By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
For my son Ben’s last birthday, I told him I was sending him a rondeau. “What do I need that for,” he replied. Just go with it and use it. The cooking pot arrived at his house and Rachel, his wife, used it right away. Then he used it. Both of them are excellent and adventurous cooks. Their comment to me: “How did we ever live without a rondeau?!” I also bought one for my sister, Nancy, for hosting us in their home. She, too, said “This is my favorite pan.”
If someone said to me, you can only have two pieces of kitchen equipment, one would be my knife and the other my rondeau. When I owned Bonnie’s Kitchen in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the most sought-after pot in our arsenal was the rondeau. My chef Joan and I picked up a very large used one at a restaurant supply store. We saw it from afar. It was love at first sight. We would make humungous batches of meaty lasagna sauce, Italian veal stew, macaroni and cheese for the masses, and many other dishes.
A rondeau is a wonderful pot, also called a braiser. It is commonly used in professional kitchens because of its versatility. The pot is characterized by a large flat, heavy bottom, about 3-inch straight sides and two side handles. It usually has a lid. Most are made of stainless steel. A 12-inch rondeau has a 6-quart capacity. When making stews, pasta sauces, braised chicken pieces, frying fish, this is a great size.
I own two rondeaux: a 12-inch and a 14-inch that holds 8 quarts. I rarely use my 12-inch skillet anymore, because a side benefit of the rondeau’s high sides is that it cuts down on the amount of splatter on the stove top, a real bonus for cleanup. Many cooks use their large Dutch ovens for braising, and there is nothing wrong with that. What I like better about a rondeau, though, is the bottom is larger, making it possible to brown more meat at one time. Also, the sides are shorter, so it is easier to stir the ingredients around the pan. Lastly, because of its large surface, evaporation happens more easily. Your braising pot is a personal choice and luckily, there are many designs to choose from.
I have seen this pot called a brasier or brazier more often than a rondeau. Braising is a classic cooking method rooted in French culinary history. According to Merriam-Webster, the English verb “braise” means ‘to cook slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a closed pot.” English acquired the word from the similar French verb braiser.
The technique began in the 18th century when both dry and wet heat were used for a single preparation, usually a large piece of meat. The meat is seared in a little bit of fat to give it color and seal in the juices. Then a small amount of liquid is added to the pot, usually with some roasting vegetables. The liquid often has an acid component, such as wine, vinegar, or tomatoes plus some stock. A classic pot roast is a good example of braising.
The recipe that I’m offering this week is a delicious fall stew, made in my rondeau. The meat is seared in oil in the beginning, then wine is added as the acid and stock. You can continue to cook this on the stove top or put in a 350° oven until the vegetables are tender. Feel free to substitute different meats or vegetables, though keep in mind that if you make this with beef or lamb stew, you will need to cook the meat with the vegetables the whole time. These are tougher cuts and will take about 1 1/2 hours to get tender. Also, try to stick with root vegetables to preserve the integrity of the dish. I serve this on wide flat noodles or offer a crusty peasant loaf of bread.
Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques, particularly because it imparts such depth of flavor. You can apply it to any ethnic style and you only dirty one pot!
Go buy a rondeau or haul out your Dutch oven, but just get braising!
What’s your beautifully braised dinner at your house? Please share it with our readers at The Insider!
Braised Hunter’s Chicken Stew
Yield: 10-12 servings
1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
@ 4 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1” pieces
2 lg. onions, cut into eighths
1 red pepper, cut into 1” pieces
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
12 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, minced
3 Tbs. flour
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. peeled butternut squash 1/2” cubes
1 lg. russet potato, peeled, 1/2” cubes
5 plum tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 c. whole almonds
2 c. chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
Soak the dried mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot water for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid. Remove stems and discard. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Reserve.
In a 6-quart rondeau or a large Dutch oven, heat some oil over moderately high heat. Sauté half of the chicken for 5-7 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through, seasoning with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Transfer chicken to a bowl. Add more oil to the pan and finish cooking the remaining thighs. Add to the bowl.
Add some more oil to the skillet, turn down to moderate heat, and sauté the onions, red pepper, garlic, jalapeño, and fresh mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are almost tender. Blend in the flour. Pour on the wine. Deglaze the pan.
Add the squash, potatoes, tomatoes, almonds, reserved dried mushrooms and their liquid. Pour on the stock along with the bay leaves, thyme, cloves, and nutmeg. Cover. Continue to cook on the stove top, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes. Or put in the oven at 350° for 25 minutes. Add the chicken and continue cooking or baking until the squash and potatoes are tender but still retain their shape, about 10 minutes more.
Stir in the parsley. Adjust the seasoning.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.