Braising for Fun & Profit!

Braised Veal (YUM!)There are few methods of cooking meat as easy and virtually fool-proof as braising. One of the cooler things about a braise is, it's really virtually impossible to fuck up. It's also not that different from protein to protein. Sure, chicken takes less time than veal and veal is a little quicker than pork, lamb, beef, etc. But the principles, as well as the prep steps, remain much the same.

But the single coolest thing about braising is ... IT SAVES YOU TONS OF MONEY!

When you go to the store, there are always those oddball cuts of meat priced from under a dollar up to about a buck fifty to seventy-five. You might not notice them straight off if you tend toward the convenience (and extortionist-priced) cuts like boneless/skinless breasts or chops and such. But they're there lurking in the far end of the fridge, waiting to save you money and give you a succulent meal those limp, leaner cuts could never pull off. The beauty of braising is it breaks down all the funky, tough bits, only gets better with a bit of fat, connective tissue, and the like (which richen and thicken) during the low, slow cooking. This is not fast food, by any means. It's all about patience, but not active cooking time for you. It's a Sunday lazy pot of goodness cooking away while you leave it be and go about your weekend relaxation. If you have time to fuck around the house and give it a peek and taste every half-hour or so, you will be rewarded with cheap, soul-satisfying, and delicious comfort food by dinner time.

Sounds pretty good, huh? That's because IT IS!

What I'm going to do this week is walk through the process of a braised dish. I'm making braised veal breast ($.99/pound ... hooray!) for dinner, so will shoot a few bits of food porn along the way at each step. If I finish the blog before I finish the veal, I'll add photos later (as I take them). I'll also go through the components of a few more really simple but delicious braised dishes with a variety of flavors and proteins, including a traditional Chicken Paprikas (my version of our family's multi-generational recipe).

If you're already pretty experienced at braising, you might want to skim down to the bottom, since most of this will be old hat to you and I'd hate to bore you with crap you already know and use all the time in your kitchen. But, if you're not as familiar with this awesome process and would like to SAVE LOTS OF MONEY by having something delicious to do with all those super-cheap cuts of meat, read on!

Here goes!

The first thing you want to do in making a braise is not to just jump into the kitchen and start throwing stuff in a pot. Though there are recipes you can follow, the beauty of this sort of main course (or one-pot meal) is the flexibility and wide open opportunities for riffing on existing recipes or coming up with your own flavor compliments. The crucial thing to keep in mind is that you always want certain complimentary components in the mix. Your protein, possibly veggies as well, will be cooking in this liquid, so the flavor balance is pretty critical for the dish to turn out.

Braising liquid should ALWAYS include a balance of at least 3 elements (more can be even better and more complex, as in Thai and Persian dishes):

- a neutral base, such as stock, broth, or water ... The more flavorful the base, the more flavorful the add-ins can be without overpowering. Real stock rocks if you have the time make it and store/freeze to use later.

- acid ... Lemon and lime, vinegars, or wine will add a bright flavor to the mix and a touch of zing. In a dish like the braised veal I'm making tonight or a lemon chicken, just a bit of bright lemony flavor or a bit of white wine (I really like a dry Chardonnay for cooking) is needed with the lighter proteins being used. When using heavier or gamier meats, vinegar or richer reds (such as a dry Cabernet or bold Burgundy) is a better choice to stand up to the meat and add heartiness. 

- aromatics ... Aromatics, as the name suggests, impart aroma and include onion, garlic, shallots, ginger, galangal, even herbs such as rosemary, thyme, etc. Usually, a dish will include several aromatics. For instance, in tonight's veal, there will be both garlic and parsley (and would have been shallot, too, if they looked more appealing at the store the other day). In a Thai-flavored braise of pork, you might have garlic, ginger, scallions, galangal, and cilantro, while in a simple beef roast you might only have some onion and a bit of thyme. In the end, the complexity and depth of flavors will often be determined by the aromatics and how they play with the sweet/savory ingredients.

** FYI - There are ingredients normally considered "aromatic" which I include in another group, such as red peppers and carrots and light, sweet herbs like parsley and cilantro. As I cook based on flavor, if an ingredient tastes more of a different flavor element, it is weighted more heavily toward that when I'm working to balance tastes. ***  

- sweet ... Carrots, celery, peppers, orange (or juice), beets, tomato and other sweet ingredients will add a pleasant softening of the edges of the bite of aromatics or deeper flavors of savories. I also tend to include parsley and cilantro in this group, along with aromatics, because they add such a pleasant fresh green sweetness, especially to lighter, simpler dishes.

- savory ... These are bold, often almost meaty flavors such as bacon, paprika, worcestershire sauce, soy, strong cheeses (such as parmesan reggiano, gorgonzola, etc - though these will often be added at the very end of cooking), tamarind, mild chiles and peppers (such as roasted green chiles or Aleppo pepper), roasted or sun-dried tomatoes (or tomato paste), anchovies (or fish sauce), pepperoni, olives, sardine, bonito flake, miso, etc. Often, a little goes a good long way, especially with lighter proteins like chicken or veal. With heavier, gamier meats like mutton or goat, you can play a bit more with the savories, so long as they're balanced by acids and/or sweet and don't overpower your other flavors. 

- spicy ... Hot peppers are not terribly critical, like aromatics or acid, but they can add a nice foil to other flavors. There is always the possibility of going overboard, though, so caution is a good idea. The thing to always keep in mind is peppers need some time to incorporate into the liquid and will continue to add more heat through the cooking process, even more in reheating. It's a good idea to add very sparingly at first, especially with killer heat like habañeros and those deadly tiny bastards I believe Thai cooks call "mouse shit". Ideally, you feel a bit of mouth heat and residual warmth but the heat should never be strong enough to begin losing flavor to burn. 

- umami ... The "fifth taste" is a bit of culinary darling of late in US circles, though a bit of a duplicate with many savory foods. I like to think of it as the kind of indescribable flavor that is so yummy, it makes you want to cry out, "Ooooooh, Mommy!" when it rolls over your tongue. One of my favorite umami additions, which is ideal in braises, is mushrooms. Otherwise, you will also tend to get your umami from the richness of the slow-cooked meat itself.

When building a braising liquid, it's important to consider the characteristics and initial vs. final cooking flavors of the elements used. For example, lemon at the start will mellow through the cooking process, often more than vinegar or white wine. For that reason, it's better for quicker braises, such as chicken or lighter meats like veal where you want the flavor to mellow to work better with the delicate flavor of the meat. Vinegar will mellow as well, but over more time, which makes it great for longer braises, especially with heartier meats. Problem is, for the nice soft edge of twang at the end, you need enough vinegar to throw off the taste of the starting liquid. You actually need it to taste pretty bad, almost too acidic. Four hours or so from the start, it will be delicious.

That's what makes braising one of the most badass food alchemy playgrounds!

Okay, it's time to start making this damned dinner, already! Here's a tried and true process perfected by countless generations before us:

veal seasoned with a light sprinkle of kosher salt and restingflour-dredged vealStep 1: Rest and season the meat.
While you're getting all your other shit together, get that meat out and let it hang out on the counter to lose its chill. This is also a good time to give it a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt (if you don't season the meat earlier, before storing). Letting the meat get closer to room temperature will help in browning by not cooling your hot pan and letting a good crust of fond form, which will be the key to your delicious braising liquid and, eventually, sauce.  

Step 2: (Season +) Brown the meat
This step is the most important. Without a nice brown crust, you won't have a decent enough bit of fond (or browned cooks bits stuck to the pan) to flavor your braising liquid (thus sauce) when you deglaze. This will really effect the flavor, making it less hearty and meaty. If you're going to want a sauce or gravy when serving, you'll also want to employ a light dredge of flour on the meat to help thicken through the cooking process.

use the sides of the pot to brown small sidesAt this step, you can just straight-up brown with only the salt and a bit of flour. But, if you want even tastier fond (thus sauce), you can toss in a few key flavors to your about-to-be-browned meat. For example, when I brown veal, I might add a sprinkle of granulated garlic. When making paprikas, I'll brown the chicken with a bit of paprika or when making gulyas (goulash), I'll use garlic, onion, and paprika.

The key thing is to have meat which isn't cold or even too cool, a nice hot pan (about MED-HIGH is ideal) with a little bit of lube (olive oil, peanut oil, ghee, etc ... ) and enough room for the pieces to cook (better to do batches than have weak browning).
** If using bacon, cook out the fat on LOW first, then raise temperature brown the bacon before adding your meat to brown **
always use tongs during cooking to not release juicesThe meat should sizzle when you (CAREFULLY) lay it in the pan and should not stick if it's ready to turn over. That's a pretty good rule of thumb, so long as you have adequate lubrication in the pan, if it's sticking, it's not browned enough. BROWN ALL SIDES, too. The more browning, the more flavor. Even those thinner side of veal breast or pork country strips can be browned if you use the sides of the pan to hold the meat on its side. After this bit, there is really not much work to speak of, so taking the time at the start will make the hours of being tormented by cooking smells much more worthwhile in the end.

** helpful tips:
You can know if your pot is hot enough (or too hot) by popping a little bit of fat or flour crumbled off your finger into the oil. If it gives you a satisfying sizzle, but doesn't explode into a frenzy, you're in the sweet spot. Otherwise, turn it slightly up or down.

If you have a thick-bottomed or cast iron pot, which holds heat more effectively, you can usually let the heat build at MEDIUM to avoid turning browning into burning.

Step 3: Aromatics + hearty veggies
Once the meat is browned, it's time to take the aromatics for a spin to flavor up your oil as well as softening and sweetening the bits of veg. This step can be as quick as tossing in the pan just until the onions start to go clear or can be a long, slow caramelization if you want a deeper, rich sweetness to the overall flavor. I will sometimes also add sweet and savory ingredients at the end of the process, even using pastes (especially tomato paste or Thai tom yum - sour shrimp paste) to coat the veggies and add to the fond before deglazing.

** helpful tip: Sometimes, especially if the aromatics are more delicate (like garlic), you will probably want to turn off the heat for a few and let the pot cool down a bit before moving on. If you pop a drop of water in and it sizzles actively, it wants to rest a tad longer. Nothing ruins a dish like burned aromatics.

Step 4: Deglaze 
In this step, you pour some liquid over the hot pan to loosen the fond, scrape all those tasty bits up, and get them incorporated into the liquid. If you are using a heartier acid, like vinegar or wine, that's the best choice as the deglazing liquid. When using lemon juice, I like to add a touch of juice with the aromatics and add the rest after deglazing with stock or broth. You don't need a lot of liquid at this point, just enough to loosen the fond. 

Step 5: All aboard!
At this point, everything should go into the pot, with the exception of delicate ingredients to be added at the very end of cooking (like bean sprouts, veg you want to serve vs veg to flavor liquid ... that sort of thing). I like to only add a little liquid to deglaze, then add the other ingredients to warm up and start getting friendly before plopping the meat back in and pouring the rest of the liquid over the top.

** helpful tip: There is always a question of how much liquid to use. A good rule of thumb is to reach about 2/3 up on the meat. The exposed bit will cook dry, which will be good when it's re-submerged, and still be enough to keep the meat cooking nicely as the liquid reduces during cooking. I, however, like a bit more liquid, since I like to reduce it more for bolder sauce and HATE running out of sauce before running out of leftovers, so tend to go closer to the top of the meat. In the case of smaller pieces, like short ribs,veal breast, and the like, I will pretty much just about cover them, especially when cooking uncovered for long periods (which is great for speeding up reduction at the end).

browned veal in the braising liquidStep 6: Bubble and simmer!
Let your liquid come just to a bubbling boil, then lower to the lowest simmer your range can manage. Those of you with a gas range are in luck since, not only can you get a really low flame, you can also use a flame diffuser to soften and disperse the heat. The simmering action should ideally just disrupt the surface of the liquid without any violent waves or bubbling. The closer you can get to that, the better! The key to this sort of cooking is the gentle, slow heat. Braising is not about strength, it's an exercise in patience ... you know this for certain when you're smelling this deliciousness and tasting the liquid for hours, knowing you've got to wait for the meat to be perfectly, succulently ready.

If browning was done thoroughly and to enough crust, the times I tend to go by as an average (though mileage often varies based on cuts and individual pieces, as well as alignment of the planets and other magical mystery crap):

chicken parts - bone-in (I don't do boneless chicken): 40 minutes to an hour (depending on pieces/size)

pork stew meat/neck/heartier cuts (I generally don't braise the lighter, more delicate cuts anyway) - 2 - 2.5 hours (or more)

veal - 2.5 - 3 hours (longer can be better, though, if you have bones and connective tissue)

lamb -  3 - 3.5 hours (like the others, longer can be better for larger bone-in cuts like shanks and legs)

beef/mutton/goat -  3.5 - 4.5 hours (depending on cuts, connective tissue, etc - plain old meat will be on the shorter end, while bone-in pieces, oxtail, and the like will lean toward the longer times for the most tender meat)

Oh, and make sure to turn the meat when you check on it, every half-hour or so.

(Optional) Step 7: Strain
I often like a smoother sauce without dead veg and aromatics and bits of herb floating about. So, before I add the last-minute goodies, I pull out the meat to do a mostly-done rest (tell you why in a sec) and strain the liquid. Always cut off the heat at least 15-20 minutes before straining so it's not quite so hot when you're handling it and ALWAYS be super-careful when pouring the hot liquid. It hurts quite a lot when it hits skin ... trust me.

If it's a braise without lots of bits and bobs or meant to be a homey, rustic kind of dish, feel free to keep it all there and just let it reduce while the meat rests. 

yummy braised veal resting(Highly recommended) Step 7B: Rest the meat
The primary advantage of braising is how it breaks down tougher cuts of meat, particularly those with connective tissue and such. Sort of like a rubber band, which loses a bit of its tension with each good stretch, tough bits and connective tissue, once cooked out, will continue to get more tender and broken down with each cool and cook. If you take the meat out to cool as you reduce the liquid and make sauce, not only is it out of the way, it's making itself a better dish by hanging out. The tissues will harden up as they cool, and loosen that much further once put back in to heat up in the sauce. Lip-smacking good shit, I promise you!

(Really awesome if you're doing sauce - and why the fuck wouldn't you?) Step 7C: Reduction of liquid
Most braising liquid is going to be softer and mellower in flavor than you'd generally want a sauce. Otherwise, it might be overly sweet, bitter, salty, whatever and funkify the meat, which would not be a yummy thing. So, if you'd like a sauce for your lovely braised meat (and, of course, you do!), there is one more step to do, reduce that cooking liquid to intensify the flavors, perhaps adding a few last-minute goodies, and make some sauce. You don't want to kill it, just let more water cook off. If you've been cooking with the lid off, which I recommend highly,  a goodly part of this chore has graciously been done already through the cooking process. Once the meat is out, turn the heat up to a high-ish MEDIUM until it starts to bubble, then lower it down a bit so it softly bubbles away until you're happy with the intensity. Bear in mind, if you're using a creamy thickener at the very end, you might want it a little edgier at this point, so the final sauce isn't too wimpy.

(Optional) Step 7C: Add final dish veggies - can be done simultaneously with reduction
If you're doing something like a pot roast or the like, you don't want the old dead cooked-out aromatics and veggies in the final dish. But you DO want some veggies in there. So, like doing a great soup (we'll get to that next week), you want TWO sets of veggies, one to cook with and one to eat. If you have veggies that need longer cooking (which I don't necessarily recommend ... nice bite-sized bits work much better), you can strain and add the big ol' veggies a bit earlier while the meat finishes cooking and just leave them in when reducing while meat is resting. BUT, it's better all-around to rest the meat and add little bits of veg to cook in that last half-hour while the liquid reduces.

If you're thickening, use a slotted spoon to pull out the veggies before thickening. 

**helpful tip: If you're putting potato in there, cut some of them in super-small diced bits to break down completely and thicken the liquid to sauce as the other bits cook. No risk of flour taste and time-saving WIN!

This is also a great time to skim off excess fat. Many braising cuts have a good bit of it, so you won't need quite all of it, even if you like a rich sauce or gravy. The trick is to use as flat a spoon as you have at hand and just skim it lightly over the surface of the pot, just beneath the very top of the liquid. There are specific implements just for this purpose, but if you have a reasonably steady hand, you won't need to waste your cash on a uni-tasker. You'll know what's fat, since it will be clear, even if it has some color. The broth will not be, so you can tell by eye what's what and stop once you're hitting good sauce stuff. I usually save one of the cans from broth or tomatoes (or an old coffee can not being used for bacon fat mmmm) to keep the fat until it hardens and cools enough to toss.

Step 8: Thicken
If potatoes are part of your dish or you were clever and used a flour dredge at the start, you may very well not need this step for a nice sauce. But, if you have more liquid or are making a dish which doesn't use flour at the start (I'm looking at you, Paprikas), you'll need to do some thickening up before the re-heating and serving. Ideally, you want flour free of lumps (Wondra, which is super-fine, is GREAT for this), possibly in a medium to help it blend more easily before tempering, too.

For dishes like Chicken Paprikas or a traditional roast, where a creamy, luxurious gravy is part of the pleasure of eating, you can blend your flour well in a dairy medium like sour cream or Middle-eastern (or Greek) yoghurt. Mix them until super-creamy with no lumps in a heat-safe cup or bowl (larger Pyrex measuring cups are awesome for this!). Then SLOWLY add SMALL amounts of the hot liquid into the blend to temper it, ideally a couple of tablespoons at a time, and whisk well. Once you have a smooth, creamy fairly-liquid base, pour it into the pot in a small stream while actively whisking. Let the pot keep bubbling while you whisk and it will keep thickening a bit. Once the gravy coats a spoon, it's done.

If you don't want creamy, start with the sifted flour (or Wondra) in the same heat-safe thingie. Then add VERY SMALL amounts of the hot liquid slowly while blending with a little whisk or fork. I can't stress how important going slow is ... well, if you don't like big ol' seized up lumps of flour nastiness in your sauce (*bleh*). Once you have a nice, creamy fairly-liquid base, you can do the same as above and pour it into the bubbling liquid in a small stream while whisking. Same as above ... let it hang out and bubble while you whisk until it coats a spoon.

** helpful tip: A good rule of thumb is about a TBSP of flour for each cup of liquid for a looser sauce/gravy. When doing creamy sauces, I'll do anywhere between a 1:1 to 1:2 ratio of flour to creamy stuff, depending on how creamy I want it (*heh usually the more creamy). Ideally, you start with that and let it cook in for a bit before adding another 1/2 TBSP (plus creamy stuff) per cup using the same process. Once you go too thick, it's harder to recover from it, since you'd need to add more liquid and thin out the flavor. Like in browning, patience will reward you here.

Step 9: Everybody back in
Once you're all thickened where you like, lower that beast down to a SIMMER and add all the meat and veggies back to the pot to warm up. As mentioned above, this will give the meat even more lip-smacking succulence, which can never be a bad thing. The only thing to look out for is to not let the sauce bubble up too much or it might get too thick. Gentle heat to coax the meat back up to serving temperature is all you need. 

Step 10: Serve that tasty dinner to a chorus of yummy noises!
If you've been a patient cook and didn't skimp on the couple of important steps, there should be no other outcome to expect. Braised dishes are great on their own, but even better served over flavored rice, potatoes, egg noodles, even roasted veggies. If you're looking for a good foil to rich, unctuous flavor and mouth-feel of perfectly slow-cooked meat, think contrast. Lightly steamed veg with just a bit of crunch left in them with a kiss of butter, lemon, and salt is probably the best plate partner. Also, lightly pan-sauteed veg, like some okra dusted with spices and corn meal and tossed in the heat until crisp, work really well.

The key is to offset the deep, savory richness and unctuously soft mouth feel with a kick of bright flavors and satisfying crunch or crispness. The fresher the better, the more textural contrast, too. It will keep things interesting for the palate and make the dish feel even more rich when you tuck back in.

And ... don't forget to cook for leftovers! If you think it's super-sexy foodgasmic eating tonight, wait until you get a load of it tomorrow!

Okay, now a few great braised dishes!

#1 - Braised Veal Breast (tonight's dinner!)
This has become a new favorite at our place. If you think veal is pricey, too pricey for your humble table, look for the humble bits of veal like the breast. I've never paid more than $1.99/pound for veal breast (often less) and the meat is no less deliciously light and rich than the costly cuts. This recipe can be made a bit more complex by the addition of wine, shallots, mushrooms, and more flavorful herbs, but this basic version works just fine!

3# veal breast
2 heads roasted garlic (plus 1 cup broth used during roasting)
juice of 2 lemons
4 cups chicken stock or broth (includes 1 cup for roasting garlic)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
kosher/sea salt / granulated garlic
olive oil

- Start roasting garlic, then lightly season veal with salt and allow to rest before seasoning lightly with gran. garlic and dredging in flour (knock off excess). By then, garlic should be ready to pull out and cool to use later.

- Brown meat on MED to MED-HIGH in olive oil on all sides and reserve

- Deglaze pan with just enough broth to scrape fond from the pot (then lower heat if needed), add roasted garlic cloves and smash to blend

- Add lemon juice, then meat and parsley, and pour remaining broth over the top and mix well

- Bring to a bubbling boil, then reduce to a low SIMMER, turning meat every half-hour for about 2.5 - 3 hours, until tender and falling apart

- Remove meat from pot and reduce liquid to taste, thicken if needed

- Return meat to pot to reheat and serve.

#2 - Burgundy Beef (or oxtail)
This recipe works for all sorts of beef cuts, though I really like it for heartier stewing meat like bone-in chuck, short ribs, or sexy bits like oxtail. Like the veal, you can juice it up with mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, and the like. Being a savage and utter hedonist, I tend to like it over penne or large noodles baked until crisp with a bit of butter and sharp cheddar cheese. Also, just a quick note, lots of people will tell you it's a bad idea to use cheap wine to cook ... I call bullshit. I use nothing but crappy cheap red or Two Buck Chuck for these sorts of braised dishes and have never had it taste worse than using a bottle I'd drink. Save the good bottle to serve with your wine-cooked beef, instead!

3-4# beef
1 bottle of Burgundy (the regular size, not a jug)
1 white onion - in chunks (you'll strain it out, so don't sweat a bunch of needless mincing)
4-6 cloves of garlic - minced or smashed well (this I'd do, since it'll melt out in the liquid better)
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock or broth
kosher/sea salt / granulated garlic and onion / fresh ground pepper
olive oil

- Season the beef (salt + pepper) and rest, then season with the onion + garlic and dredge in flour. Brown on all sides and reserve

- Lower heat a little to sweat the onions and garlic with a bit of salt and pepper until onions are soft and clear, then add thyme and bay leaf before raising heat to deglaze with a splash of red wine.

- Add beef back to the pot and add the rest of the liquid, bring to a bubbling boil and lower to SIMMER for about 4 hours or more, until the meat is fork-tender. Then pull meat out to rest, strain the liquid and raise heat to reduce.

- Thicken if needed with Wondra (tempering well to prevent lumps), then add rested meat back to reheat. Serve when thoroughly reheated.

#3 - Chicken Paprikas
This is one of the Hungarian side of the family's most prized recipe, handed down through gawd-knows-how-many generations. Each of us puts our little personal spin on it, but the basics remain to a tried and true, awesome recipe. In my case, like my Nana, I use the giblets and bones to add flavor to the cooking liquid and break from the pack by using sweeter red peppers (vs icky green ones) and some carrot to offset the added savory of a few extra cloves of garlic and TBSP of paprika. Over the years, it is one of the most fool-proof recipes in my cooking arsenal, the go-to when it just HAS to be perfect. Hopefully, it works out as well for you, too! You'll note I specify Hungarian sweet paprika. Granted, I use nothing but Hungarian paprika in general, but here it really does make a difference. The mellow sweetness of the paprika, and lack of bitter bite as well, is the centerpiece of the flavor. You can generally find a great paprika in the spice aisle of virtually every supermarket, the little squarish red can marked Szeged (one of the two prominent paprika-producing regions of Hungary). Otherwise, there are lots of great online spice stores and a few Hungarian specialty retailers (like Otto's in Burbank, where I buy my Hunkie goodies). 

1 whole chicken, including giblets and rest of the funky bits
1 red bell pepper - fine dice (Because of the shorter braising time, you really want them small, like a mirepoix, to get all the flavor punch you can out of the veggies.)
1 white onion - fine dice
2 carrots - fine dice
2 stalks celery - fine dice
6 cloves garlic - fine mince
4-7 TBSP Hungarian sweet paprika (depending on the amount of liquid and your taste)
4-6 cups chicken stock or broth (I like lots of gravy to douse my dumplings, so tend to go for the higher amount)
1/2 - 1 cup sour cream or Middle-eastern yoghurt - also depends on the liquid
2 - 4 TBSP Wondra (or sifted flour) - also depends on the liquid
kosher/sea salt
olive oil

- Cut chicken into parts (and skin breasts, thighs and legs for less fat to have to skim later), season with salt, and rest to lose chill. Then season lightly with paprika and brown the pieces you'll be serving + the back on all sides in olive oil. Reserve.

- Add all veggies to the pan (dutch oven or a deep skillet works great) and cook, mixing regularly, until softened and onions go clear. Then add the paprika and mix well to coat.
**If you're not familiar with paprika, use the lower amount and add to taste once the liquid is in. I usually use 7 TBSP (or more *heh* I pretty much eyeball it after cooking it for 30+ years) to the 4-6 cups of stock/broth. And, YES, the dish should be REALLY FRICK'N RED.**

- Return the chicken to the pot, including the back, neck, and giblets, and add the rest of the stock/broth. Bring just to a boil, then lower to a SIMMER for 40-60 minutes, until chicken is done. Then pull all the chicken parts out and set aside to rest and cool while you work on the gravy.

- First thing you want to do (after chowing down on the giblets ... YUM!) is to let the pot cool down a bit and then strain your liquid through a fine mesh (a chinois or cheesecloth can do even better, but is probably a bit more than you need for this homey dish).

- Return the liquid to the pot and bring back up to a satisfying bubble, after which you can lower to a low-ish MED, just enough to keep the movement happening. Mix your flour into your creamy stuff well before even thinking of tempering (a little baby whisk is perfect here, though a fork can get the job done in a pinch).

- Temper slowly by adding small amounts of the hot liquid to the creamy mix, whisking as you add, until it is fairly liquid. Then add it to the pot in a slow stream while whisking, then let it cook while whisking until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. And, YES, it should be that funky salmony color. Trust me, it's so delicious, color is irrelevant. Those who might be freaked by the color won't be able to resist the delicious aroma, anyway.

- You can either add the chicken pieces back as they are, which is kind of messy to eat, or use the cooling time to your advantage and pull the chicken meat from the bones and cutting to bite-sized chunks before adding back to the gravy to reheat.

- Serve. It's really good over dense flour dumplings, egg noodles, or rice.

Y'know, that's really enough taxing of your eyes for one week. Next week, if the cool evenings hold, I think I'll tackle a few yummy soups! Until then, have a lovely week and some great food!