How to Braise
Braising is an easy way to slowly cook meat, fruits and vegetables using moist heat to break down the tissues of the food, resulting in a tender, succulent meal. The ingredients must first be seared, then placed in a tightly covered pot with a small amount of liquid and cooked for a long period of time in a skillet, slow cooker or Dutch oven. Braising is very economical since inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat are used to create an incredibly savoury, tender meal.
A good braise requires a proper braising pot to accommodate the ingredients snugly. It should be heavy on the bottom and sides to help conduct heat at an even rate as well as retain heat so the food can simmer. A tight-fitting lid helps retain heat and moisture to tenderize the food. The best braising dishes to use are made of cast iron, enamel coated cast iron or heavy-gauge stainless steel, such as a Dutch oven. A slow cooker can also be used.
Menu options are endless, but none as popular as the classic beef pot roast. Other ideas include veal osso bucco, made with braised veal shanks, garnished with gremolata (chopped herbs, lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil) and served over risotto or mashed potatoes; braised chicken served moist and tender in its delicious broth; braised short ribs served fall-off-the-bone with polenta; and braised lamb shanks simmered with fragrant herbs, garlic, tomatoes, and red wine.
How to Braise Meats
Braising allows you to save money by using inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat such as top blade roast, chuck eye roast, ribs, brisket, shanks and short ribs. Chicken thighs or an entire chicken can be braised, but pieces must have the bone in and skin on for the most flavour retention from the fat. For fish, choose larger more firmer-fleshed fish like shark or swordfish, as they have a much stronger taste and more dense texture.
How to Braise Vegetables
Similar to meats, hardier, more firm fruits and vegetables work best for braising. Choose squash, sweet potatoes, leeks, parsnips, carrots, beets, cabbage and onions as a companion to beef and chicken. Firm pears and apples with meat are an ideal fall dish, and braised pineapple with chicken would make an excellent summer meal.
Braising vs. Stewing
The main difference between these two methods is the amount of liquid used: braising requires less liquid while a stew consists of liquid as the main base of the final dish. A braised dish could involve various larger cuts of meat compared to a stew, which uses cut up portions of protein.
Choosing A Braising Liquid
Choosing your braising liquid is important because the flavours need to mingle properly for the final flavour profile. Stock and wine are the best options, but you can also try beer, cider or vinegar. Stock lends a rich, hearty flavour while wine provides acidity for full-bodied flavour. The liquid is “finished’ during its reducing stage, which concentrates and intensifies the flavours.
- Heat oil in the skillet or Dutch oven, then season meat/vegetables with salt and pepper. Sauté ingredients on medium-high heat until browned
- Add broth, beef stock, wine or juice to the pan and scrape any brown bits from the bottom. Add liquid (water, stock, wine or juice) to cover half of the ingredients
- Cover and place in 350 degree F oven and cook for up to six hours
- Remove excess fat from the pan, reduce over low heat until thickened
- Serve and enjoy
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