Braising 101: 6 Steps to Tenderness with Multiple Flavor Options
What is Braising?
Braising is a combination-cooking method that uses both moist and dry heats.
Typically, when braising meat, the raw product is first pan seared at a medium high temperature, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in a certain variable amount of liquid – preferably two-thirds of the way up the sides of the product being braised.The meat then simmers for an extended amount of time until tender or falling off the bone, either in a oven or on top of the stove.
Think of your mother’s pot roast, lamb shanks, short ribs, pork shoulder…tender, moist, full of flavor meat that melts in your mouth.
Similar to braising, but a little different is stewing…
In stewing, pieces of meat are cut uniformly and seared at lower heat, then submerged in liquid and simmered until tender.
Think gumbo, bouillabaisse, and goulash.
Both methods lend themselves to sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying a glass of wine or beer while the heat does the work. Take in the aromas filling up your entire house and embrace the cozy comfort and soft love feeling all wrapped into one.
6 Steps to Braising Like a Pro:
It’s what you do before the braise goes into the oven that counts. There are ways to refine the finished product, but as long as you bird dog these crucial first steps then everything else is just gravy.
Step #1: Sear the Meat.
Season the raw meat on all sides then heat a heavy lidded pot, like a Dutch oven, to medium-high heat. Once the pot is hot add your seasoned meat.
Don’t crowd the pot and give the meat enough time to achieve a deep color all over. Once seared on all sides, remove meat and set aside.
Step #2: Sauté the Mirepoix.
What is mirepoix? Typically a mirepoix, pronounced meer-pwah, is two parts onion, one part carrots, and one part celery, medium to small dice, cooked over medium-low heat in butter or other fat. Mirepoix often serve as the flavor base in stocks, soups, stews, and sauces.
Sauté chopped onions (50%), celery (25%), and carrots (25%), or bell pepper, in the drippings left from searing your meat. Stir frequently over medium-high heat until the mirepoix is a caramely brown color, while being careful not to scorch your ingredients.
Step #3: Deglaze the Pot.
Add wine, beer, or cognac to the hot pot stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom with a wooden turner or rubber spatula. These bits are flavor bombs called “fond”, meaning “base” in French.
I advise reducing the liquid by half to remove any harsh alcohol taste, then add a small amount of appropriately flavored stock to enrich the dish by building flavors.
Step #4: Add Thickening Agent and Stock.
After deglazing, you would add a thickening agent like flour to make a roux which will develop that wonderful braising sauce. Then add some of the stock and stir.
Step #5: Braise On!
Return the meat to the pot with any accumulated juices and the stock about ⅔ of the way up the sides of the meat. The meat should not be submerged–you’re braising, not boiling. Adding too much broth will ultimately dilute the sauce and you’ll miss out on flavor.
Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover and slide into a 325° F oven, or finish on top of stove over low heat. This could take an additional 1 to 3 hours, depending on the size/quantity of product you are braising.
Step #6: Remove Any Fat and Pass the Sauce.
When the meat is fork-tender, remove it along with any vegetables you may have added and keep warm.
Remove the fat in the remaining liquid by skimming the surface with a spoon. Then pass the sauce through a fine strainer, or chinois.
Return meat (and vegetables, if using) to the pot to heat through.
Now it’s finally time to taste and let your eyeballs roll back into your head in pure tender meaty ecstasy. You may just love it too much…
Make Your Braising Liquid Count:
Most braises are done with stock and/or wine, but a splash of this or that brings balance, complexity, and depth to the final product.
- Broth, or stock, underscores the meatiness of the main ingredient. Match the broth with the protein when you can, but chicken broth is universal.
- Beer, especially lighter lagers, contribute a pleasantly sour note that is tailor-made for pork. Darker stouts and porters play well with beef, as do certain Belgian ales.
- Cider–fresh or fermented–adds sweetness to braised poultry and pork and tastes great in tandem with cider vinegar.
- Water is often overlooked as a braising liquid, but works when you want to keep things light or if there are other strong flavors at play. It’s always a better choice than poor-quality broth.
- Wine adds nuance and a jolt of acidity to any dish. Use it in combination with broth and, regardless red or white, choose something dry. Cook with a bottle you’d actually drink (and pour yourself a glass!).
Embellishing Your Braise:
If you want to embellish, or add more flavor to your braise include one of these ingredients in your braising liquid.
- Citrus Zest: A couple wide strips of orange, lemon, or lime zest and a squeeze of juice adds a subtle citrus perfume.
- Mushroom: Wild or cultivated mushrooms (either fresh or dried) give any dish a deep, woodsy flavor.
- Anchovy: Minced anchovies provide an umami blast–savory, briny, and complex without tasting fishy.
- Ginger: A fine julienne of fresh ginger (or galangal, if you can find it) adds a note of sweet heat and fresh spice.
- Lemongrass: This lemony stalk (related to citronella) provides a bright citrus hit with a distinct floral aspect.
More Options for Extra Braising Pizazz:
A proper braise needs nothing extra, but sometimes we can’t resist adding a final flourish to brighten, boost, or add texture to the dish. Here are a few ideas to get you started…
- A handful of just-chopped herbs–parsley, mint, cilantro, etc.–adds color and freshness.
- A splash of vinegar balances richness.
- A pinch of sea salt (I like Maldone) gives any dish a saline crunch.
- A dollop of creme fraiche or heavy cream will mellow.
- Spice blends, such as shichimi togarashi or za’atar, lend a savory punch.
Chef Gerrie’s Notes:
If your recipe includes vegetables — such as fennel, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, squash or greens — add them to the pot 30 minutes before the meat is done. Check the liquid; if it’s low (say, less than an inch), add a splash more stock and return the pot to the oven.
Sit back and dream of that wonderful sexy sauce cozying up to that delicious roast, lamb shanks, or whatever type of meat you’ve chosen to braise. I’ll drink to that and I hope you do too!
There’s so much room for personalization in braising, let me know how you make it special in the comments section below and on my Facebook page, Chef Gerrie. Looking forward to swapping recipes!