Going through my mom’s vast collection of hand-written recipes, I came across one for what she called Scrumptious Swiss Steak (it was). I remember my mom’s Swiss Steak very well, and how the braising meat and other ingredients created a wonderful and comforting aroma throughout the house.
I don’t know why Swiss Steak is called Swiss Steak. I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with Switzerland. A Google search suggested there is a kitchen technique known as Swissing in which you pound a chunk of tough beef before braising in an effort to tenderize it. Who knew? This doesn’t make much sense to me, since the slow cooking of meat in itself creates tender cuts regardless of what you might do to it first. I’m certain Mom didn’t do anything like that for her Swiss Steak.
One of the ingredients Mom listed in this recipe is chili sauce. This is a condiment she made and jarred just about every year. It was a sweet sauce which I enjoyed from time to time, but I can’t recall what we did with the many jars of the stuff Mom would can. One of the great things about braises is that you can put whatever you want in the cooking liquid to create any flavour character you feel like.
I like braises. I still find the wonderful aroma intoxicating, and it makes the most of even the toughest cuts of meat. There was a time those tough cuts were inexpensive but that doesn’t seem to hold true in today’s supermarkets. Cuts like short ribs or flank steak, for instance, can be as expensive as the more tender cuts.
Today I don’t think of braises in terms of particular recipes. There are lots of ways to go. I like to make braises in a Dutch oven. I don’t use a slow cooker. The reason is that with a Dutch oven I can brown the meat in the same pot I braise it in and I think that’s an important step in building up flavours. The other thing I think about is how I’m going to finish the braise and make the cooking liquid into an amazing sauce. Often I’ll skim any fat from the surface and reduce the liquid by something like half, which usually takes about 20 minutes simmering the sauce with no lid.
Some of these recipes my mom collected – and this is one of them – are like paper time machines. They transport me back to the bungalow I grew up in and my mom’s tasty family cooking.