What is Braising?
Braising is simply simmering meat and vegetables in a small amount of flavorful liquid in a covered pot. Through the braising process the liquid will take on the flavors of what’s being braised, developing even more delicious, rich flavor. The technique concentrates and enhances the liquid’s flavor and tenderizes tough cuts of meat (like brisket and pork shoulder) to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Although braising takes time it’s almost all hands-off cooking—you get it started and then the stove or oven takes over. Whoever said, “Good things come to those who wait” must’ve had braising in mind.
How Do I Do It?
The technique can be divided into 3 steps: browning, deglazing and braising. Because braising is a fairly low-temperature cooking method (300°F. to 350°F. in the oven), browning won’t occur on its own during cooking so this first step creates rich color on the meat and helps render out some of the fat. After browning, remove the browned meat from the pot and pour off any fat that has been rendered.
After removing the browned meat, you’ll see brown bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is called fond (it’s French for “foundation”) and it’s loaded with great flavor which will become the basis on which to build a delicious sauce. The 2nd step is deglazing to loosen that fond off the bottom. At this point, we usually briefly sauté aromatic vegetables—onion, celery, carrots, garlic—then add Swanson® stock, wine, beer or juice to loosen the fond further and incorporate it into the braising liquid.
The actual braising is the final—and easiest—step. After deglazing, the browned meat is added back to the pan in a single layer along with enough additional stock to submerge everything about halfway. Bring the braise to a simmer, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid to create a steamy environment inside the pot, then let it simmer, either on top of the stove or in the oven. It’s generally preferred to braise in the oven because heat surrounds the entire cooking vessel. On the stove, heat comes just from the bottom and isn’t quite as even as it is in the oven.
3 Tips for Successful Braising
Use the right pot
Large, heavy pots with tight-fitting lids are key to a successful braise. Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are our first choice because the cast iron heats evenly and retains heat well. A well-fitting lid is crucial for keeping steam inside the pot—if necessary, wrap the lid in foil and press it onto the top of the pot to help keep steam inside.
Finish with additional vegetables
In the last 30 minutes of braising, we often add more vegetables—chunks of carrots, celery and potatoes. The vegetables added before deglazing are extremely soft and mushy by the end of the braise.
Reduce the braising liquid before serving
To concentrate flavors in the braising sauce, remove the meat from the pot, then boil the sauce on the stove to reduce it. Taste the sauce periodically during reducing until its flavor is as intense as you’d like. As a final finish, add chopped herbs for a punch of fresh flavor or a splash of sherry, balsamic or red wine vinegar to balance things out.
Although spring will be here before you know it, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the rich flavor of soul-satisfying braises. Winter can stick around a little while longer.