Before beginning, choose a 7-quart heavy, nonreactive (enameled cast-iron or stainless steel) braising pot. cut a round of parchment paper an inch larger in diameter than your pot's lid. Set the pot on a sheet of heavy-duty foil and cut a square large enough to cover the bottom and wrap up and around the sides above the top of the pot. Wrap the foil up and around the sides of the pot, molding it to form a well-defined angle where the bottom meets the sides. Flatten the foil well against the sides. Set aside these foil and parchment lids.
To make the marinade:
Empty the wine into a large nonreactive saucepan, add the shallots, and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced to 1 qt., about 20 minutes. Cool completely.
In a bowl, toss together the onions, carrot, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley stems. Spread half of this mixture on the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish.
Mix the allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in a small dish. Sprinkle the cubes of beef with the spices and then toss with the olive oil. Arrange the meat on top of the aromatics in the baking dish and then cover with the remaining aromatics. Pour the cooled reduced wine over everything, using your fingers to make room between the meat for the wine to enter (don’t toss yet). The wine should just cover the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and punch a few holes in the plastic (so sulfur gas from the onions can escape). Refrigerate and marinate for 3 hours. Toss the contents, cover again with the plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
To prepare the braise:
The next morning, cover the ham hocks with cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil with a dash of salt and simmer until softened, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the marinated meat and aromatics in a colander set over a bowl (reserve the marinade). Remove the beef cubes, dry them thoroughly (I roll them in an old, clean dishtowel, but paper towels are fine), and set aside. Pat dry the aromatic vegetables. When the hocks are soft, drain them and cut or pull off the rinds. Scrape the rinds of all extra fat. Cut the rinds into 1-inch squares; set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Salt the pieces of beef lightly and sear them in batches until browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes, adjusting the heat so the meat doesn’t burn. Transfer to a plate.
In the oil left in the skillet, add the drained aromatic vegetables and the mushroom stems. Sauté on medium high, stirring often, until the vegetables cook down and soften, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a plate. Sop up excess oil in the pan with a wad of paper towels. Add a cup of stock to the skillet and scrape up the caramelized juices. Pour the deglazed juices into the braising pot.
Heat the oven to 325°F. Add the reduced wine marinade to the deglazed skillet (or a saucepan, if the skillet is too small) and bring to a boil, letting the liquid reduce by one-third. Strain the marinade through a fine mesh strainer directly into the braising pot.
Add the reserved pieces of rind to the braising pot, along with the browned meat and vegetables, bouquet garni, garlic, bouillon cubes, and pepper. Pour in enough stock to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Lay the parchment round over the braise so it's touching the liquid, folding the excess up the sides of the pot. Put the inverted foil lid over the parchment, adjusting as needed to fit tightly all around the pot. Fold down the foil so it hugs the pot's outer walls; trim the excess with scissors. Cover with the pot lid and bake until the meat is extremely tender and a metal skewer penetrates a piece of meat and comes out without resistance (a meat thermometer should read at least 165°F), 2 to 2-3/4 hours.
To prepare the garnishes:
While the beef is in the oven, cut the bacon into strips 1/3 inch thick, and then cut across the strips to create 1/3-inch thick slices, called lardoons. (If you put the bacon in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, it will be easier to cut.) Cover the lardoons with cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to remove the smoky flavor and some saltiness. Drain well and pat dry. Heat 2 Tbs. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and brown the lardoons on all sides until they’re golden but not crisp or brittle, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the lardoons to a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the fat in the pan but leave the caramelized juices.
While the lardoons are browning, bring about 1 qt. of water to a boil. Add the onions, simmer for 1 minute, and turn off the heat. Remove a few onions. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut off the root end, slip off the skin, and cut a 1/8-inch-deep cross in the root end to prevent the onions from falling apart during cooking. Repeat with the remaining onions.
Add another 2 Tbs. butter to the pan with the caramelized bacon juices and sauté the onions on medium heat until they’re golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbs. stock or water to the pan, and roll the onions in the forming glaze. Transfer them to the plate with the lardoons.
Without cleaning the pan, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter and sauté the reserved mushroom caps (or quarters) on medium-high heat until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium low, and cook until the mushrooms have given off all their liquid, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium high, uncover the pan, and cook until the liquid concentrates again and the mushrooms turn shiny, about 5 minutes. Transfer them to the plate with the onions and lardoons.
Set aside the skillet, but don’t clean it (if there are black or burned bits in the pan, remove them).
To thicken the sauce and finish the braise:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of meat from the braising pot to a bowl. Strain the sauce that remains through a fine strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids. Let stand until the fat has completely surfaced. Remove the fat using a gravy separator, a basting tube, or a spoon. Wipe the braising pot dry.
Set the reserved garnish-cooking skillet over medium heat. Deglaze the pan by pouring in some of the defatted sauce and scraping up the caramelized juices. Add this deglazing liquid to the defatted sauce.
Return the sauce to the braising pot, passing it through a fine strainer, and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, knead together the butter and flour to a paste, called a beurre manié. Using a whisk, rapidly blend small amounts of the beurre manié into the simmering sauce until it is the consistency you like. You may not need all the beurre manié. Simmer the sauce for about 5 minutes. to cook off the raw flour taste.
Return the meat and garnishes to the pot with the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Shake the pan back and forth on medium low to blend the elements. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, leaving the lid askew so steam can evaporate (trapping the steam would dilute the sauce). Correct the final seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve the braise:
Heat the oven to 275°F. Set the bread triangles on a baking sheet and top them with a cake rack to prevent buckling. Bake until dry, turning once, about 8 minutes.
As close as possible to serving time, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan until it starts shimmering. Fry the bread, a few pieces at a time, until golden, turning once. Drain on a thick layer of paper towels.
Transfer the finished braise (well reheated, if necessary) into a deep country dish or platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and arrange the croutons alternated with parsley leaves all around the dish.
Make Ahead Tips
The braise can be completely prepared up to three days ahead, allowed to cool, and refrigerated. To serve, reheat gently but thoroughly to at least 165°F, and let simmer while preparing the croutons.
nutrition information (per serving):
based on ten servings;
Photo: Ben Fink