? thanks

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When cooked in the oven there is more opportunity for Maillard reactions to occur. However with lean meat, in the oven the risk of the meat becoming too dry is very high. So then sous vide would be better, despite the reduced amount of Maillard.

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  2. I love brasato but haven’t made one yet this season—but now that winter is truly here, I guess it’s time! And I really do like the sound of the star anise. Such a lovely flavor, as you say in moderation.

    By the way, excuse the impertinent question but I had the impression you were a vegan… ? Am I misremembering?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. .ciao Frank… no impertinence: nope, I was never a vegan. I do not generally eat much meat, but I would struggle to become vegan: it is not the meat, but the dairy side that I find difficult to give up. as for meat: we rarely have it, BUT we had brasato twice in the last couple of months. I do not care for chicken, beef steaks, pork .. but occasionally we enjoy liver and I do use a little bacon or pancetta… I love polpette and polpettoni, sausages— all in all, I go through phases re eating meat.. there are moral issues I have not found a good answer yet (am I allowed to eat flesh when I do not know if I could kill an animal? am I hypocritically leaving the messy job of killing to others? (yes, I am) )….
      … on star anice: I once ruined a batch beef broth with it- now extra cautious
      stef

      Liked by 2 people

  3. good to hear from you again Stefano, was getting worried by your silence… and all the best for 2021, as we all really need it

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    1. ciao Maria e grazie
      finger crossed and all the best to you too .. I have been (and I still am) busy for a project that might not happen but that still required me working, notwithstanding. But I want to write more here. it keeps me saner. ciao for now

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  4. That sounds delicious and reminds me of the braised ox cheeks I cooked just before Christmas – though not Lombardy style. Something to try with cheeks next time!

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  5. I find this very enticing ! Have made similar dishes but with cubed meat and usually on stovetop. I also find the use of star anise interesting, but since I use the latter multiple times a week in my usual Asian menus I somewhat wonder about the very small amount I have never used less than one whole of the spice and often 3-4 are called for . . . perhaps my Sichuan-, Thai- and Vietnamese palate tastes flavours differently . . . “) ?

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    1. In Italy, in my experience obviously, braised meat is generally made using one solid piece; spezzatino (meat stews) is made using cubed meat. On star anise: I think it goes wonderfully with beef but I must be extra careful because it still hurts when I ruined a batch of beef broth using too much of it — it ended up tasting like a liquorish brot- not great in a risotto 🙂

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  6. This does sound really comforting and good. And I like the addition of a small piece of star anise. We need to go meatless for a week or so (a little to much during the holidays), but I would love to do this when we are back to meat! Especially with some nice soft polenta. Happy New Year to you both!

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    1. ciao D– appy new year to both of you. On meat: we are generally low consumers to be honest, but the last month I had this urge to cook this dish twice…I guess, it is more for psychological reasons: I definitely found the smells and the process very comforting

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    1. Ciao Marcy.. it is a good, comforting recipe and mainly hands off… apart from the initial browning. I find the solid piece gives a better finish, but it might be only psychological (that’s the way it was made in my family…)

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