Everything I Know About Braising

Mar 8, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Braising is a very versatile and important cooking skill to have. It allows us to take tougher cuts of meat and cook them to tenderness. It helps us impart good flavours while mellowing out stronger ones. But most importantly, it’s a technique that we all have probably already used.

Using this technique and mastering it are two very different things. Today, I am going to share with you everything I know about braising in hopes that you can master this technique and cook dishes like you never have before. But first…

What is braising?

To quote Wikipedia “Braising is a combination cooking method using both wet and dry heat.” Essentially, braising uses a relatively small amount of liquid in a sealed cooking vessel on a moderately low heat to cook something over a long period of time.

Essentially, it’s a combination of simmering and steaming. The Wikipedia definition specifies “…dry heat” for one simple reason; the item being braised is usually seared in a hot pan first. This is the “dry heat”

Searing

Searing browns the meat deepening the flavour. A proper sear should look like a deep caramel colour. In the picture above, you can see a clear example of this. I have highlighted a part of the picture that best illustrated what I’m talking about below.

It used to be believed that searing actually sealed in juices. This has however been proven false. It really just adds to the flavour, and less importantly to the appearance. Whether it is a large piece of meat like a pot roast or smaller chunks of meat like in a stew, the meat should always be seared prior to being braised.

Liquid

Once the meat is seared some liquid is added. The liquid can be water, stock, wine, beer, or any combination of these or any other liquids. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t want the liquid to cover more than a third of the item being braised. This is more true for larger items, however you don’t need or want too much liquid for smaller items.

Part of the idea is that after the item is braised, the braising liquid is then used as a sauce. If too much liquid is added the sauce will be very watery and you may have to reduce it separately.

Additional Ingredients

Often tomato paste will be added to the braising liquid to add to the flavour and to help thicken the sauce. Other ingredients like root vegetables, herbs both fresh and dried, and spices, will usually be added for flavour as well. If the vegetable are meant to be eaten with the meat they are generally added a third of the way through cooking.

Time

The time it takes to braise really depends on the item being braised. Small pieces of meat will take less time than larger pieces of meat. Generally, two to three hours is a good starting point. I know that seems like a lot of time, but it is passive. You don’t have to do anything but wait.

Temperature

The temperature used for braising is moderately low. If you are braising in the oven, which is suggested because of the more consistent heat, a temperature between 250°f – 325°f is optimal.

It is important that the temperature isn’t too high. A high temperature will cause the liquid to boil rather than simmer. The high heat of boiling will toughen the meat rather than tenderize it.

Cooking Vessel

Often times a dutch oven like the ones pictured below from Amazon.ca are used for braising. They are specifically designed for this purpose. One thing that makes them great for this is that the meat can be seared in them, the liquid added and then the whole pot can go in the oven.

Of course, you can braise in anything that can go in the oven. It is not uncommon to sear meat in a pan, and then remove it to a casserole dish. The pan is then deglazed with wine or stock, the main cooking liquid is added, brought to temperature, and poured over the meat. The casserole dish is then covered with parchment and foil and put in the oven.

Start to finish

Get a dutch oven or other pan hot over moderate heat. Add a bit of oil. While the pan is heating up season 2-3 lb beef roast or 1-2 lbs cubed beef with salt and pepper. Put the meat in the pan and let sear to a deep caramel brown colour, then flip to sear the reverse side. Sear the meat on all sides.

If you are using small cubes of meat like for a stew, sear them in batches as not to lower the temperature of the pot too quickly.

Once the meat is seared, remove it from the pan, turn the heat down slightly and add two tablespoons of tomato paste, 1 sliced onion, and 2 cloves roughly chopped garlic. Stir the tomato paste, onion, and garlic cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of red or white wine and cook scraping the bottom of the pot, until the wine has all but evaporated.

Add the meat back into the pot and pour over enough stock to cover the meat by one third. Bring the stock up to a simmer. Add a small bunch of thyme tied in a bundle along with 1-2 bay leave and season with salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pot and put it in a 300°f oven for 3 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Remove the lid and poke the meat with a fork. If the meat is tender it is finished cooking. If it still feels firm adjust the liquid level if needed, put the lid back on the pot and put the whole thing back in the oven for another 30-60 minutes.

Conclusion

Braising is one of my all time favourite cooking methods. This is especially true in the winter. There are few things better on a cold winters day than a nice, deeply flavoured braise.

As I said in the intro, whether you know it or not, you have like braised something before. If you have ever made a pot roast, or a stew, you have braised.

It is not an overly complicated process, just keep an eye one the heat and the amount of liquid and everything should be fine.

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