It’s important to understand that braising only works with tough cuts of meat
with sufficient fat content. Even though it seems counterintuitive, braising
actually dries meat out faster than roasting because the liquid speeds the
cooking process. As the proteins in muscle tissue cook, they tighten and squeeze
out their moisture. This actually reduces their tenderness. However, the gelatin
(converted from collagen) and fat more than compensate for the loss. A tender
cut of meat with low fat, such as from the loin, would taste terrible if
braised. It would lose all it’s tenderness with little gelatin and fat to take
up the slack – an effect like wringing out a wet towel. Similarly, braising a
tough cut of meat with sufficient fat for too long will dry out the meat, so you
want to remove it from the heat as soon as the collagen-to-gelatin conversion
process has occurred.
Suggested Cuts for Braising
Blade Roast or Steak
Cross Cut Roast or Steak
Braising Ribs (Short Ribs)
Baby Back Ribs
Ham Roast or Steak
Older Whole Chicken (Often called a Stewing Hen)
Braising is a slow-cooking method; the time each cut of meat will take will
depend on its size. Most braised dishes take from 45 minutes (for smaller cuts
of meat and poultry) to 6 hours for really tough shanks and ribs. Don’t limit
yourself only to meat; vegetables that braise well include onions, fennel,
carrots and beets, and even fruit such as pineapples and apples. In each case,
it's easiest to cut the vegetable in half and brown it on the flat cut side.
WHAT YOU NEED TO BRAISE:
a tough cut of
meat with sufficient fat (see chart above);
just large enough to hold all the ingredients snugly, with a tight-fitting
lid (you can skimp and use heavy-duty foil);
You can use stock, water, wine, beer or any combination of the four. We
recommend stock with added wine; beef stock for braising beef, pork stock
for braising pork, or chicken stock for braising chicken.
- Make sure the meat is dry, and season it well. If you're a strong
meat like beef, lamb or bison, be generous - these meats takes very well to salt
SEAR MEAT -
Using a pot that will hold the meat snugly, heat up a little oil, then sear
the meat on all sides; use sturdy tongs to turn the meat to avoid burning
yourself. For the large pieces of meat that are typical of braises, we find
that searing takes about 15 minutes, which is probably longer than you might
think. Trust us – it’s worth it. Remove the meat from the pot when it’s
nicely browned. Note: There’s a big difference from searing (or browning)
and burning – burning the meat will give the roast a bitter flavour and
affect the finished sauce as well.
VEGETABLES - Next, you want to brown the aromatic vegetables (onions,
garlic, carrots, celery). To do this, you’ll typically need only a couple of
tablespoons of fat in the pot. So if the meat you have just browned was
fatty, you’ll need to pour out some of the excess fat; if, on the other
hand, the meat was lean, you may need to add a bit of oil to the pot. Sauté
the vegetables for 1-2 minutes.
At this point, you will notice a bunch of browned bits stuck to the bottom
of the pot. In French, this is called fond, and it is definitely not
something you want to throw out as it is intensely flavourful due to the
browning. What you want to do is loosen and dissolve those brown bits in
liquid so their flavour will be diffused throughout the dish as it cooks.
This is called “deglazing”. Add some cooking liquid to the pot, and as you
heat it to a simmer, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits.
RETURN MEAT TO
POT – Return the meat to the pot and add liquid to a level of about half
way up the meat. If the liquid completely covers the meat, it is considered
stewing rather than braising. Many chefs prefer slightly more liquid rather
SIMMER – Add any other vegetables you want to add and season the liquid
to your preference. When the liquid has come back to a simmer, skim any film
off the surface, cover the pot, and put it in a 300˚F oven. You could cook
the meat on top of the stove at a low simmer, but we prefer using the oven
because it provides a more even heat that surrounds the pot. If you’re
braising a steak or other small piece of meat that won’t take very long,
it’s probably easier to complete the braising on the stove top.
WHEN “FORK-TENDER” – The best way to determine doneness with braised
meat is to stick a large fork straight down into the meat and try to lift it
out of the pot. If you can’t do so because the meat won’t hold the fork,
then it has reached the “fork-tender” state. Remember, you are cooking past
the point of doneness to the point of tenderness. Remove the meat and cover
it loosely with foil.
SAUCE – The leftover liquid in the pot can be strained, returned to the
pot, and then reduced into a sauce. The sauce may also be prepared without
straining the liquid, but as much fat as possible should be skimmed from the
surface. Add some more salt and pepper, bring the liquid to a boil, and
allow the liquid to reduce until it is flavourful enough for your taste.
Carve the meat into thick slices, pour the braising liquid into a big gravy
boat, and you’re ready to eat some incredibly flavourful, tender meat.
Carving braised meat is often difficult because it falls apart; a trick is
to let it cool completely, then cut and reheat.
Braised Blade Roast
|1 four lb.
organic blade roast (netted)
1 Tsp butter
1 Tsp olive oil
1-2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1 Tsp tomato paste
3 Cups Red Wine
10 black peppercorns
¼ bunch Thyme
2 bay leaves
4-6 Cups Beef Stock
Salt and Pepper
This recipe was
demonstrated by Executive Chef Ezra Title during our recent “The Art of the Roast” class...
needless to say, the braise was a big hit.
Season blade roast
generously with salt and pepper. Heat pot almost to smoking
point and place butter and olive oil inside. Sear roast on all sides being
careful not to burn, then remove from heat and set aside. Add vegetables and
garlic and sweat over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon
to loosen browned bits (deglazing). Add tomato paste to vegetables and cook for
2-3 minutes. Add wine and reduce until nearly dry. Place roast back in pan, add
stock to half or three-quarters the height of the meat, and bring to a bare
simmer. Add thyme, peppercorns, bay leaves, and check the seasoning of the
liquid. It should be fully seasoned now so add salt and pepper if it is needed.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and continue cooking on stove top or in oven at
300˚F. Depending on the exact size and shape of the roast, it will take 4-6
hours. Remove the meat when “fork-tender” and allow to cool (see above). Strain
liquid and reserve. When the roast has cooled completely and feels solid, carve
with a very sharp knife (bread knife or carving knife works well). To warm
slices, heat liquid to a bare simmer and place portions in the liquid until they
have been fully reheated. Allowing the roast to cool before cutting allows you
to break up the cooking into two days and makes for a quick and easy meal the
next day or two.
Here’s a pork recipe with South American theme:
Chile Pork Shoulder
4 pounds pork shoulder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
4 dried Ancho Chiles, dried and pulverized to a powder
2 cinnamon sticks
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Zest 1 orange
½ teaspoon orange oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and black pepper
Heat a very large straight-sided sauté pan with olive oil until smoking hot.
Season the pork with salt and black pepper. Add the meat and sear well about 5
minutes. Add the onion and sauté about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and quickly
sauté about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, ancho chile powder, cinnamon
sticks, chipotle pepper, zest of orange, orange oil, and dried oregano. Bring to
a boil. Cover with a lid and place in the oven. Braise until fork-tender about
40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and skim the fat off the top. Season with
salt and pepper. Serve warm with rice or soft polenta.
To access past issues of live to eat? Click
To learn more about cuts of beef, read
"Breaking Down the Beef ... A Primer on the Cuts of Beef"
For further reading on cooking techniques, refer to
Butcher's Cooking Guide