Now that the weather is cooling off, I'm in the mood for slowly simmered stews. After a summer of grilling outside, it's nice to stay indoors and hunker down with a meal that bubbles for hours and makes the house smell warm and inviting. Add in some bacon and wine and the dish becomes even more alluring. Sunny days that meander into cool crisp nights are a perfect time to slow cook meals.
Braising is also the most economical way to serve meats. Unlike grilling, where the most tender cuts of meat do best, stews and braises need cheaper cuts of meat to really shine. After starting the cooking process by quickly searing your beef, pork or poultry, the meat spends most of its time stewing in a liquid (usually broth, juice or wine) where the tough connective tissues break down and become so tender they fall apart. This is why you can't rush a stew.
Braises can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, usually in a big pot (I think a cast iron one works best, particularly one covered in enamel as the heat distributes evenly). Slow cookers (or crock pots) are also perfect if you have one.
Normally I stew beef, pork or chicken when braising, but last week I was in the mood for something a little different and ended up buying some turkey thighs instead along with pancetta, brown mushrooms and a bottle of red wine. I envisioned something between a coq au vin and beef bourguignon, but with turkey.
I started by simmering the pancetta in some olive oil and onions. After removing these from my pot, I seared the turkey thighs and then simmered them with the pancetta and onions in red wine and chicken broth, along with some of the early girl tomatoes I roasted and froze the week before. After an hour and a half in the oven, the turkey meat was literally falling off the bone (I could barely lift the meat out of the pot without it falling off the fork). After separating the meat from the bones, I placed the turkey back into the pot where it continued to simmer on top of the stove while I browned some sliced mushrooms and thyme in butter. Feeling like more gravy was in order, I sprinkled in some corn starch and then added more wine and broth to the mushrooms along with salt and pepper. I then added all this into the turkey stew and simmered for another hour.
The result was an aromatic ragu full of nuanced flavor. I was wishing I had some homemade pasta to go with it. Or any pasta for that matter. But as my Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare, I instead slapped some frozen puff pastry on top and baked for 20 minutes. The puff pastry rose beautifully and added a lovely buttery finish to the dish. If you're not interested in dealing with pastry dough, however, pasta would be a perfect compliment, particularly pappardelle.
With puff pastry or pasta, I really love how the ragu turned out. The turkey was incredibly tender, while the gravy was rich and complex. Served with a green salad, it was the perfect way to end a fall evening with friends.
Wine Braised Turkey Ragu with Puff Pastry
Serves: 4 - 6
2 large turkey thighs skinned and seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or thick-cut bacon
1 large onion chopped
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups roasted tomatoes or 2 Tbsp tomato paste or 1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup sliced brown mushrooms
1 tsp corn starch
2 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (store bought or homemade if you're an overachiever)
1. Heat your pan or pot on medium high. If you are using your oven to make this dish, make sure to use a large ovenproof pot. If using a slow cooker, you can use a regular large frying pan.
2. Sauté your chopped pancetta or bacon in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add in the onions after a couple of minutes and cook for about five minutes on medium heat or until the onions are glossy.
3. Remove onions and pancetta/bacon from the pan, turn heat up to high, and add the second tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. When the oil is nice and hot, sear the turkey thighs on both sides, letting each side cook for at least 3-4 minutes so you get a crispy exterior.
4. If using tomato paste, then remove the turkey thighs from the pan now so you can brown the paste for a couple of minutes. If using roasted or canned tomatoes, don't add them yet.
5. Add the onions and pancetta/bacon back to the pan with the turkey thighs and then add in 1 1/2 cups of both red wine and chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan so you pick up all the caramelized goodness down there. If using roasted or canned tomatoes, add these now and stir in. Season with salt, pepper, and half of your fresh or dried thyme.
6. You now have three choices:
- If using a slow cooker, you should now transfer everything to your crock pot and cook according to your slow cooker's directions.
- If baking (which is what I do), then stick your ovenproof pot with its lid on top into a 400 degree oven to bake for an hour and a half.
- If cooking on top of the stove, reduce heat to between low and simmer, cover the pot and cook for an hour and a half.
7. After the stew cooks, remove the meat from the turkey bones, set the bones aside to throw out, and return all the meat to the pot to simmer.
8. In a separate medium-sized pan, heat your butter and then sauté the sliced mushrooms with the remainder of the thyme along with some salt and pepper.
9. After sautéing for a few minutes, mix in the corn starch and then add the remaining 1/2 cup each of wine and chicken stock. Mix to create a rich gravy and then add all this to the turkey mixture.
10. Season with more salt and pepper and then simmer for hour.
11. 20 minutes before you're ready to serve the dish, pour everything into an oven-proof dish and top with puff pastry. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until the pastry is browned.
12. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.