How to Braise Everything

June 18, 2012 19 Comments

How to Braise

The Art of Braising – a Simple Cooking Technique with Huge Outcomes

What Is Braising?

Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a crock pot, pressure cooker or Dutch oven. LeCrueset makes a range of enameled pots and pans that are good for either the stove or the oven. They work well too.

Whether you choose to use the oven or the top of the stove, you will be pleased with the results. Braising is often used as a way to cook less expensive, tough cuts of meat. The end result is tender and flavorful. Other than great taste and economy, there are other reasons to cook this way.

After searing the meat, the remainder of the cooking time (until sauce/gravy preparation) does not require much attention. Once the heat is reduced, you can go about cooking other things, do some chores or take a break. This is also a plus when entertaining: you have more time for your guests.

Yet another plus of cooking with this method is that the meat tastes great and you also get delicious broth, sauce or gravy. It’s one pot cooking at it’s finest. There isn’t much to cleaning up and anything leftover can be reheated or frozen and reheated for later.

This method of cooking is great for tough cuts of meat but also works well with chicken, fish and/or vegetables. You can braise in a crock pot, pressure cooker, large saute pan or the most often used cooking vessel for braises, a Dutch oven.

Some popular dishes you may have heard of that use a braising technique are osso buco, pot roast, braised veal & lamb shanks and braised cabbage. You can braise just about any meat, fish or vegetable you want and be as creative as you like with seasoning, but there are some ingredients that are better for braising and some you want to cook using other techniques like grilling or roasting.

9 Simple Steps to Great Braised Meat

There are 9 basic steps to braising meat:

  1. Season the main ingredient with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a few tablespoons of oil and/or butter in a heavy pan or Dutch oven.
  3. Saute meat or vegetables in the pan on medium-high heat until the meat browns.
  4. Deglace the pan by pouring broth, beef stock, wine or juice and scrape any pieces of meat that are stuck to the pan and stir.
  5. Add cooking liquid (water, stock, wine, juice or some combination) to the half-way point of the main ingredient.
  6. Cover and place the meat on the middle of a rack in an oven that has been pre-heated to 300° – 350° Fahrenheit.
  7. Cook until completely tender. This can range from 1 hour to 6 hours, depending on what you are cooking.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and strain the meat and vegetables out of the liquid.
  9. Remove the excess fat floating in the liquid, and then reduce the sauce to desired thickness by cooking it down over low heat until it thickens. Or, make gravy by adding a mix of equal parts fat and flour (a roux).

The Science of Braising?

If you’re curious about how cooking in this fashion makes tough, leathery meat tender, it’s done by cooking the meat slow, moist and covered over low heat for a lengthy time. This process breaks down the tough connective tissue in meat to collagen. Through time, the moisture and heat build and the collagen dissolves into gelatin. Heat also contracts and coils the muscle fibers.

Over time, these fibers expel moisture and the meat becomes dry. Given even more time, these fibers relax and absorb the melted fat and melted gelatin. As for the vegetables, braising breaks down the cellulose in them and stretches the starches. The long and short of this is that everything becomes very tender.

Without getting to specific, the meat that we eat is muscle and made up of muscle fibers and connective tissue. The muscle fibers are the long thin strands we can actually see and think of as meat. The connective tissue is the thin, translucent film that you sometimes ask the butcher to remove and helps hold the bundles of muscle fiber together. Connective tissue is made up of mostly collagen, a very strong protein that breaks down if enough heat is applied to it.

So braising meat is about breaking down tough connective tissue and changing it into collagen by applying moist heat for a period of time depending on what you are cooking. With more time and heat, the collagen breaks down and dissolves into gelatin. It takes a temperature of about 140 degrees F. to break down the collagen into gelatin.

What happening to the muscle fiber while this connective tissue is breaking down (collagen is melting)? The fibers start to contract, coil and expel moisture. In effect, the heat is drying out the meat like squeezing a sponge. As the process continues and the meat breaks down, you end up with very tender but very dry meat.

The good news is at some point, the muscle fibers have had enough and they begin to relax. When this happens, they begin to absorb back some of the moisture which just happens to be the melted fat and gelatin giving the meat a wonderful texture and flavor. And don’t forget you have all this wonderful liquid made up of melted fat, gelatin and whatever cooking liquid you started with.

And this is why braised meat tastes so incredible when cooked properly.

What Ingredients Are Best For Braising?

Meat

When it comes to meats, you want to stick with the tougher, less tender cuts that come from an animals more exercised muscles. These cuts tend to have more connective tissue that breaks down making the meat tender and flavorful. A lean cut from the loin area is a waste to braise. The meat is already tender and has little fat or connective tissue.

Some good cuts of meat for braising include:

  • Top Blade Roast
  • Chuck Eye Roast
  • Seven Bone Roast
  • Ribs
  • Brisket
  • Shanks
  • Short Ribs

Chicken

The best cuts of chicken, in my opinion, are the legs and thighs although lots of people like to raise a whole chicken. You also want to be sure to use chicken on the bone with skin so you get all the fat and connective tissue. There’s really no reason to braise boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You are better off sauteing or grill them.

Fish

Although you can braise just about any fish you like, I think large, firm fish are the way to go. Shark, swordfish are worthy of a braise but tender filets like tilapia or even cod will just fall apart on you. If you do braise a more tender cut like flounder, be sure to shorten the braising time.

Fruits & Vegetables

Again you want to stay with the hardier varieties. Squash, sweet potatoes, leeks, parsnips, carrots, beets, cabbage and onions are great braised alone or along with meat and chicken. In the fall and winter, I like to braise meat with firm pears and apples but in the summer, I might braise chicken with pineapple.

Braised Vegetables – the science is the same expect the moist heat breaks down the vegetable’s cellulose and expands its starches. The fibers soften giving the vegetables an incredible texture and flavor depending on the cooking liquid you are using.

When braising meats with vegetables, you may want to keep in mind that the vegetables will cook much quicker than the meat. You might want to wait until the last hour or two of cooking to add them so that they aren’t over cooked.

Last modified on Fri 4 April 2014 11:46 am

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  1. I love dark meat chicken on the bone but my husband doesn’t like the way it turns out when I roast it so I’m looking for a new way to cook it. thanks for sharing.

  2. Dave says:

    Thank you. I will be experimenting with braising for the first time. Dave

  3. Beverly Overa says:

    Thank you for the concise description of braising.As a cognitively impaired person, this article was perfect to reconnect me with a method of cooking that is easy, enjoyable & winter-perfect with the heat from the stove top and wonderful aromas warming the kitchen. Also, as a retiree it’s important to stretch the budget, and tough cuts that come out tender are perfect for the first meal and the secondary meals,like soup or goulash,that braising provides. Thanks!

  4. Linda Brady says:

    This was such a great post! I just re-blogged it on my own cooking site; couldn’t have explained it any better myself! Thank you for such a detailed explanation of the technique.

  5. Bernard R. J. Staines says:

    After 7+ years disabled, a serious stroke, I have had to live on ‘prepared meals’ from my local supermarket (thankfully ‘Waitrose’) As I approach full recovery I’m looking forward to the pleasure of being able to cook for myself again. I learnt to cook, largely from Elizabeth David’s glorious books – ‘French Provincial Cooling’ and ‘Medittaranean Cooking’ – in my early 30’s, (1960’s) – but I’ve lost it all. I need to start over.

    I love ‘French Cuisinne’ and also wish to be as organic as possible.

    Sincerely, Bernard Staines

  6. Jim Stout says:

    This was a really cool technique. It is a good form of heating food in Calgary. It looks delicious, that’s for sure.

  7. Nada says:

    Brilliant post! Thank you!

  8. Leoma says:

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm within
    the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such
    as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. Always
    follow your heart.

  9. susan says:

    i love braising! been really easy for me to prepare innumerable dishes. helps a lot especially at this time that i am having chemotherapy.

  10. Monica says:

    Hi there! I came across your post after I made braised meat the other night that turned out tough! So, here is my question…a lot of braising recipes will tell you to cook the meat a certain length of time based on pounds. Would it be more accurate to say just cook it till it is tender? For example, if I would have cooked this meat longer the other night, would it have eventually gotten tender or I just did it wrong? The recipe said to cook it an hour per pound…it was a one pound piece, so I cooked it for an hour and called it a day.
    Ps…I can’t recall what the meat was but it was some sort of cheap steak that said “great for braising” on the package
    :-)

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Hi Monica, if I’m cooking a tough cut of meat that needs braising, I like to say, Cook it to fork tender. I’m guessing the person who said cook it for an hour a pound thought you were cooking a much larger piece of meat. Not knowing what cut of “cheap steak” you purchased, it’s hard to say how long I would cook it but it’s hard to image it would only take 1 hour. I think you have it right. “Cook it till it is tender”.

  11. Paul says:

    Hello! I love braising pot roasts and chicken. I have always done it on the stove in a dutch oven over very low heat (after initial browning). Generally it is at a very low simmer (<200F) (bubbles very slowly). Why is the oven set to 350F? Won't the liquid boil at that temp instead of simmer?

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Great question Paul and to be honest I use 350°F because that’s how I learned to braise but never really knew why so I did a little research. What I learned is air is a poor conductor of heat so putting a covered pot into the oven even at 300°F-350°F won’t achieve a rolling boil. If you braise meats on top of the stove, you are using direct heat, a much more effective heating method and would keep the braise at a simmer by regulating the temperature.

  12. Mark says:

    I have had mixed success with braising and have not figured out why. I cooked a whole shin of beef for over 10 hours (recipe said four…) and it became more tender (in parts) but absolutely not the melting fork-soft effect that I expected. Many recipes state that the meat does not need to be completely immersed in the cooking liquid (for example Raymond Blanc shin of beef) – does it work better if the meat is fully submerged?

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Mark, when you fully submerge the meat, you are essentially stewing the meat and not braising it.

  13. Lampy says:

    Thanks for the through overview behind the science of braising. It is informative and interesting.

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