Braising is a great technique to cook the bigger tougher cuts of meat. It is also great for bone in chicken. Slow cooking in a limited amount of liquid breaks down connective tissue, makes meat tender and juicy, renders fat, while creating a sauce at the same time. Braising is a simple multistep process.
- Brown off Meat
- Cook off aromatics in remaining fat
- Deglazing dutch oven with stock, or acid
- Cooking in an oven at 300F or below until meat is fork tender
The process of browning changes the outside of the meat and produces more flavor. This process also creates a texture difference between the inside and the outside of the meat pieces. It helps develop a better sauce or gravy after your meat has been cooked for a long period of time.
- Cut your meat into appropriate size or slabs. For a cut like chuck I like to cut it into a few hunks or slabs then dice to correct size for the braising process. This limits the turns and simplifies managing alot of pieces of meat.
- Dry your meat with a paper towel and salt.
- Over medium high heat and a slight amount of oil brown your meat on most sides with some oil in a heavy bottom pan. Cast iron and stainless steel do this better than thin aluminum pans. Make sure not to crowd your pan and do in batches if need be. One of the keys to browning is constant heat and moisture management. If there is a lot of moisture present the surface temperature cannot not get about 212F the boiling point of water. Make sure your pan does not get too hot. Brown bottom of pan equals delicious, black not so much! This process can be done in a very hot oven at 450F.
- Remove and let meat rest for a few minutes before you cut it in needed size for your recipe.
After browning your meat is a great time to cook your aromatics. The pan is hot although you need to turn down your heat to medium low and the meat more than likely has given you a good amount of fat to continue your recipe. If the fat seems of excess remove extra with a paper towel, but be wary if the pan is super hot. Vegetables like onions love to help remove the brown bits or fond from the bottom of the pan. Don’t forget to season your mirepoix, sofrito, or trinity. I always like to add garlic later in this process as it tends to burn.
Deglazing the Pan
Oh here comes my favorite part! Deglazing the pan is a very important step of developing flavor. This is done with wine in beef borgognone , a blend of chiles and stock in something like carne guisada, ropa vieja, or chile con carne, and tomato based combinations in Italian braises. The combination of liquid and acid break down and clean the pan and all that flavor goes into your braising liquid. I love the satisfying feeling of scraping the bottom of the pan with your favorite wood spoon. I see many recipes that braise in water only, but I feel that cooking with stock or quality culinary meat first(rather than sodium) bases is a way to instantly improve your cooking for little money or skill.
Now for cooking. Put your vessel in the oven covered. If using a dutch oven, I like to leave the lid slightly cracked with a rolled up paper towl. Your cooking needs to be about 200F. Some bubbles but not boiling. I like to check on things and give it a stir every 30 minutes or so adjusting temp of the oven if need be between 275 and 300F.