From my mom,via email, October 2004. I can tell from reading this that I’ve become much more comfortable in the kitchen since then.
Move the meat from the freezer to the refrigerator overnight, but try to start the cooking before it’s completely thawed.
Pat it dry, salt and pepper it, and brown it over medium to medium-high heat. Just leave it on one side for a while until it’s nice and brown, then rotate it. It will take a while to get it nice and brown without having the heat so high that the pan residue burns. If you brown it in the pot you’re going to cook it in, just take it out and put it on a platter that will old some juices and add onions to the pan. I use a lot of onions, usually sliced lengthwise into fairly large slices. Cook these slowly until they soften and start to brown. Stir them from time to time but not too often. Add some garlic for the last few minutes but don’t brown it (I usually put whole cloves in).
A couple of teaspoons or so of good chili powder (like ancho) is good at this point – stir it into the onions, and cook it for a few minutes. Not to make chili, just to give some depth. A tablespoon or two of tomato paste can be good too – cook it into the onions also. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of flour now, and cook it for a few minutes with the onion, ot thicken the sauce – or you can add beurre manie at the end.
Add some wine and let it cook down a little, until the alcohol is cooked off.
A very good addition is dried porcinis: while the meat is drying, rinse a handful off in cool water (in case they’re sandy). Then soak them in hot water to cover them generously. When they’re fairly soft, pull them out. Let the soaking water sit so any sand will settle to the bottom. You might want to swish them quickly in a little more cool water. Since you don’t like the texture, chop them up fine – you won’t know they’re there after three or four hours in the oven.
So anyway, if you use the mushrooms, add the soaking liquid after the wine – just don’t pour in the last half inch.
Put the meat back in the pan, together with juices that are seeping out. The meat should be just barely covered with liquid; as much water as you need. NOW ADD PRUNES – six or eight of the small ones or three or four big ones.
Bring this up just to a boil, put the lid on, and put it in a 300 degree oven. Check it after half an hour; if it’s bubbling rapidly, turn the oven down. Keep checking every half hour or so until you think it’s stabilized at a slow simmer.
After about three hours, check the meat; when it’s done it should be tender but not falling apart. You want lots of sauce because this cut will get tender but is not too moist. I usually don’t try to slice it; I just take a knife and fork and break it up in the pot.
Thicken with beurre manie if needed at this point. Taste the sauce for salt, add a little fresh pepper, maybe a small splash of brandy if it seems to need sweetness, a dab of tomato paste if it needs sharpness. Cook a little more if you add those things.