Braising: Beyond the Basic Pot Roast

CarnitasIf you've used a pressure cooker or slow cooker, or if you've ever made a pot roast, you're already familiar with the technique known as braising, a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat.

Braised Beef Short RibsIn braising, food (often a relatively whole cut of meat) is first seared at a high temperature, usually on a stovetop. (Some believe searing seals the juicy goodness inside, while others claim you can sear proteins after roasting with the same tasty result.) The seared food is then cooked gently in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid until very tender. Vegetables can often be braised in their own juices and no extra liquid is required, but many braised foods require the addition of a bit of cooking liquid, though not so much as to cover the food. This cooking method doesn't add moisture, but gentle moist heat does help break down connective tissues and collagen in tough proteins, turning them to gelatin, which lubricates and makes meat taste moister. The gelatin also enriches and adds body to the cooking liquid which is often used as the base of a sauce or gravy.

Braising of meat is often referred to as pot roasting, which is different than pan roasting. In the case of pan roasting, proteins (think chicken breasts, thick chops and steaks) are browned on the stovetop to achieve a flavorful crust, then transferred uncovered to a moderately hot oven to finish. The dry heat of the oven cooks the protein evenly without allowing it to get too dark. (Read more about pan roasting here.)
 

GOOD QUESTION: What is a Dutch oven?
A Dutch oven is a heavy, thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid, typically made of cast iron or enameled steel. It usually holds between 3-6 quarts and is suitable for use both on the stovetop and in the oven. If you don’t have a Dutch oven you can substitute another oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting lid. Interesting to note, there is no practical difference in a Dutch oven or the increasingly common French oven.

Cooking Class: Gravy

Braises naturally produce a wonderful liquid that is great served with the meats and vegetables that produce it (such as the two recipes we’ve shared here) and, in the case of meat braises, can also be used as the basis for a wonderfully rich and flavorful gravy. Here are some tips to bear in mind when attempting a simple gravy:

    • Skim most of the fat from the braising liquid. A fat separator (a modified measuring glass with a spout protruding from below the surface of the liquid) is the easiest way to do this, but you can also just try skimming it with a spoon. Reserve the fat.
    • Strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any solids; set it aside.
    • Use reserved fat (or supplement with olive oil or butter) to make a roux: Heat 2 tbsp. fat in a pan; whisk in 2 tbsp. flour. Cook and stir 1 minute or so until the floury taste cooks off.

(The advantage of cooking the flour in the rendered fat is that you get a chance to cook off the floury taste, but you can also try adding a slurry to the cooking liquid: whisk ¼ cup cold water into 2 tbsp. flour; whisk directly into 1 cup of strained braising liquid.)

  • Slowly whisk in 2 cups of the strained braising liquid (you can supplement with prepared stock, wine or even water). Bring liquid to a low boil and cook for a few minutes until thick. Gravy will thicken the longer you cook it; if needed, add liquid to loosen the gravy.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Selection and availability of ingredients vary by market.

Featured Recipes

Carnitas
Braised Beef Short Ribs

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