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Stop the Treadmill; It's Time to Braise

March 26, 1997|MARIE SIMMONS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Simmons is the author of the "Fresh & Fast" cookbook (Chapters Publishing, 1996)

"Braising" is the general term used to describe the technique of slowly simmering a food (meat, fish, vegetables, even fruit) in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan. Sometimes the food is first browned in butter, oil or a hot pan.

The word comes from the French word for a bed of live coals and refers to the ancient practice of placing a tightly closed pan in the hot ashes of a fire to let its contents cook overnight.

We can achieve the same results on top of the stove or in the oven in a lot less time, but the principle is the same. The moist slow heat gently cooks the food and coaxes out the flavors while the comforting, enticing aromas waft through the kitchen.

I think we probably use the technique of braising a lot more than we use the word. Stews and pot roasts are braised dishes. So is this simple recipe for chicken with prosciutto and peas in white wine.

I like to braise foods for many reasons. First, it's practical. The technique is perfect for preparing such one-pot meals as stews. And braised dishes can be made ahead and reheated; they taste even better after the flavors have had a day or two to slowly meld and develop. I also like the idea that while dinner is slowly cooking, or reheating, I can tidy up the kitchen, walk the dog or read the mail.

And there's an added lifestyle component to braising: Taking things more slowly than usual. Even I tire of the challenge of making dinner in 30 minutes. When this happens, I know it is time to reach for my favorite heavy skillet or pan, turn the oven or burner to low and succumb to the pleasures and rituals of slow cooking.

CHICKEN BRAISED WITH PROSCIUTTO, GREEN PEAS AND WHITE WINE

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 chicken breast halves, including bones (about 10 ounces each), excess fat and skin trimmed

1/4 cup cut up (1/4-inch pieces) prosciutto or other cured ham (fat trimmed)

2/3 cup dry white wine

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt

2 cups frozen, partly thawed, green peas

Heat olive oil in large heavy skillet with tight-fitting lid. Add chicken, skin side down, and sprinkle with prosciutto. Cook over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.

Add wine and boil over high heat 1 minute. Turn chicken to coat with wine. Add generous grinding of black pepper and sprinkle lightly with salt. (Note: Prosciutto or ham will add salty flavor.)

Cover and cook over low heat until chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes depending on size of breasts.

Add peas and stir to coat with pan juices. Cover and cook until peas are done, about 3 minutes. Serve chicken and pan juices with mashed potatoes.

4 servings. Each serving:

418 calories; 376 mg sodium; 114 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 41 grams protein; 1.51 grams fiber.

ROUGH MASHED POTATOES WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

3 to 4 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 or more cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes, garlic and bay leaf in saucepan and cover with water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and discard all but about 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Remove bay leaf.

Add olive oil to taste and roughly mash potatoes and garlic with spoon or hand-held potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4 servings. Each serving:

128 calories; 79 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.39 gram fiber.

STRAWBERRIES WITH HONEY AND LIME JUICE

2 pints strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste

Combine strawberries, lime juice and honey in serving bowl and stir gently just until blended. Cover and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.

4 servings. Each serving:

65 calories; 2 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.85 gram fiber.

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