Reviewing the Central Market Cooking School
Winter Roasting & Braisingwith Bruce Aidells
Tuesday, February 15
Bruce Aidells is a tall, portly man with a ruddy face that's etched with the kinds of lines only lots of smiling can produce. He's influenced the life of most foodies, whether they know it or not. He was the editor of the chapters on meats, poultry, and stuffings of the revised edition of The Joy of Cooking cookbook. He single-handedly started the revolution in artisan sausages through his Aidells Sausage Company, which today produces some 30 different types of sausages. And he has co-authored (with Denis Kelly) three cookbooks: Hot Links and Country Flavors, Real Beer and Good Eats, and the one he was publicizing at Central Market, The Complete Meat Cookbook.
And the cooking of meat, specifically roasting and braising, was the topic of his demonstration at CM. We have been to many of the classes at CM, and the food is always really good, but the dishes produced by Bruce were exceedingly delicious. He cooked relatively simple dishes straight from the book that even a novice could tackle with confidence. In the process of preparing the dishes, the secrets of the art of carnivorous cooking were revealed.
Today's meat is much leaner than in the past, and seasonings have to replace the flavor of that lost fat for the food to taste as good as it should. As Aidells puts it, "No fat, no flavor, no juice." Another crucial element about today's meats is the selection of the proper cut of meat for the recipe at hand. Choose the wrong cut, and no amount of alchemy can make it taste good.
He began the demonstration by butterflying flank steak for a roasted matambre (rolled and stuffed flank steak). Bruce's recipes all have a "flavor step," which usually involves a rub or marinade to boost the taste of the leaner meat -- in this case, olive oil, garlic, and spices. The matambre was stuffed with prosciutto, herbs, and spinach, and was served with the best romesco sauce (almonds, roasted bell peppers, garlic, and bread crumbs) we've ever had.
Bruce next prepared a braised short rib ragout with a tomato and fresh fennel sauce served over pappardelle pasta. The key to braising is deglazing the pan to extract every last bit of flavor for the reduced sauce. The ribs melted in the mouth and were the perfect foil for the rich, aromatic sauce with pasta.
We feasted on a grilled steak and roasted Niçoise salad with a garlic-mustard vinaigrette before launching into the last dish, roasted pork tenderloin with a blackberry-and-currant sauce. The lean pork roast could be cut with a fork, and the rich and slightly tart sauce was perfectly balanced. Excellent food prepared by a true master of meat cookery.
In a state like Texas, where food on the hoof outnumbers the population of people, every kitchen library should contain a copy of The Complete Meat Cookbook. It's crammed full of temptingly tasty recipes that are easy to prepare, and the true secrets of dealing with the new, leaner meat are revealed in a fresh, straightforward fashion. Trust us -- your taste buds will thank you.