When the weather is as cold as it’s been this winter, lots of us end up spending more time at home. And when you’re cooped up in your house for long periods, the best part of the day is often when you can gather around a steaming pot of something that smells delicious and tastes even better. To get that winter slow-cooked flavor, one trusted cooking technique to turn to is braising. No other method creates such delectably tender meat or such delightfully co-mingled flavors.
As long as it’s done correctly, that is. Braising requires a quick, hard sear at a high temperature, followed by a long slow cook at the all-important simmer. With two different cooking techniques involved, it doubles the intimidation factor. When executed properly, braising uses heat, time, and moisture to break down the connective tissue in cuts of meat that are traditionally tough, leaving them fork-tender and oh-so juicy. It’s the perfect treatment for everything from beef brisket to pork belly to pot roast, and everything in between.
Or sometimes, something can go wrong along the way, and all of a sudden you just spent all day cooking a side of meat that turned out dry, inedible, or gray. It’s enough to make you hang up your braising apron for good. But we don’t want that to happen, because braising is too valuable to skip having it in your cooking arsenal. As long as you follow the instructions we’ve laid out below, and most importantly, trust the process, you’ll be a braising pro in no time.
Don’t Crowd The Pot
When getting that first sear, one of the biggest mistakes home chefs make is attempting to cook too much meat at the same time. You’re looking for a deep, all-over color on every piece, and that can only come from a very hot pan, so you don’t want items competing for heat. The more space the meat has in the pan, the better the sear, so don’t shy away from doing multiple batches.
Use The Right Equipment
What you want is a heavy-lidded pot that will keep in heat and moisture, with bonus points for vessels that are suitable for both stovetop and the oven. (Because these pots will be doing both searing and braising, remember.) An enamel Dutch oven is ideal, but you can also use cast-iron, a crockpot, or even a stainless steel sauté pan for smaller items. But again, the important thing is a tight-fitting, heavy lid, so don’t neglect that.
Choose The Right Braising Liquid
This liquid is going to seep into every bite of whatever you’re cooking, so don’t just throw some broth in there and forget about it. This is a great opportunity to tailor the liquid to the food you’re cooking. Of course you want something with a bit of acidity, like tomatoes, vinegar, beer, or wine to cut the richness of the meat, but there’s an incredible amount of variety in those options. You have light beer, dark beer, white wine, red wine, cider—the opportunities are really endless, and they can each pull a nuanced flavor out of whatever meat you’re cooking with.
…And Then Keep An Eye On It
If the liquid gets lower than an inch, splash a bit more in to ensure that the meat doesn’t dry out.
Trust The Process
As we mentioned earlier, the process requires three elements: heat, moisture, and time. So if you futz with any of those three—like by repeatedly taking the lid off your pot to poke at the meat unnecessarily, for example—you’re interrupting the steps and throwing off the formula. Once you’re sure that the pot has enough liquid to braise properly, leave it alone for awhile. The meat wants to braise, so let it!
Grab a book or catch up on your tidying, and let braising do its work, while filling your home with great smells.