Soy-braised chicken thighs. Photo: Andrew Grinton
What’s so good about braising? Maybe it’s the fact that with little effort you can create a rich, flavourful dish. Or maybe, it’s because braising is budget-friendly by demanding inexpensive cuts of meat and you end up with a complete one-pot meal? Then again, maybe it’s the aromas of home-cooking that fill the house … but regardless of the “why,” the important thing to remember is it’s easy, and the results are impressive.
There are a few things that will make or break your braising, so here are some tips to help you get the tender meat you deserve, every time.
Terms such as roasting and baking apply a dry cooking method. Braising, on the other hand, applies to a wet heat. In order to braise, meat or vegetables are often browned or seared in a hot, oven-proof pan. A liquid is then added, and the dish is covered, the cooked over a low, consistent heat for a long period of time.
Braising always calls for cuts of meat that have a higher quantity of fat, or are considered tough cuts. Happily, these cuts are loaded with flavour, and are also the most economical. By applying low and slow heat, collagen—the culprit in tougher cuts of meat—melts away and becomes gelatin.
The side effect of this process is a silky, melt-in-your-mouth dish that’s so tender, you can often break it apart with just a fork. Because braising calls for a liquid, the flavours extracted during the cooking process are absorbed by the liquid. Therefore no flavour is lost—it is actually developing during the cooking time. Enter delicious sauce!
The best thing to do for braising is find a good recipe and stick to it. (For example, the Chatelaine Kitchen’s Oven-Braised Short Ribs with Cinnamon and Molasses.) There are many variations, but here are guiding principles:
Sometimes braising meats will be smaller stewing pieces and sometimes a large roast. The cook times will differ for these different cuts. If dealing with smaller pieces of meat, cut them all to approximately the same size to promote even cooking. The same rule applies to any vegetables you’re adding.
Low temperatures, between 250F and 300F, are best (that said, stick to the temperature indicated in your recipe).
Pan-sear your meat in oil in a large an oven-proof pot over med-high heat until there is a nice deep colour.
Add colour, flavour and nutrition. Tip: Cook until vegetables get a little bit of colour.
The meat needs to simmer. If you leave the pot uncovered, the liquid (and a lot of flavour) evaporates.
Typically they provide a more even cook. The time will depend on the weight of your meat, so follow your recipe guidelines. (However, do cook on the stove-top if indicated in your recipe.)
When braising is finished, skim any excess fat from the top of the braising liquid and enjoy it as a delicious sauce. If the liquid is too thin, remove the meat to a platter and reduce the liquid in an uncovered pot on the stove. You can also adjust seasonings at this time.
Your meat and vegetables should fit the pot. There should be enough room that they aren’t packed on top of each other, but not so much room that the pot looks sparse.
It develops the flavour and adds a bit of colour. Make sure you dry your meat well (patting it with a paper towel works) to get the best colour.
Although stovetop braising is effective, it is an uneven heat as the heat source comes from below the pot. Adding the pot to a preheated oven means that heat will penetrate the pot from all sides and cook very evenly.
Meat that is cooked too quickly will be tough. Also, if a starch such as flour is included in your recipe it is intended to thicken the braising liquid, resulting in a sauce. If the temperature gets too high, your starch will break down and lose its thickening function, resulting in a thin sauce.
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