Tough cuts of meat come from areas on the animal that are used the most. In four-legged animals it's the shoulder, neck, and leg. In chickens it's the thigh and drumstick (though meat chickens are harvested when they're still tender so the whole chicken can be tender). These tough cuts are also the most flavorful because they've been used so much.
Step #1: Prep Vegetables
It's always a good idea to prep any stewing vegetables before you start the cooking process! Onions, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, celery, peppers. It's up to you to decide which vegetables you want to add at the end and which ones you want to be melt-in-your-mouth tender. Leafy greens and herbs like parsley can be prepped later and should always be added closer to the end.
Step #2: Prep the meat and preheat your pan
Turn on your pan and put a high-heat cooking oil in the bottom. If your pan starts smoking it is too hot. I recommend starting over since smoked oil is carcinogenic. Our stove gets very hot, so we brown our meats on a medium temperature.
To prep the meat you can slice it into even-sized chunks for faster cooking, or leave it as a whole roast. Season all exposed sides of the meat with salt and other spices.
Step #2: Brown the meat in oil
Browning is optional (especially in the slow-cooker) but it does add an amazing depth of flavor. If you're in a hurry you can definitely skip this step.
I'll say it again: If your pan starts smoking it is too hot. If you haven't added the meat yet I recommend starting over since smoked oil is carcinogenic. Our stove gets very hot, so we brown our meats on a medium temperature.
Brown the meat for 1-3 minutes on each side, then remove it to a plate.
Step #3: Brown the prepped vegetables
Now brown the vegetables for 3-7 minutes, stirring once in a while, but not too often as that hinders the browning.
Step #4: Deglaze the pan
When the vegetables are softened, deglaze the pan with wine, whiskey, beer, broth or even water if you're desperate! This is my favorite step. There's something so satisfying about loosening all that sticky, gooey, yummy-ness from the bottom of the pot.
Step #5: Combine everything and add liquid and spices
If you started in a frying pan, now is when you transfer your vegetables, meat and deglazed yummy-ness into a pot that's large enough to hold everything (slow-cooker, dutch oven, etc.), or just add the meat back into the pan.
Now add enough liquid to cover about half of the meat. Make sure you include something acidic in your recipe if you didn't use something acidic to deglaze the pan. Tomatoes, lemons, wine, whiskey and beer are all great acidic mediums that help break down the meat, tenderize it, and add flavor. A whole or half lemon goes well with a whole chicken, while a can of tomatoes goes well with beef. The rest of the liquid can be bone broth or water.
At this step you can also add more salt and any other spices your heart desires.
Step #6: Cook at a low heat until it's tender.
You can cook in the oven, on the stove, or in a slow-cooker.
This step can take 1.5 to 10 hours, depending on the temperature you set and the amount of meat you have. Don't overcook it because the meat could dry out. Set a temperature between 180* F and 300* F. In your slow-cooker you can generally plan on 4-6 hours on high and 8-10 hours on low.
The meat is done when you can easily pull it apart with a fork.
Step #7: Celebrate and enjoy the meat of your labor!
As our friend, the Farmstead Meatsmith, loves to say: the point of cookery is eatery! The best way to honor the animal (and ourselves) is to enjoy and give thanks for this final step. Savor each bite and share with friends and family whenever possible!