Open my pantry right now and you'll see cans of tomatoes (I buy Muir Glen) stacked up at least two high and three deep. I stockpile them in the winter like squirrels hoard nuts, because they're the foundation of some of my all-time-favorite braises (think: pork ragu, chicken cacciatore, and saucy short ribs). Tomatoey braises are my ideal comfort food when it's cold outside: They can simmer away while I focus on other projects around the house, or better yet, just cozy up with my kids on the sofa reading a book or watching a movie. (I'm resolving to do a lot more of the latter this year — chores can wait!)
Tomatoes are perfectly suited for braising because they hold up to long cooking times, transform into luxuriously rich sauces, and can be tailored to complement an endless array of other flavors. Plus, their acidity lends a welcome brightness to balance out even the fattiest meats and boldest spices.
During the winter, I usually have at least four kinds of canned tomatoes on hand: whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato puree or sauce, and tomato paste.
Whole tomatoes break down beautifully in long-simmered dishes, and they're also the most versatile since you can chop, crush, or puree them yourself. Diced tomatoes, which are usually packed in calcium chloride to maintain their shape, are my go-to when I want a chunkier texture and distinct tomato pieces in my finished dish (like chilis and stews, for example). When I'm after a smooth, thick sauce and don't feel like hauling out my blender, I reach for tomato purée. And I use tomato paste, a concentrated form of tomato puree, when I want to add deep, umami-packed tomato flavor to my braises.
While braising may bring to mind a big pot burbling away all day on the stove, there are plenty of quicker options, too. Braising time is generally determined by the protein or ingredient anchoring the dish, ranging from just 30 minutes for seafood and vegetables to three hours or more for tougher cuts of meat like short ribs, pork shoulder, and lamb shanks. And don't forget about braising under pressure! I'm not referring to stress levels, of course, but also to pressure and multi-cookers like the Instant Pot, which can cut down cooking time by more than two-thirds.
No matter which way you decide to use this versatile pantry staple, all of these recipes have one thing in common: They practically make themselves, filling your home with intoxicating aromas while you tackle that to-do list or Netflix queue. I'd say there's no better way to embrace 2019.
11. Beef bourguignon
This story was originally published on Food52.com: 14 cozy, tomatoey braises to warm your stove now through March.