The last half dozen times or so we made peposo, we ate it all too quickly for me to get a photo for you and post about it. It’s a winter staple in my household, and I regret not having posted it sooner. Sorry about that! I happened to have my camera out at the right moment today, though, so here you finally go.
We’ve adapted this recipe pretty thoroughly to make a lot of perfect winter stew in one go, a huge batch of amazing winy braised meats drenched in a thick, luscious sauce just begging to be soaked up with crusty bread. The original recipe called for a kilo of 2″ chunks of stewing beef. Here, well, we cook about 10 lbs of mixed cuts of beef and lamb and veal on the bone, good meaty braising cuts to cook low and slow in the wine. The mix of meats drastically improves the flavour, and using shank allows you to stir the marrow back into the sauce in the end, thereby elevating the dish to so much more than a simple winter braise.
The cookbook this recipe was inspired by, Piano, Piano, Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant, claims that Peposo originated in Impruneta, a town famous for its pottery where workers would cook this meal while keeping endless watch over the kilns. I can’t speak to the historical accuracy, but I like to let it simmer while I’m working at the torch and keeping watch over my kiln myself.
This recipe is going to look expensive, I’ll warn you. It calls for 10 lbs of meat and 2-3 bottles of wine. But go for the cheap wine, and keep in mind that this is enough at least a dozen meals, probably more. (Looking into my fridge now, I know we’ve eaten 5 meals of it already, and there’s about 6 C of it left. So that’s maybe closer to 17 portions, total? Something like that. It’s pretty intense, with bread and a nice salad on the side.) We make it in huge batches, and if we get sick of eating it (highly unlikely!), we freeze individual portions for later. But if you’d rather keep it cheap or smaller, feel free to scale it down! It’s very forgiving.
It’s dead simple, ultimately. There are basically five ingredients, and mostly you just let it simmer while you putter about doing whatever else you feel like doing for a few hours. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Read a book. Write that novel. Get some damn work done. Enjoy the smell. Eat the glorious results.
10 lbs mixed red meat on the bone, ideally including: beef shank (sliced like osso bucco), lamb shoulder arm chops, ox tail, veal shank or tail, and if you feel like it, maybe some lamb neck bones or beef short ribs – whatever you can find!)
Safflower or other neutral oil
3 heads garlic
3/8-1/2 C coarsely ground black pepper (no, that’s not a typo)
2-3 bottles red wine (ideally a young Chianti, supposedly, though we’ve used all sorts of inexpensive reds to good result)
Salt to taste
Salt the meat a bit. Don’t go overboard, you can always finish salting the dish later. A light sprinkle on each side will do for now.
Got a big pan (or two at once, is what I do) nice and hot, grease it up a bit with safflower or some other neutral oil, and brown your meat nice and good, tossing each piece into a big bowl once it’s good and dark on all sides. Set out snacks to get you through a few hours of that delicious smell that’s only just starting to fill your home.
For this much meat, I use three pots to cook a batch of peposo – a nice big cazuela (a Spanish clay pot), the bottom of my tagine (a Moroccan clay pot), and a big cast iron pan.
Any heavy-bottomed pot should be fine, though, so don’t worry if you don’t have any clay pots on hand. I’m a bit obsessed with them, but I haven’t really experimented properly to figure out yet whether they actually improve flavor or if they just make me happier by looking nice on the stove. Relax, it’ll all work out in the end.
Lay out your meat in a single layer, tightly packed into the pots or pans you’re using to cook it. (Note: If you use short ribs, I find that they come out better when packed on their side, rather than bone up or bone down.)
Take the garlic heads apart, discarding the outer skin but not peeling the individual cloves. Tuck the garlic cloves in the various crevices between the meats.
Sprinkle the black pepper over everything, then pour in enough wine to mostly (but not completely!) cover the meat. This usually turns out to be the first 2 bottles, for me.
Cover the pots with tin foil (I don’t actually have lids that fit the pots I tend to use for this dish – your mileage may vary, just make sure they’re covered!) and put them on your stove at its lowest possible setting.
Now you just have to be patient. Some cuts start feeling tender and wonderful and done after about 3 hours, while others take closer to 4 or 5. After about two hours, if you got that 3rd bottle of wine, you can check in and pour some more in to make up for whatever may have cooked off. If not, don’t worry, it’ll still be delicious.
Start checking the meat after about 3 hours. Poke every piece with a fork, and take out whichever ones feel done. I like to shred the meat off the bone and connective tissue while the rest of the meat cooks further, then do another check, and so on.
As the meat comes off the bone, make sure to push the marrow out of the bones and into a small bowl you’ve set aside for that purpose. As each pot finishes up, take out the garlic cloves and squish them from their skins into that same little bowl. Discard the garlic skins, emptied bones, and bits of connective tissue or other questionably textured bits (if you’re picky like me). Stir the marrow and garlic together with a fork until it’s a nice squishy tasty mess.
Once everything is out of the remaining braising wine, stir the garlic/marrow into the wine to create the sauce. Turn the heat back on and reduce the sauce until it’s nice and thick – it doesn’t have to be super dense, but you want it thick enough to really coat every bite and stick to it.
That’s it. Stir the meat back into the sauce, and salt to taste. Eat approximately forever, with enough bread to sop up the sauce and something green and vivid and crunchy on the side to contrast with the deep rich ultimate winy meatiness of the peposo.