How to Braise
I’ve noticed over the past decade or so, that the traditional “cheap cuts” of meat have made a strong surge to prominence on many a fine dining menu. While filet mignon and New York strip steaks still hold their positions, I see short ribs and ox tail just as often. These cuts of meats are generally tough, can be fatty, and have never commanded the premium prices and attention of their more upscale brethren. Well, restaurants have changed. They know the techniques that elevate these cheap cuts into absolutely delicious dishes, that can command high prices, with relatively lower food costs…and frankly everybody wins. In this cooking video, and below, I’m going to show you one of the techniques they use – braising. Braising is almost magical, in its ability to transform an unappetizing lump of tough meat into a tender, delicate, flavorful morsel. And it’s a cooking technique you’re going to love knowing. Hope you find it useful.
What is Braising?
- Fundamentally, I think of braising as cooking at a low temperature, for a relatively long period of time, in a relatively moist environment
- Low temperature: Generally, a braise is done right at the simmering point, not furiously boiling away - so just about 200 or so degrees
- Long amount of time: Generally, a braise takes much longer than some other “high heat” cooking techniques like roasting, searing and sautéing. The benefit of long cooking, lies in slowly breaking down the fibrous connective tissues in meat, and imparting the flavors of the braising liquid.
- Moist environment: Generally, a braise will happen in a covered pot, where what you’re braising is mostly submerged in liquid (stock, wine, water, etc). That moisture keeps the food from drying out during the cooking process
- Among other things, I love to braise short ribs, pork shoulder, spare ribs, chicken legs and wings, stew meat, and lamb/beef shanks
- In non-culinary terms, I think of braising as “beating the food into submission”
- Some meat (like ox tail) are inherently tough, because of the connective tissues and fibrous material that run through it. Generally the more a muscle is worked (like tail, or legs) the tougher the meat is going to be
- The key elements of braising I describe above, work together to break down the meat and tenderize it, making it much more palatable
- And because braising takes a long time, and you can use flavored liquids like beer, wine, stock, cider, etc…it gives us a great opportunity to enhance the natural flavor of the meat
How to Braise
- There is obviously a lot of variations in how to braise, but all those variations will fundamentally follow the three themes I describe above
- In the following steps, I describe a braise I used for short ribs; which can easily be modified using other liquids, vegetables, spices, and herbs…that may better match your particular need
- Most of my braises start off by searing the seasoned meat on all sides in a pot with a bit of olive oil
- Make sure to get good, dark, caramelization on all the sides
- Add in a mirepoix, which is pretty standard, but other aromatic vegetables (peppers, fennel, tomato, etc) can easily be added
- Allow the vegetables to cook down until just softened, then add enough wine (I used red) to come about half way up the meat
- Bring the wine to a heavy simmer, and allow it to cook down for about 10 minutes
- Now add some stock (chicken or beef) and any other liquids you’d like, and bring the level just about to the top of the meat
- Add any herbs you’d like – I generally like thyme, bay leaf, fennel seed, oregano, etc
- Don’t forget to season the liquid. Now is the chance to get salt/pepper in the meat…miss this and you’ll regret it
- Bring it up to a very light simmer, and cover with the lid
- You can either keep it on the stove top or put the whole pot in a 220 – 250 degree oven
- Even small pieces of meat (a few inches on each side) will probably take at least a couple hours…large pieces may braise all day; but they require little to no attention during that time
- After a couple hours, check the meat. You’re looking for the point at which the meat becomes fork tender…ie will pull apart pretty easily with just a bit of pressure
- Once tender you’re good to go; the meat is done, and you’re left with a really flavorful liquid that you can strain from the cooked vegetables, and reduce down for a wonderful sauce
Just like the restaurants, knowing this technique will allow you to buy some really cheap cuts of meat, then apply a relatively simple and straight forward technique to make a super tasty meal. Hope you find it useful.