All About that Braise, ’bout that Braise.
braising: to cook (food) slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a covered pot
Braising can be daunting because of the amount of time that goes into the description– “a 24 hour pork shoulder” “the 105 hour leg of lamb.” But that time is very inactive on behalf of the cook. You are effectively allowing time and temperature to do the work for you and then taking credit with a dramatic title. The basic pot roast recipe is the most quintessential form of a braise, but sky’s the limit in terms of what can be achieved with a good sear, a bit of liquid, a low oven and a lot of hours.
- Marinate your braise-able overnight with spices, salt, herbs and oil for a very deep flavor.
- Heat the oven to anywhere from 200F-300F. I’ve never braised anything at over 350F and not reminded everyone in the room to never let me do that again.
- Remove the braise-able from the marinade and give a good sear in a heavy-bottomed pan.
- Add the aromatics and the braising liquid.
- Return the braise-able to the pan, cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to the oven.
- Allow to cook until the braise-able is tender. For meat, the muscles should yield to a gently prodding fork. For vegetables, taste a bit and decide if you like it.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in its juices over night.
- Remove the braise-able from the dish and taste the liquid. If it tastes bland, bring to a boil and reduce until flavorful.
- Serve with the liquid and any appropriate accompaniments.
Things to Know
- Tough cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue are the best for braising.
- You need a tight fitting lid to braise well. If it doesn’t fit tightly, wrap the top of the dish with tinfoil and then place on the lid. There is little more infuriating than smelling a delicious braise for 24 hours to open it up and find it dry and terrible.
- Don’t braise meat above 300F. It needs to be low and slow to break down the connective tissues, allow the flavors to penetrate and make something more than the sum of its parts.
- Taking the time to marinate the braise-able and let it cool in its juices is not necessary but can be the difference between good and great.
- For more info seek out Molly Steven’s magical book, All About Braising.
Hallmarks of Success
- Food that elicits more compliments than number of ingredients that went into the pot
- Tender and flavorful meals
- A lowered food budget because you were able to transform the lesser appreciated cuts into a delicious dinner
- Tough meat was either not cooked long enough or at too high a temperature
- Dry meat didn’t have enough liquid or a loose lid that allowed the moisture to escape
- 4 lb chuck roast
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and sliced
- 1 C red wine
- 2 C beef stock or water
- 1 lb small potatoes, Yukon gold or red skin, cut into ¼’s
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Season the roast liberally with salt and pepper. Rub with olive oil and place into a sealable bag with the herbs and let marinate overnight. This step can be skipped but adds a good deal of flavor as the salt penetrates the meat bringing the flavor of the herbs with it. If you have the time and the forethought, it is well worth it.
- Find a braising pan in your kitchen. This can be a classic Dutch oven or a stockpot that will be covered with tin foil. The critical components to a braising pan are that it can go from the stove top to the oven, that it has a heavy bottom to achieve an even, scorch free sear, and that it have some sort of a lid even if that means a double layer of tinfoil cinched tightly.
- Heat oven to 300F. Heat a glug of oil in that pan until shimmering. Sear the chuck roast (herbs and all) until it is dark, darker than you might think. The myth is that this sear keeps the juices in the meat. It does no such thing but it does convert the sugars in the meat to a caramel crust. The liquid in which the meat will cook dissolves that caramel adding an inviting complexity to the cooking broth. Unbrowned meat will still taste good but there is little stand in for that deep rich flavor developer.
- Remove the meat from the pan and deglaze with the red wine. Deglazing is adding liquid to a pan to release the browned bits (frond) left in a pan after searing. You can do this with any liquid but by using something acidic gives the final dish a bright note to contrast the richness of a slow-cooked meal. I never braise without that element.
- Allow the wine to reduce by half adding the onions and garlic and letting it sweat in the wine as it reduces.
- Nestle the roast into the onions and garlic. Add the stock and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Returning the liquid to a boil shortens the cooking time in the oven. Putting cold liquid in the pot and relying on the radiant oven heat to bring it to temperature could take a couple of hours. This way you’ll braise for 2-3 hours as opposed to 5. Conversely if you need to take more time, put cold ingredients into the oven. This is an example of how to make the food work for you, not the other way around.
- Transfer the pot to the oven. Allow the meat to cook until ¾ done (about 1 ½ hours) and then add in the carrots and potatoes. This way they will cook through but maintain their structural integrity.
- The meat is cooked and tender. It will have a gentle giggle when probed with a finger showing the collagen giving up its tension. The muscles will pull easily when encouraged by the fork or knife. It is possible to over cook a braise, the meat will be dry and a bit stringy, but the margin for error is wide.
- If you have the time, allow the meat to cool in its cooking juices overnight and then rewarm the whole thing for the next night’s dinner. This is not essential but allows the flavors to mingle and deepen. If you can’t be bothered simply serve it and it will delight nonetheless. Before serving, if the cooking juices are not thickened and taste thin, simply remove the roast and boil the liquid down until it tastes perfect. Taste it as it reduces and keep going until it is knocking your socks off.
- Bask in the radiant glow of your friends praise while tidying up.
Use the same recipe for the Basic Pot Roast but with the following substitutions:
– Use 6 skin-on chicken breasts or thighs in place of the meat
– White wine for the red
– Chicken Stock for the Beef Stock
– Sear only the skin side of the chicken
– Add the carrots and potatoes at the beginning
– Do not cover this braise! Not covering allows the excess liquid to evaporate more quickly as it cooks and ensures that the chicken skin stays crispy.
– Cooking time will be about 30-45 minutes instead of several hours
Seeing veal shanks at the nice grocery store was the inspiration for this recipe. You don’t see veal very often, but there is a new crop of farmers raising veal humanely. The calves have space to move around allowing more blood flow to the muscles and therefore the meat is not the pale hue normally associated with veal. I find this “rose veal” more appealing both in flavor and ethos. Any animal’s shanks will work; the time may vary because of the age of the animal. Use your fork to pull the meat to test doneness as opposed to a timer. And when it is all said and done, use a small spoon to scoop the marrow out of the center of the bone—I usually shmear it on a spare piece of toast.
- 4 veal shanks, 6-8oz each
- ½ C flour (for dredging)
- 1 T tomato paste
- 1 C white wine
- 1 onion, sliced thinly
- 3 carrots, cut small
- 3 stalks celery, cut small
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 C stock
- 4 sprigs thyme
- Heat oven to 300F
- Season shanks liberally with salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, knocking off the excess
- Heat a glug of neutral oil in a large Dutch oven
- Sear the shanks until golden brown on both sides
- Remove from the pan
- Add the tomato paste and white wine to deglaze and scrape up the browned bits
- Reduce the until the wine is syrupy
- Add the vegetables, garlic and thyme and toss to coat
- Nestle the shanks into the veg mixture
- Add the stock and bring to a simmer
- Cover with a lid, transfer to the oven and cook until shanks are fall apart tender
- Meanwhile roughly chop the parsley, add the lemon zest, juice and olive oil and a good pinch of salt
- Serve atop something creamy that can catch the sauce: saffron risotto, mashed potatoes, polenta etc.
- Slather the whole lot with the parsley sauce
Out of season for this time of year, braised green beans are a great way to use up last summer’s stock in the freezer. This is epitomizes the Roman style of cooking vegetables, slow cooked until they are pale green and magically greater than the sum of the parts in the pan. I will often make this without the chicken as part of a vegetable smorgasbord. This recipe also works well with fennel, leeks, peas or endive as stand-ins for the beans.
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small onion, sliced thinly
- 1lb green beans, tipped and tailed
- 8oz cherry tomatoes halved (or substitute 1 can diced tomatoes)
- 3 sprigs oregano, thyme or rosemary
- 2C water or stock
- Heat oven to 350F
- In a large, shallow pan heat a glug of olive oil until shimmering
- Add garlic and onion and fry until lightly browned
- Add the beans, tomatoes and herbs
- Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine
- Add the liquid and bring to a boil
- Cover and place in the oven
- Cook until beans are dark green and beginning to wrinkle (about 40min)
- Remove the lid if there is a lot of liquid bring to a boil to evaporate it down to a flavorful sauce