Cooking Class: Braising

This slow-cooking method delivers rich taste and tender meats.

Cooking Class: Braising

Use this slow-cooking method to deliver rich taste and tender meats.

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Cooking liquid

Braising is about layering flavors, starting with the caramelized meat and building up to a last touch of perhaps vinegar, honey, or fresh herbs. To further enhance the taste, braise in a broth enriched with other liquid: wine, fortified wine such as dry sherry or vermouth, fruit juices, liqueurs like brandy, or vinegar. Braising in broth alone may result in a finished dish without much depth. But enhanced broth provides a rich base with notes of sweet or sour, herby or floral, which will balance the flavor and texture of the meat and vegetables.

Braising is an application where dried herbs shine. When they are added at the beginning and simmer for the duration, they have plenty of time to soften and release their woodsy, hearty essence; crush them to release more flavor and aroma before adding them to the pot. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, should be added at the end to brighten the taste and offer color.

Most of our recipes also include flavorings such as onions and carrots, which cook with the meat the entire time and enrich both the meat and the broth. For a more refined presentation, these ingredients would be strained out to give way to a smooth sauce. For our homey, more casual recipes, we keep these vegetables. Onions actually melt over time; carrots provide sweet tidbits of color.

Brown the meat on medium to medium-high, but braise on low, just so a few bubbles surface every few seconds. (Boiling will cook the meat too quickly and make it tough.) Once the broth comes to a simmer, cover the pot and turn the heat down. The meat's collagen melts when it reaches a temperature of about 160°. The trick is to bring the temperature up slowly so the sauce thickens as the meat cooks―and then hold the meat at about that temperature for the juiciest results.

Side dish braises
Braising is most often used with meats. But sturdy vegetables―such as sliced or quartered fennel bulbs, halved leeks, chopped kale, and cubed winter squash―can also be braised with flavorful results. You can brown the vegetables first, or skip that step; it's not as crucial as it is for meat braises. The vegetables shouldn't be submerged; rather, some pieces should sit above and some below the liquid line. Give them a gentle stir occasionally so those in the liquid do not become too soft. Most braised vegetables are enhanced by a little acid at the end of cooking. Try a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar. Then transfer the vegetables to a plate, and reduce the broth to a tasty glaze that can be spooned over top.

The bottom line

These are the most important things to remember about braising.

• Brown the meat for more flavor.

• Don't completely submerge the meat in liquid.

• Cover the pan, and simmer over low heat.

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