Consider the slow-cooked leg.
Not just any old leg, but the slow-cooked one.
Too often, the limb is overlooked — dismissed as little more than a tough chunk of the beast or bird that makes for cheap gnawing, maybe a quick dip in the deep fry, but not fit for prime time or company.
Such thoughts would be missing the point; the slow-cooked leg is a whole different story, and a succulent one at that.
The surest way to detect the holy transformation that comes when low, slow oven meets not-yet-tender leg is to go outside on a cold day and come in through the front door. Every hour or so, go outside and slip back in again.
Your nose will be the thing that lets you in on the miracle taking place in the pan. With every passing interlude, the vapors rise and swirl and twirl you in their trance.
“It’s almost magical. You take something cheap, and everyday, and unremarkable, and you turn it into something succulent,” said chef Suzanne Goin, owner of four Los Angeles restaurants, including the rustic Mediterranean kitchen, Lucques. Braising, she added, is nothing less than “a reliable home run.”
It’s one that unfolds in the braising pan, where a seared leg, one that has been dry-rubbed overnight, perhaps, with herbs and spices and garlic and citrus zest, is just peeking out from a bath of stock and wine (or tomato, or some other acidic liquid), at a simmer that barely trembles, the heat’s so low.
But through the hours, and thanks to the alchemy of heat and time and penetrating acid, the tough sinew or muscle of the much-exercised leg is breaking down, converting to gelatin, “and that’s what makes it so tender,” said Jean Anderson, author of “Falling Off the Bone” (Wiley, $29.95), a cookbook that explores the many ways tough can turn to tender after leaving the meat counter.
“In addition to the sinew, you’ve got the marrow,” added Anderson, her voice nearly melting at the mention of that marvel tucked inside the bone. “That’s what gives you luscious flavor.”