Should I brown the beef for my mussaman curry?
I'm following Thompson's recipe for mussaman curry in Thai Food, with a few alterations, including substituting beef shank for chicken. For some of the curry recipes he recommends cold-start blanching the meat to remove the strong meaty flavor. I'm wondering if I should brown the meat before braising in coconut milk or if I should cold-water blanch it before, which would have almost the opposite effect of browning? Or should I do neither and just braise as is? I'm just afraid if I brown it, the strong meaty flavor may throw the already highly flavored dish out of balance, but also it may enhance the flavor so I'm not sure what to . Thanks for any any advice.
Since it's beef shank and you'll have to cook it at least a couple of hours, I'd brown it well first on all sides. Otherwise, I think it will be stringy and grey.
Thai coconut-based curries don't usually use cuts like that so I think you'll have to make some other modifications, too. For example, I don't think you should braise it in coconut milk the whole time. The coconut milk will tend to separate and burn. Better to add it at the end (that will tone down the meatiness, too). If you want the meat to be permeated with a coconutty flavor, you can add some diluted coconut milk from the beginning (maybe a third of what the recipe calls for) and add the rest at the end. The coconut milk added at the start will still separate, but there won't be enough to be noticeable and it will still flavor the meat nicely because of the long cooking time.
If you're using a recipe that has lime juice, I'd add some or all of that at the end, too, but tamarind can take quite a bit of cooking and can go in at the start.
Stringiness has nothing to do with browning the meat first. The natural structure of the meat is mostly what contributes to the final texture though high cooking temp can dry and toughen.
Agreed about not trying to cook the shank in the curry for the whole time, you would end up with more of a dry curry than the typical Thai curry. I would think that the Indian method of seasoning and giving it a stint in the Pressure Cooker first would work great.
Maybe stringy wasn't the right word to use... I know there's a big difference in long-cooked meat's texture when it's browned it first, though. It does seem to retain its moisture and shape better. Being Indian myself, I've come relatively late to this whole browning meat first business, and am still always amazed at the difference it makes. What is that difference exactly, Chefj?
I was going to recommend a pressure cooker, too, but I've noticed many non-Indian people don't care for the texture that comes from pressure cooking meat. I think it gets too soft or something. It's sort of like the aversion many people have these days to fully cooked vegetables.
Anyway, Vonshu, good luck and I hope you'll let us know how the shanks turn out.