In praise of the braise.
Braising is a slow cooking method where a large cut of beef, pork, lamb, or chicken is first seared briefly at high heat, then partially covered in a flavorful liquid and cooked at low heat. It's a simple and effective way to break down tough protein fibers, resulting in tender and juicy meals.
Here's how to braise so you get the best results every time.
1. Choose the Right Cut
The best cuts of meat are those that get a lot of exercise and have a lot of muscle, like bone-in beef short ribs, round, or brisket; pork shoulder or Boston butt; lamb shoulder or shanks; and dark meat chicken. However, this cooking method can also work well with fish and even vegetables.
Try these recipes:
- Smothered Beef Short Ribs
- Rosemary Braised Lamb Shanks
- Orange and Milk-Braised Pork Carnitas
- Braise-Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Carrots
2. Choose the Right Pot
If you're cooking in the oven or on the stove top, choose a heavy pot, like a Dutch oven, with a tight-fitting lid (and, make sure it's oven safe). An electric slow cooker is your other alternative, and keeps your kitchen cool.
3. Sear for Color and Flavor
Pat the meat dry with paper towels, trim off any excess fat, and season well with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of oil in the pot over medium high heat. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle when you add the entire piece of meat. Let it sizzle in the oil and brown for 5 to 10 minutes, undisturbed, until it forms a deep golden brown crust. Turn it over and brown the other side. If your cut of meat is thick enough, you may be able to brown the sides as well. Though not absolutely necessary, this will add a rich, caramelized flavor to your dish. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside on a plate or platter.
4. Make a Mirepoix
A mirepoix is a fancy name for a simple combination of chopped vegetables such as onions, leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic that gives a ton of flavor to your braise. Add it to the hot pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften. This could take about 10 minutes. Tip: To ensure even cooking, cut all your vegetables to the same small size.
5. Deglaze Away
See all those bits of browned meat and vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pan? That's called "fond" and it's a flavor powerhouse. To make the most of it, "deglaze" the pan by pouring in a bit of wine, beer, vinegar, or stock, scraping up the bits with a wooden spoon.
6. Liquid gold
Return the meat to the pan, nestling it in the cooked vegetables. Add enough liquid to just barely cover the meat. The more flavor in your liquid, the more flavor in the final meal, so try a combination of broth, wine, beer, tomatoes or tomato sauce, or even some apple juice or cider, instead of plain water.
7. Flavor Factors
For even more flavor, throw in a few aromatics, like bay leaves, peppercorns, or any other of your favorite herbs or spices.
8. Low and Slow
Bring the liquid to a low simmer and cover with the lid. Depending on the size and cut of your meat, you'll want to braise it in a 300 to 325 degree F (150 to 160 degrees C) oven, simmer it gently on the stove top, or transfer it to your slow cooker for one to five hours. Check in every once in a while to make sure you have enough liquid in the pot, adding more if necessary. Cook until fork-tender (you can insert a fork without resistance and it releases easily). Be careful not to overcook, which can result in dry and stringy meat. In the last hour of cooking, you can add larger pieces of vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, if you wish.
9. Get Saucy
Carefully remove the meat and vegetables from the liquid and skim the surface of fat. Reduce the sauce by cooking it over low heat until it thickens, or make gravy by adding roux.
Demo: How to Braise
Watch our own Chef John demonstrate how to braise pork shanks to make a less costly version of Osso Buco.
The basic principles of braising meat also apply to vegetables. Follow similar steps as listed above, but no need to sear and cooking will only take a fraction of the time. Adding aromatics (like herbs and garlic) and using a flavorful cooking liquid (like wine or vegetable broth), will make your vegetables tender and flavorful.
Try these recipes: