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How to Braise Veggies and Fish

If you thought the cooking technique known as braising was limited to slow-cooking meat dishes during cold weather, you're in for a pleasant surprise!

Braising is versatile cooking method that's useful all year, and perfect for fish and vegetable dishes, not just meat, according to cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie.

She explained on The Early Show Thursday, and shared three recipes calling for meat, fish and/or veggie from her latest cookbook, "Braises and Stews: Everyday Slow-Cooked Recipes."

Ritchie offered her expertise in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and The Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

She observes that braising's versatile enough to be great for everyday cooking.

Braising is cooking food slowly in a covered pan in a small amount of liquid until all the ingredients are tender and flavorful. That process breaks down the fiber of the food, enhancing the flavor, and tenderizing the meat. A well-covered pot is very important to prevent water from evaporating.

Braising comes into play for preparing fish and veggies because they cook more quickly than meat stews, usually only needing 20 to 30 minutes. Of course, they're also healthy, because you use lots of fresh seasonal produce and herbs.


Fish sauce: A condiment made from fermented anchovies, salt and water. It's common in Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai cooking. The Cambodian version, nam pla, is considered the finest, and has the richest flavor. The Vietnamese variety, nuoc mam, the most widely available, is milder. The different varieties are interchangeable. Available in oriental and Asian stores, and some supermarkets.

Chorizo: A highly seasoned, coarsely ground pork sausage flavored with garlic, chili powder and other spices. It's widely used in both Mexican and Spanish cooking. Mexican chorizo is made with fresh pork, while the Spanish version uses smoked pork. The casing should be removed before cooking. Chorizo makes a tasty addition to many dishes, including casseroles, soups, stews and enchiladas.


Portuguese Clam and Sausage Stew

Serves 4 to 6

Use fresh Mexican (not dried Spanish) chorizo, or substitute hot Italian sausage. While Asian fish sauce may seem out of place here, it's a trick to add an indescribable element of flavor.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound fresh Spanish pork chorizo
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce, optional
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
24 small hard-shell clams, scrubbed
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

In a wide sauté or frying pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat and crumble in the sausage meat (discard casings). Stir sausage until it breaks up and starts to brown, then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until sausage is browned and onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, 1 cup water, and fish sauce (if using), then add the garbanzo beans. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Add the clams and shake pan to coat clams with sauce; increase heat to medium. Cover pan and cook until clams open, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Adapted from Braises & Stews, by Tori Ritchie (Chronicle Books, 2007)

Vegetable Stew with Halibut

Serves 4

Timing is crucial, so be sure to prep all the ingredients ahead of time for this mosaic of diced zucchini, potatoes, and tiny red tomatoes surrounding white fish. Substitute monkfish for the halibut when it's available.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 green onions, sliced
2 medium red potatoes (about 8 ounces total), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1-1/4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Kosher salt
4 skinless halibut filets (about 6 ounces each)
1 cup tiny red cherry tomatoes, such as Sweet 100s, stemmed
1 medium zucchini (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 cob)
1 lemon

In a wide sauté pan or frying pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the green onions and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring to coat with butter and oil, for 1 minute. Pour in 1 cup of the broth then add the thyme and a pinch of salt. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Stir the cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and corn into pan, then cover again and continue to cook while you prepare the fish: In a wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt remaining butter in remaining oil. When foam subsides, add fish and cook until it is lightly golden on bottom and releases easily from skillet with tongs, about 3 minutes. Turn fish over and cook until it releases on other side, about 2 minutes (slightly longer if using monkfish). Immediately transfer fish to pan with vegetables, then pour remaining 1/4 cup broth into skillet, stirring to release browned bits. Pour contents of deglazed skillet into pan with vegetables and fish, then cover pan and continue cooking until fish is barely translucent in center and potatoes are done, about 4 minutes for halibut, 6 minutes for monkfish. Squeeze lemon juice into pan, then divide fish among shallow bowls and spoon vegetables and sauce around fish.

Adapted from Braises & Stews, by Tori Ritchie (Chronicle Books, 2007)

Swiss Chard with Cannellini

Serves 6

The Italians often braise their beloved bietola (Swiss chard) with beans for a humble and healthy sauce over pasta. I like the vegetables on their own as a meatless stew over rice or polenta. For best texture, I don't use the chard stems, setting them aside for minestrone or to braise on their own.

1 bunch (about 1 pound) red, white, or rainbow Swiss chard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the stems and center ribs off the chard and reserve for another use. Rinse leaves, shake off excess water, and stack leaves on a cutting board. Thinly slice crosswise. Set aside.

In a wide sauté pan or 5- to 7-quart Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant, then stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until tomatoes break down and sauce thickens a bit, about 10 minutes. Stir in chard by the handful, letting each addition cook down a bit before adding the next. Stir in the beans. Cover pan and simmer until greens are very soft, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from Braises & Stews, by Tori Ritchie (Chronicle Books, 2007)