get your braise on

After I wrote the last post on braised short ribs, I had a request for more information about what exactly braising is. For those of you who are already familiar with this cooking technique, maybe you can take something from these tips and pointers. And for those of you who don't, you're about to learn! Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it: Braising (from the French “braiser”) is a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat; typically the food is first seared at a high temperature and then finished in a covered pot with a variable amount of liquid, resulting in a particular flavor.

Mom's pot roast, Dad's famous corned beef and cabbage, the Osso Buco at your favorite Italian restaurant, pulled pork - all braised meat dishes. A great technique for winter cooking, and also great for home cooks because it's usually all done in one pot.

Braising turns tough cuts of meat into tender, fall-off-the-bone goodness. The braising breaks down the connective tissue in these tougher meats while the liquid (usually broth and/or wine) also steams the meat, making it even more moist. You can also braise vegetables. Think braised leek or braised fennel, which I love. Both start with somewhat of a sear, maybe closer to a sauté, but it's the same general idea. The dry heat builds the flavor, and the moisture does the rest.

// tips for braising meat //
  1. Use the right pan. A Dutch oven works best, but if you don't have one, use the heaviest pot you have and make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. A heavy pot will distribute heat more evenly, and the lid will keep the moisture inside the pot.
  2. Be sure to get a good sear. We're talking a thick crust on all sides of the meat. First, season the meat very well and get it as close to room temperature as you can. Then, you want a little bit of fat in a very hot pan. Because you're working with high heat, you want to use an oil with a high smoke-point, like grapeseed oil or vegetable oil. (EVOO or butter will burn when the pan is too hot.) The meat will tell you when it's ready to be turned. If it's stuck to the pan, it's not ready yet - it will release when its crust has developed. Also, don't crowd the pan - this will cause the meat to steam rather than sear. Work in batches if you need to.
  3. Get the braising liquid right. Be sure to taste your braising liquid for flavor before you put it in the oven. You don't want it too salty in case the liquid concentrates, but you need to make sure the salt level is adequate because this liquid is what's going to sink in and flavor your meat. Also, the liquid should come up about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the sides of the meat.
  4. Low and slow is the way to the finish line. 300 degrees F is a good average temperature for braising meats, though you will find recipes that suggest a higher temperature. If you've got some extra time, back the heat down to 300 and increase the cook time (I wouldn't worry about being precise here - give it a poke every 30 minutes extra you add and see where you're at.) You don't want the liquid to boil - this will toughen the meat.
  5. Lose the fat. You need to remove the meat from the pot and allow the remaining contents to cool for a bit so that the fat comes to the surface. You'll see it - a clear liquid that pools on the top; simply spoon it out. And if you're wondering how to dispose of the fat (it's not good for the drain), I have a good tip I just learned! You can flush it down the toilet.
  6. Perfect your sauce. You may opt to leave your sauce chunky or strain it if you prefer. If it's too thin for your liking, you can strain it and reduce it by boiling it until you reach the desired consistency.
  7. Make-ahead if you can and finish with freshness. Braised meats only get better with time, so if you can make a day or two in advance, all the better. I also like add a hit of brightness just before serving with some sort of citrus or fresh herbs. If you want vegetables in your braise, know that they're going to have disintegrated into nothing if you add them at the beginning - so if that's not what you want, you can cook them separately and add them at the end.

If you have any questions about braising or another cooking technique, holler below!