As a kid, "braised beef" meant mom dropping a chuck roast and some veggies in the crock-pot before she left for work, and eight hours later, coming home to a divine dinner as if by magic. But if you think momma's crock-pot creations were tasty, imagine what Charleston's finest chefs can do with slow cooking techniques. From eggplant to a three-and-a-half pound veal shank, we explore the beauty of the braise.
At Fat Hen, it's time to go big or go home. Chef de Cuisine Joey Johnson recently introduced a brand new confit section to the menu, including duck, pork shank, and "The Big Time," an entire 36-oz. veal shank, which earns its title. Johnson describes the cooking process, explaining, "We cure it in an herb mixture with salt and pepper, then confit it for four hours." When an order comes in, the shank is tossed in the oven for about 20 minutes and covered with a demi-glace. Each dish is accompanied by roasted sweet potatoes with local brown honey, haricot verts in garlic butter, and lemon fennel relish. Regarding his ingredients, Johnson says, "We're pulling a lot of our stuff locally. ... About 70 percent of our produce and 50 percent of our meats come from local farms." Offered as a dinner option for two, the Big Time comes with a pair of plates and will run you and your partner $48.95.
While wining and dining at Social, treat yourself to their pan-seared flat iron steak, which comes with roasted root veggies and a braised shallot ragout ($15). To create the ragout, Executive Chef Jesse Sutton combines olive oil, veal stock, beef jus, and red wine before cutting shallots into large chunks and adding them to the mix. Sutton says this is "a nice cold weather dish," and that the braised shallot ragout is a fitting topping for "a steak that is definitely wintery."
Executive Chef Aaron Lemieux is excited about 39 Rue de Jean's braised rabbit. "First, we brine our rabbit for 24 hours in a marinade made up of whole grain mustard, white wine, Bailey's, thyme, peppercorns, and garlic." Afterwards, it's drained of the brine, air dried, and seared on both sides until it's golden brown. As it's roasting in a pan, the addition of a white wine reduction and a chicken stock reduction combine to create a braising liquid. The rabbit, which comes from Ashley Farms in North Carolina, is then braised in the oven at 300 degrees for two hours and left to cool for another hour or so. "The sauce," Lemieux says, "is essentially a reduction of braising liquid which makes a dark, blonde roux. Basically, it becomes a whole grain rabbit veloute," he adds. The dish, which costs $24.99, is served with potatoes dauphinoise, which are potatoes baked with milk, cream, and cheese.
Over at the Swamp Fox in the Francis Marion Hotel, the Farmers Market Dinner is a three-course meal that changes from month to month. Gathering most of their ingredients from the Saturday farmer's market across the street in Marion Square, Chef de Cuisine Steve Klatt says he "100 percent supports the local community." For the month of November, he's featuring pork belly, which is slowly braised in a simple chicken stock at 325 degrees for about four hours. Before serving, the pork is seared in a pan and then topped with a spicy red pepper jelly glaze along with a few scallops. The pork belly follows the first course of pumpkin soup and precedes the third course, a cinnamon maple cake dessert. The entire meal costs $29.
Finally, satisfy your inner herbivore at Muse with their braised eggplant. Executive Chef Howard LaFour explains that the dish is rather simple, consisting of eggplant, peeled tomatoes, garlic, basil, and a little bit of shallot. He cooks them over medium heat until the mixture turns a nice, golden brown. From there, a little chili flake and a good-sized dice of eggplant "about the size of the knuckle on your thumb" are added. Everything is sautéed together, allowing the eggplant to soak up the olive oil and other natural liquids. Next, LaFour adds fresh basil and plum peeled tomatoes ("I just crush 'em up with my hand and toss 'em in."). Then, the whole medley is wrapped in tin foil and popped in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. LaFour adds the finishing touch of a bit more basil and some seasoning and then, as he says, "that's that."