Braising truly is an essential skill that all professional chefs use for a variety of dishes. It adds an unparalleled depth and dimension to the flavor and its simplicity will make you wonder why you never tried it before.
Braising is a cooking method that typically starts with searing and finishes with slow cooking in order to bring out the maximum flavor of the dish. Virtually any cut of meat can be used and the braising process will tenderize even the toughest cuts. A minimum amount of liquid is generally used in order to concentrate the flavor and a tight lid is needed as well. Pressure cooking and crock pots are other methods of braising but don't provide the same amount of control over the recipe.
The Pot - Technically you can use any number of pots for braising, but they all need to share some basic characteristics: 1) A thick bottom to avoid scorching your recipe, 2) sufficient size to keep your food from being overcrowded and 3) a tight fitting lid for the crucial cooking/braising phase. We recommend our commercial grade line of Extra Heavy Weight Aluminum Braziers . With their tight cover and 1/4" thick 3003 Aluminum Construction, these pots are available in 8 different sizes and are specifically made for the job.
The Meat - The centerpiece of most braising recipes, the meat starts off by being seared on all sides in a small amount of oil at medium-high heat. While searing the meat is commonly thought to seal the flavor inside, it actually caramelizes the surface of the meat which adds a depth of flavor otherwise lacking in most recipes. An added benefit is searing provides a beautiful color and enhances the presentation of your dish.
The Mirepoix - A standard mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery but mushrooms, peppers, etc. are welcome in the pool as well. After you remove your meat, your vegetables are sauteed in the drippings from your meat at medium-high heat. What you're trying to achieve is a caramelization of the vegetables without scorching them. This process helps build the layers of your recipe that will give the dish a more complex and savory flavor.
The Deglaze - After you have removed the vegetables and the meat, use any leftover braising liquid to loosen up those browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Broth, a bit of wine or even water can be added at this point to help balance out your dish but make no mistake, you want every one of those extra browned bits incorporated into the recipe.
The Braise - Different recipes call out specific amounts of liquid for the braising process, but the rule of thumb to remember: less is better. Too much liquid can dilute the intensity of your sauce. That's why braising is different from boiling. When you return your meat to the pot along with the liquids, you should avoid submerging it. Don't worry about losing your liquid during the cooking process at the tight lid will help keep your liquids reducing and intensifying at a leisurely pace.
Simply put, braising is one of the simplest yet most underused cooking methods by the home chef. If you're looking for fork tender meat, complex and vibrant flavors, simple recipes and economical ingredients, then you can't go wrong with braising.
Get started here for some great braising recipes at Culinary Arts/About Food.
And check out Ladle & Blade for all of your kitchen tool needs.
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