I used to shy away from braising when I first started my carnivore journey because I thought it required a lot of skill.
Once I got past it, I came to realize that braising meats is one of the best ways to ensure that they are juicy and flavorful. In addition, braising helps to break down the tough connective tissue in the meat, making it incredibly tender.
I have been using this method for years with great success, and I am here to share it with you. Here is what you need to know about how to braise meat.
- Braising is a cooking technique that involves simmering meat slowly in a liquid-filled pot.
- This method is ideal for tough cuts of meat, as the slow cooking process helps to break down the tough connective tissue.
- Braising liquids can include anything from water or broth to wine or beer.
All About Braising
Although no one knows when this cooking technique started, the name arose from a practice in France during the Middle Ages. Cooks of that time would put a heavy pot on live coals and then cover the lid with more hot coals.
By applying heat to all sides of the pot, the food inside cooks evenly and slowly, allowing the flavors to meld together.
The word "braise" is French for "ember," and this technique has developed over time into the modern method of braising that we know today .
Created to make tough cuts of meat more tender, this method has become popular worldwide for creating flavorful dishes out of inexpensive ingredients.
Why Should You Braise Meats?
You should braise meats if you're looking for a way to make your meat more tender and flavorful. This combination cooking method involves browning meat in fat and then simmering it in liquid until it's fall-off-the-bone tender.
Not only does this method infuse the meat with a great flavor, but it also helps to keep it moist and juicy.
The long, low-and-slow cook time allows the fibers and connective tissues in the meat to break down, making it easy to chew and digest.
As a bonus, the braising liquid also adds rich flavor and moisture to the dish, making it even more delicious.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Braising
Although French cuisine has a reputation for being complicated, the process of braising meat is quite simple.
For most braising recipes, all you need is to trim the excess fat off a good quality cut of meat and add a flavorful liquid.
1. Brown the Meat
The key to browning meat is to create a Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs when dry heat reacts with the proteins and sugars in your meat to form new flavor compounds.
When browning meat, it's essential to use high heat to encourage the Maillard reaction. The best way to do this is to sear every surface of the food in a hot pan or Dutch oven on the stovetop.
The large skillet or Dutch oven should have a little oil or butter in the bottom of the pan to prevent the meat from sticking, and you should only turn the meat once to get an even sear. If you're using a leaner cut, you may need to add more fat to the pan before searing.
Searing meat in the hot oil will help create a crisp, golden-brown crust on the outside of the meat while keeping it juicy and flavorful. Remove the seared meat and set it aside.
"Braising is such a simple and satisfying cooking method. All the work is done upfront – you brown the meat (or vegetables) first, add the liquid, cover the pot and then let time and temperature do the rest of the work."
- Meredith Laurence, Chef
Also Read: How to Brown Ground Beef?
2. Add Flavor Enhancers
The next step is to reduce the heat to a low flame and add items to the pan to enhance the meat's flavor. These can be anything from aromatics like onions and garlic to fresh herbs and spices.
David Walzog, corporate chef at the Chefs’ Warehouse, explains that layering flavors with herbs and spices is key for the braised meat to absorb the intended flavors.
A variety of flavor trajectories can be obtained with spices, bright flavors such as coriander, or anise, savory flavors such as cinnamon, star anise, or dried chiles.
The key is to add items that will complement the flavors of the meat, not overpower them. For example, if you're using a robust cut of beef for pot roast, you might want to add rosemary or thyme to the pan.
If you're using leaner pork chops, try some sage or fennel. And if you're using chicken thighs, adding some tarragon or thyme may be nice.
Braised meats like lamb chops, chicken legs, chuck roast, and lamb shoulder benefit from adding flavorful components like red pepper flakes, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, or even seasonal ingredients.
You will want to deglaze the frying pan with a flavorful liquid like chicken broth or wine.
Use a wooden spoon to free the browned bits, which will help release all of the flavor compounds that have been created during the searing process.
3. Cook the Meat
Next, place the meat back into the pan and add enough liquid to come halfway up the meat.
You want the meat to be partially submerged so that you get a more concentrated sauce . The most popular fluids for braising are water, broth, lemon juice, wine, and beer.
Once everything is in the pan, use low heat to bring the cooking liquid to a simmer, and then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add fluid as needed as it cooks off in order to get a successful braise.
You also can do this final moist heat step in a slow cooker rather than a hot Dutch oven. Your pot roast, pork chops, beef short ribs, and lamb shanks will be fall-off-the-fork tender regardless of how you cook them.
Remove the meat and serve the finished dish over mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta and with a salad or other vegetables.
Read More: What Is the Healthiest Way to Cook Meat?
Tips for Braising
- Use Tough Meat. A more tender cut of meat will not benefit from the long, slow cooking time characteristic of this technique. Instead, opt for a tougher cut like chuck roast, pork shoulder, or lamb shank. These cuts are flavorful and will become melt-in-your-mouth tender after being braised in a slow cooker or Dutch oven.
- Add Acid. Acidic liquids like soy sauce, tomatoes, wine, or vinegar help balance the meat's richness. They also help to tenderize the meat, making it even more delicious.
- Don't Open the Lid. Heat escapes when you open the top, and it takes longer for the meat to braise. Your meat will be tougher and dryer if you keep opening the lid to check on the final dish.
- Add Sugar. A bit of sugar helps round out the flavors and create a more complex dish. Syrup, honey, or brown sugar are all great options.
How Long Should You Braise Meat?
How long you should braise meat will vary depending on the type of meat you're using, but a reasonable estimate is 2-3 hours for the average cut.
Should Braising Liquid Cover the Meat?
No, the braising liquid should not cover the meat. It should come up halfway up the side of the meat. If the amount of liquid covers the meat, you can end up with tough and dry food.
What's the Difference Between Braising and Stewing?
The difference between braising and stewing is that braising is a two-step process involving searing the meat and then cooking it in a flavorful liquid. Stewing is a one-pot cooking method where the meat and vegetables are cooked together in the fluid from the start.
Should You Be Braising Meat?
The braising process is a great way to tenderize tougher cuts while infusing them with a delicious taste. With this method, you'll sear the food first and then cook it in a flavorful liquid.
Of course, the most critical ingredient in braising is the meat. That's why I get my meat from ButcherBox, which only delivers the best cuts of 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, chicken, and pork. To find out more about this meat delivery service, click here.