Cooking Techniques Explained: Braising

Braising is a slow, wet-heat cooking method that can be used to add flavor and tenderize extremely tough cuts of meat.

The cooking technique known as braising is an extremely useful technique for cooking large cuts of meat for long times while still keeping them moist. At the same time, it is also useful for extremely tough cuts of meat in that the long cooking times needed for braising can tenderize lean, chewy cuts. Although it is generally considered a wet-heat cooking method, it actually incorporates both dry and wet cooking methods.

In a typical braise, a large cut of meat (the size of a roast) or vegetables are usually first browned in some form of hot fat. This is done in a very large, deep pot that will be used to create the entire dish. The outside of the meat is seared in the fat first as a way to seal in its own juices and also to produce browned bits of meat both in the pot and on the meat itself. When the meat is braised, the browned parts on the meat will add to the flavor of the broth, and more importantly, the browned bits on the bottom of the pan will contribute heavily to the flavor of the sauce and the vegetables.

The meat is only seared until there is a crust on the outside; the inside if the meat should still be raw unless it is an extremely thin cut of meat. It is best to do it this way, as the meat will finish out the rest of its cooking during the stewing portion of braising. After the seared meat is removed, a mirepoix is added. A mirepoix is a traditional mixture of carrots, onions, and celery, all diced, that is sautéed in some sort of fat, and is used frequently in sauces, soups, and stews, and also in braises. This is a classic combination of vegetables comparable to the trinity of Creole cuisine, which is composed of green peppers, onions, and celery.

At this point, you should have a piece of meat that is seared on the outside but raw on the side, and a pot that has a mixture of drippings from the meat, vegetables, and the fat originally added. Next, the meat is added back to the pan, and then liquid is added. This liquid is usually some sort of stock (chicken, beef, etc), but can also be wine, water, or any mixture thereof. The important point is that the meat is not completely covered, but there should be enough to come a third to a half of the way up the meat. If the meat were to be covered completely the dish would then become a stew. The lid to the pot should then be placed on tightly so that the meat can cook slowly in the liquid for a long time, usually a few hours. This entire process is usually done with tougher meats because of the way it can add flavor and tenderize meats that would otherwise be difficult to eat. The final cooking, the long-term phase in the liquid, is usually done on the stove, but can also be done in the oven. At that point the dish simply needs long, slow heat. After cooking is done, the meat is usually taken out and the resulting broth used as a sort of sauce.

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