Braising is a cooking technique that can transform a mundane piece of meat into a dish that will satisfy the most discriminating palate. It is similar to stewing in that it uses relatively low temperatures while simmering. However, braising uses less liquid resulting in a rich concentrated sauce. It also uses large pieces of meat. More important, the meat is first seared. This essential step ensures the meat will retain its juices, keeping it succulent and moist.
The braising process begins with searing the marinated meat in fat under high temperature until it is glistening brown. Caramelization through browning further adds layers and depth to the flavors in the dish. It is then bathed in a richly seasoned broth or sauce, soaking and simmering in the essence of the herbs and spices for a few hours. The traditional braising liquids can be water, beer, broth, and wine but experiment with other ingredients. In other cultures, soy sauce, fruit juices, chili sauces, coconut milk and other nut milk are used. As it simmers gently and leisurely, the meat will become fork tender and any vegetables or grains added will incorporate the complex flavors of the meat juices and aromatics.
Braising is a great technique for one pot meals. It makes inexpensive and tougher cuts of meat into an extraordinary meal fit for a celebration. How about trying braised short ribs in red wine, braised oxtails with golden root vegetables, curry chicken in coconut milk, or lamb shanks with walnuts and pomegranate? How utterly delicious it is when it is taken out of the pot and served over rice, pasta or alongside mashed potatoes with its luscious thickened gravy. With a little bread, the sauce will disappear from the plate. With the aid of a slow cooker/crock-pot, you don’t have to be around to keep an eye on it. It will do the simmering for you without any fuss. If you are crunched for time, you can braise chicken or seafood with shorter braising time. There is nothing like the aroma and ease in creating these dishes especially during cold, rainy days. Did I mention how the leftovers are even better tasting the next day? Be sure to make extra for several meals!
Falling Off the Bone by Jean Andersen
Braise: A Journey through International Cuisine by Daniel Boulud
Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Ciao Italia Slow and Easy by Mary Ann Esposito
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens