Braising is a form of moist-heat cooking that breaks down connective tissues in tough cuts of meat, leaving them tender and succulent.
Most braising recipes employ the same basic steps. Once you learn the basics of how to braise meat, you'll be able to make braised beef brisket, short ribs, spare ribs — pretty much any braised meat recipe.
Finally, because tough cuts of meat tend to be cheaper, braising is a cooking technique that can save you money. This easy process takes between one and five hours.
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 braising liquid (strain it first) into the roux until it thickens. Cook on low heat for a few minutes, then season.
- I specified an oven temperature of 300 F, but sometimes I'll go to 275 F or even 250 F if I have a larger piece of meat and want to cook it a bit longer.
- If you're braising shanks, make a few vertical (i.e., parallel to the bone) cuts in the outer membrane so that the meat won't twist out of shape while it braises. Some chefs like to remove the membrane altogether, but it's a lot of work and not really worth it. The long braising will pretty much dissolve that membrane anyway.
- Oven braising is best because the meat is cooked with indirect heat. But if you don't have an oven-safe pot, you can braise on the stovetop over low heat. You'll have to check it periodically to make sure the liquid is simmering, not boiling.
- To cool and store braised meat, it's best to leave the meat in the braising liquid so that it doesn't dry out.