As the weather turns colder, warm, flavorful meals take center stage. Braising is a liquid cooking technique that makes sturdier cuts of meat like shanks, chuck, brisket and short ribs fall-off-the-bone tender, and leaves behind a rich sauce that’s perfect for pairing with a starchy vegetable and crusty bread.
The Food Channel has seen braising gain ground for a few reasons, not the least of which is a return to comfort food. Another plus, braising can turn more fibrous, muscular cuts of meat from tough to tender while incorporating ethnic flavors like Korean and Italian. And as diners open their palates to more exotic meats like buffalo and goat, braising bridges the familiarity gap.
Smith and Wollensky Executive Chef Matt King says braising is often underutilized among home cooks due to its reputation for being time consuming—but we learned that’s really not the case.
“This is a slow process,” King says. “This is an art form that a lot of people don’t do, because it takes so much time—but it’s unattended time.” King adds that once people realize that the oven does most of the work they’re eager to give it a try—then they’re hooked.
When it comes to braising, think low and slow—cooking meat in liquid at a low temperature for a very long time. To braise at home, King suggests first browning the meat after a generous seasoning with salt and pepper. Once the meat is seared, set it aside. If you plan to braise in a dark stock like beef or veal, King recommends caramelizing vegetables like carrots, onions and celery in the meat drippings. If the main dish will be braised in a lighter stock like chicken, he recommends skipping the caramelizing step.
King then layers the vegetables over the seared meat and deglazes the cooking pan with wine and stock. This liquid is then poured over the meat and vegetables. Fruit, fresh or dried herbs and other aromatics can be added for extra flavor, then the mixture is sealed tightly with foil or enclosed in a heavy-duty Dutch oven and set to cook at a low temperature—about 275 degrees—for several hours. Depending on the cut and size of the meat the cooking time may take from four to twelve hours.
King explains that braising isn’t boiling, and it isn’t quite a simmer—it’s cooking just below a simmer, letting the liquid and juices combine to tenderize the meat’s muscle fiber leaving it fork tender.
King says the trick is to make sure you cook the meat for an adequate amount of time. “The trick with braising, and the biggest mistake people make is taking it out too early. You have to let it go long enough. When you think it’s gone long enough, let it go another hour,” King says, “then you’ll be good.”