Braised Celery (Food Memories of 2011, No. 5 )

One of the most unexpected dishes that I fell in love with this year is French-style braised celery. Celery may not seem like a contender for braising, but I assure you that it works. Mild but exquisite with layered flavors from the celery itself, to white wine, lardons, scallions, chicken stock, and butter, it's a perfect early spring dish.

I made braised celery at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, where I took a five-week course. We made the celery in Class 3: Braising, alongside lentils, lamb shanks in red wine, and steamed mussels (which aren't braised, but are of course cooked using "wet heat" which was the overall point of the lesson).

The gist of the recipe is blanch and shock an entire head of celery, trimmed but still intact, in boiling water with a bit of lardons or other bacon-like substance; fish out the bacon bits and add them to a roasting pan with white wine, butter, and aromatics (i.e., herbs); cover and braise in a moderately hot oven; remove the pan's cover and cook a little more to reduce the sauce if needed; be French and add more butter if you like; garnish with scallions and parsley.

You do need a knife to eat this side dish. It's not as mushy as the photo might make it seem.