Mastering the Basics of Braising + 6 Recipes to Try
Turning the clocks back an hour feels like an unofficial start of winter, ever since the pumpkin spice latte decided to start making appearance since approximately August. (Technically I realize this is not true, but it sure feels that way.) Suddenly, the days will whiz by, as we speed our way to 2015, cooking and eating every step of the way, and sitting down to a dinner table with the windows newly darkened by night.
Which means: Turn on the ovens and braise some meat! So, in that spirit, let me give you a quick primer on this fantastic wintertime technique.
Braising is a method of cooking meat slowly in moist heat, usually with part of the meat submerged in an aromatic liquid. Often a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven is used – the meat, vegetables and liquid are put into the Dutch oven, covered and then cooked over gentle, even, low heat for several hours.
Meat is muscle, which means much of it is actually naturally going to be tough. Some of the most-flavorful meat comes from the more developed muscles. Braise that meat and you’ll coax out naturally rich flavors. And tougher meats are usually less expensive, so by spending a little bit of time cooking the meat, you’ll be able to save money while eating very well and filling your house with the heady aromas of stews and tender braised roasts. Braised dishes are fantastic company food for these reasons too.
The joy of braising is that you can mix and match the elements in the flavor profile to suit your tastes, recipe or pantry. You can make everything from a basic beef stew to ribs to tender roasts with a braise, and the basic technique is easy to master:
1. Pat the raw meat (cubes, chunks or small roasts) dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper, and sear it on all sides in a tablespoon or two of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. A nice crusty sear is the secret to a tasty braise.
2. Remove the browned meat and add aromatics to the fat and cook until they start to turn golden brown. A good basic flavor base is a mirepoix: chopped onion, celery and carrot. (If you want a thicker sauce, sprinkle a bit of flour onto the cooked veggies.)
3. Deglaze the pan with some liquid, usually wine and stock, stirring up any bits of flavor stuck on the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the meat back into the pot, layer in vegetables or potatoes, and add more stock to reach about halfway up the meat.
5. Cook on low heat (about 325 degrees F) until the meat is tender, which takes as little as 45 minutes for bone-in chicken to several hours for tougher cuts like pot roast or pork shoulder.
6. Once the meat is done, you can serve straight from the oven, or reduce the liquid on the stovetop into a thicker sauce (or add a finishing touch such as cream or mustard).
It’s that easy. You are now prepared to launch out into the world of tender-winter-meat meal making. To start you off, here are a few of my favorite winter main dishes that rely on braising:
Do you have any favorite dishes that tell you it’s winter?