Tips & Tricks
The Amateur Chef’s Guide To Braising
Just bask in the magnificence of braising and lose yourself in the tantalizing flavors that take you on a journey beyond this world!
Cooking is such a versatile domain that every day, you get to discover something new. For instance, how many of you have heard of braising?
Well, if you haven’t, you will learn all about it in this piece. From what braising is, the history, application, and science behind it and all the way to the best dishes you can cook with the technique, we are here to take your taste buds on an epic adventure that will open the horizons of deep sensational flavors that you won’t be able to quit.
Let’s get going…
What is Braising?
Simply put, it is the technique of moistening the meat or, in some cases, moistening only the surface of the meat that has been roasted. This includes poultry, meat, or other kinds of food. The baking is done with some kind of stock, pan drippings, butter, broth, or some sauce that you have cooked yourself. But adding moisture is not the only good thing about braising… in fact, it is the best technique out there to add tons of flavor to your dish.
The word is derived from the French word braise, where food browned at high temperature is simmered in a pot that is full of one of the aforementioned liquids. It is definitely not a stew as it involves a small quantity of liquid in comparison, but for larger pieces of meat.
A Brief History
While we are on the subject, we might as well learn a little. Not only is the word of French origin, but the technique has French origins as well. The technique became popular in the 19th century, and around the turn of the 20th century, it made its way to the USA. Just like wildfire, it spread and became increasingly popular. It is for pieces of meat that were not suitable for roasting or grilling.
The Kitchen Encyclopedia, 12th edition, published in 1901, describes braising as:
“Braising is a method much used in France and is a cross between boiling and baking. It is done in a covered pan in the oven. The meat is first browned in a little hot fat and then placed in a pan, which is partly filled with stock or water. The pan is covered closely and set in a hot oven. After ten minutes, the temperature of the oven is reduced to a very low point, and the meat cooks slowly as the stock in the pan evaporates. This method is the best for inferior pieces that require long, slow cooking. It is an excellent method of cooking veal. Meat which is lacking in flavor can be flavored by adding vegetables or herbs to the stock in the pan.”
Braising works by using a combination of dry and moist heat to cook food. The initial browning of the meat helps to seal in the juices and flavor, while the simmering in liquid helps to tenderize the meat and cook it evenly. The liquid also helps to flavor the meat and make it more succulent.
If you recall from our article about the Maillard reaction, browning occurs when amino acids and reducing sugars react in the presence of heat. It is important because it creates a layer of flavor and helps to seal in the juices. The simmering in liquid helps to tenderize the meat by breaking down the collagen and connective tissues. Collagen is a protein that gives meat its structure. When collagen is heated, it breaks down into gelatin, which is a more tender substance. The gelatin also helps to keep the meat moist. The type of liquid used for braising can also affect the flavor of the dish.
The Braising Trinity: Meat, Liquid, and Aromatics
Ah, the holy trinity of flavor. Let’s see how each of these plays its part in making braising such a marvelous and noteworthy technique.
The meat is the main ingredient in a braised dish. It should be a tough cut that is well-marbled with fat. This will help to keep the meat moist and flavorful during the braising process. Some good cuts of meat for braising include:
- Short ribs
- Pork shoulder
- Lamb shanks
- Oxtails, and
- Chuck roast
The liquid is used to cook the meat and add flavor. It can be broth, wine, beer, or any other flavorful liquid. The broth is a good all-purpose liquid, as it is flavorful and adds moisture to the meat. Wine can also be used, and it will add a deep flavor to the braised dish. Beer can also be used, and it will add a malty flavor. Other liquids that can be used for braising include:
- Tomato juice
- Coconut milk
- Sauce made with a combination of ingredients
The aromatics are herbs and spices that are added to the braising liquid to add flavor and aroma. Common aromatics include:
- Herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.
Seasonings such as salt, pepper, and other spices can also be added to the braising liquid.
Step-by-Step Guide to Braising
Now, let’s get down to business, shall we? We will only be discussing a conventional method, but feel free to add variations to your liking.
- Start by seasoning the meat with salt and pepper.
- Next, heat a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil or butter.
- Then, brown the meat on all sides.
- Now remove the roasted meat from the pot and set aside.
- Now, we will add the aromatics to the pot and cook until softened.
- Afterward, add the liquid of choice to the pot and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer the concoction for 2-3 hours or until the meat is tender.
- Remove the meat from the pot and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Skim any fat from the surface of the braising liquid.
- Serve the meat with the braising liquid.
Popular Braised Meat Recipes
Recommendation #1: Short Ribs
This is a classic braised meat dish that is made with beef short ribs. The short ribs are braised in a red wine sauce and served with mashed potatoes, noodles, or a side of your choice.
Recommendation #2: Pork Shoulder
This is another popular braised meat dish that is made with pork shoulder. The pork shoulder is braised in a tomato sauce and is usually served with rice or cornbread. But you do you and eat it however you fancy.
Recommendation #3: Lamb shanks
This is a flavorful braised meat dish that is made with lamb shanks. The lamb shanks are braised in a lamb broth and served with couscous or roasted vegetables.
Recommendation #4: Oxtails
This is a hearty braised meat dish made with oxtail, a classical favorite and one of the best braised dishes out there. I would recommend eating it as it is to fully enjoy the explosive flavors it has to offer.