Braising is a cooking method usually used for tougher cuts of meat, such as pot roasts, rumps, shanks and ribs, and sometimes for vegetables. The food cooks in liquid, similar to stewing, and the result is meltingly tender.
- Although braising vegetables is similar to braising meat, it takes much less time - 30 minutes or less of cooking.
- Stewing is similar to braising, but in stewing, the liquid typically covers the meat.
- Vegetables that braise well include onions, fennel, carrots and beets, and even fruit such as pineapples and apples. In each case, it's easiest to cut the vegetable in half and brown it on the flat cut side.
- Braising works with tough cuts of meat. That's because collagen, a key connective tissue, converts to gelatin when cooked slowly in water, which softens the surrounding muscle. Collagen is highest in parts the animal uses most often. For example, the shoulder in beef is used in walking and standing, and is quite tough, while the tenderloin is used hardly at all and is very tender. Braising doesn't work well with tender cuts because they have little collagen, and the long cooking times tend to contract and tighten the muscle fibers too much, an effect exactly like wringing out a wet towel. Pot roasts, chuck roasts, ribs and shanks, and poultry legs and thighs are best for braising.
- If you want to use the braising liquid as a sauce, you can leave the pan uncovered so moisture can evaporate, thus concentrating the flavors. Often other ingredients are added to flavor the liquid along the way, such as vegetables or herbs and spices. But make sure the liquid level doesn't get too low, or you'll be baking and not braising, and the result will be totally different. Also, only do this with cuts that take less than 90 minutes or so to cook. Otherwise, just cover the pan.
- Try the braising technique with our Pork Loin Braised with Guava recipe.
- Make sure that whatever cuts of meat or vegetables you're using are roughly the same size so they cook evenly. (See tips above for which cuts work best for braising and why.)
- Heat a heavy frying pan, then add a little oil and heat that, too.
- Season the meat or vegetables on both sides with salt and pepper, or whatever seasonings your specific recipe requires.
- When the pan is nice and hot, add the meat or vegetables and sauté at high heat to quickly brown the outside. This adds color and flavor. Without browning, meat would look gray and lifeless, and vegetables limp, at the end of the cooking time.
- When nicely browned, add enough liquid to the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the meat or vegetables. Liquid used for braising is usually water, stock, wine or a combination.
- At this point you have two options; you can lower the heat and simmer the recipe slowly until everything is tender, or you can place the whole pan (provided it's ovenproof) in the oven and bake it. That's up to you; what's more important is that the meat or vegetables cook slowly in the liquid and that the liquid never evaporates. (See tips below to decide whether to cover the dish.)
- Check for doneness according to what you're cooking. Be aware that braising is a slow-cooking method. Most braised dishes take from 45 minutes (for smaller cuts of meat and poultry) to 6 hours for really tough shanks and ribs.