Warm, Comforting Braises

Think of braises for slow-cooked, tender meat and poultry. And ever so easy!

By FamilyTime


Similar to a stew, a braise is a slow-cooked dish that makes the most of tough cuts of meat and poultry and produces a lovely, rich pan sauce. The braise may or may not contain vegetables – although vegetables can be braised on their own, too (think braised fennel).

And perhaps best of all, once the food is in the pot, you can walk away and let it cook long and slow, as the braise fills the house with enticing aromas!

For a braise, the meat is typically left in a large piece, as in a pot roast, while in a stew the meat is cut into relatively small pieces. Typical braises also include coq au vin and lamb shanks.

Braises are cooked in pots just large enough for the food and with tight-fitting lids. This allows moisture to gather on the inside of the lid and create a moist cooking environment.

Braising Step by Step
The first step for nearly every braise is to brown the meat, poultry, or vegetables in fat. The fat usually is oil, but some recipes call for butter or a mixture of oil and butter. While most modern cooks shun this technique, the fat trimmed from the braising meat can also be added to the pan to intensify the flavor.

Take your time when you brown meat and vegetables, and brown these separately. Browning is crucial to the final goodness of the dish and must not be rushed. For instance, onions caramelize and sweeten as they brown.

When you brown meat, make sure the pan is hot so that the meat or poultry literally sizzles when it hits the fat. This seals in juices and produces an appetizing outer crust.

Once the food is browned, combine the meat and vegetables in the pan and add the liquid. This may be nothing more than water, although for most recipes stock, wine, beer, or the juice from canned tomatoes – or a combination of any -- provide better flavor.

When you add the liquid, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits sticking to the pan’s bottom. This is called “deglazing” and is an important step in many recipes. The browned bits mix with the liquid and the flavors only get better.

Some recipes call for adding flour to the liquid at this point to help thicken the sauce as it cooks. Braising sauces should be thick and glossy, and while the natural collagen in the meat produces these results, a little flour helps it along.

Cooking Times
Braises must be cooked slowly and for a relatively long period of time. This makes them idea for busy home cooks who can't stand over a hot stove for too long.

Because of the slow cooking, the meat has time to break down and tenderize – particularly important for tougher cuts of meat, such as chuck, brisket, rump roast, shoulder, and shanks.

Braises can be cooked in a low oven (about 325°F.), or on top of the stove over medium heat. In either case, the liquid is kept at a gentle simmer.

For a three- to four-pound pot roast, the braise will take two to three hours, for a pound of lamb shanks, allow two to two and a half hours, and for beef short ribs, you will need about two hours.

Typical braised vegetables, such as Belgium endive and fennel, require less time. Allow about 40 minutes for endive halved lengthwise, and 25 minutes for quartered fennel bulbs.

The Braising Vessel
Ideally the pan used for braising should be barely large enough to hold the meat and other ingredients. It must have a tight-fitting lid.

The best braising pans are shallow enough so that the meat touches the inside of the lid. To create as moist an environment as you can, fashion an aluminum foil “lid” over the meat large enough to extend up and over the sides of the pan. This is an inner lid only; you still need a tight-fitting lid for the pan.

There is no mystery to braising and nearly every home cook has attempted the technique – perhaps without knowing it. But if you take care and allow yourself enough time for browning the food and then cooking it in the right-sized pan, you will have greater success than ever.