What is braising?
Before you learn how to braise, let’s figure out what it is. Braising is a slow-cooking method that many home cooks turn to in the fall. It involves searing meat and/or vegetables until they are brown and then cooking slowly over low heat, usually in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. The result is a spoon-tender meal full of rich flavor.
How to Braise Meat & Other Foods
Use the right cut and the highest quality meat
Tougher cuts of meat make for the best braises. Cuts like brisket and lamb shanks have lots of collagen and fat that will break down during cooking process, giving you a hearty broth. Traditional cuts for braising are typically pretty inexpensive and easy to find. Look for cuts from the shoulder, lower leg, and neck.
Choose a flavorful braising liquid
The liquid you choose for your braise depends on what flavor profile you want in your final dish. Usually it will involve some kind of broth or stock, but you can add wine, beer, juice, or condiments like soy sauce and vinegar for more flavor.
Start with a sear
It’s important to not skip this step of the cooking process. Browning meat and vegetables on all sides before braising is crucial for developing rich flavor.
Enhance with aromatics
Incorporating aromatic ingredients will add even more flavor and depth to your braise. Try including things like mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), garlic, and fresh herbs.
Take it low and slow
This is a cooking process that can’t be rushed. The gentle heat and long cooking time are key to breaking down collagen and fat, and creating extra tender meat.
Pick the best cookware for the job
A Dutch oven or heavy bottomed, oven-safe pot with a tight fitting lid is crucial for a braise. The thick bottom helps achieve a deep initial sear. For the low and slow portion, a Dutch oven will conduct heat evenly while the lid traps in the steam, keeping the moisture inside the pot.
Refining the braising liquid
For a finished dish that isn’t greasy, you might want to occasionally skim the fat off the top of your braise with a large spoon. You can also choose to reduce the braising liquid into a thicker sauce. To do this just remove the meat when it is done cooking. Strain the braising liquid, return it to the pot, and reduce over medium heat until thick.
Braising on the stove vs. braising in the oven
After searing, add the braising liquid and bring it to a boil. From there, you can either transfer the covered pot into the oven, or turn down the heat on the stove to let it gently simmer. There’s no right answer here. If you have a finicky stove top, it may be easier to control the temperature in the oven. The oven provides even heat from all sides, whereas the stove will only heat from the bottom. The stove also requires a stir every once in a while to make sure the food isn’t sticking. No matter which method you choose, it’s still a pretty hands off cooking process, so go with your preference.
Want to try it out? Get started with this recipe for Braised Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Peppers & Onion over Creamy Polenta.