Braising is a form of moist-heat cooking that breaks down connective tissues in tough cuts of meat, leaving them tender and succulent.
How to Braise
- Choose the right cut of meat. The best cuts of meat for braising are heavily exercised cuts, such as those from the shoulder, leg, or rump of the animal, as well as ones that contain a lot of connective tissue, like the chuck, shank, brisket, and oxtail.
- Preheat your oven to 300 F.
- Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This will help you get a nice brown crust on the meat in the next step. Trim off any excess fat.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof braising pan or Dutch oven over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the meat. Brown the meat for a minute or two on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside
- Lower the heat to medium and add aromatic vegetables like chopped onions, leeks, carrots, and celery. You could also add a few cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed. Sauté for a few minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.
- Deglaze the pan with a flavorful liquid, such as stock, broth, or wine. Scrape off any roasted bits (called fond) from the bottom of the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer. This liquid will add flavor to the braise. The long, slow, moist heat of braising is the best way to soften tough cuts of meat.
- Return the meat to the pot along with some sort of acidic ingredient like diced tomatoes. The acid helps break down the tough connective tissues in the meat. If you used wine in the previous step, that will work. But tomatoes are always a nice ingredient to add to a braise.
- Check the level of the braising liquid. The liquid should just barely cover the meat. You can now add other flavorings and seasonings, like whole peppercorns or bay leaves.
- Bring the braising liquid back to a simmer, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and transfer it to the 300 F oven.
- Braise for 1 to 5 hours, depending on the size of the meat. Figure about an hour per pound.
- Remove the pan from the oven. To make a sauce or gravy from the braising liquid, first, make a roux, then whisk some of the strained braising liquid into the roux until it thickens. Cook on low heat for a few minutes, then season.
- Depending on the size or the cut of meat, you might want to heat the oven to 275 F or even 250 F.
- If you are braising shanks, you can make a few vertical (parallel to the bone) cuts in the outer membrane so that the meat will not twist out of shape while it braises. Some chefs remove the membrane altogether, but it a lot of work and usually not worth it. A lengthy braise will pretty much dissolve the membrane.
- Oven braising is best because the meat is cooked with indirect heat. But if you do not have an oven-safe pot, you can braise on the stovetop over low heat. You will have to check it periodically to make sure the liquid is simmering and not boiling.
- To cool and store braised meat, it is best to leave the meat in the braising liquid so that it does not dry out.