In the fall months, when the weather finally starts too cool off, there’s nothing better than a kitchen with a big bubbling pot on the stove. Braising is a technique that feels almost magical: add tough cuts of meat to a large pot, top with some liquid, cover tightly and leave largely unattended on low heat for hours. The outcome is consistently delicious fork-tender food. Follow these tips for the tenderest pot of slow-cooked food you’ve ever tasted.
COOK THE RIGHT FOODS
The best foods for braising usually end up being the least expensive cuts of meat in the butcher’s case. And just like magic, after long hours of slow cooking, they’ll also end up being the most flavorful. Tough cuts of meat like brisket, chuck roast, pork shoulder, short ribs, shanks, oxtails, chicken thighs and legs, are the best cuts to braise. All these cuts have just the right mix of collagen and fat in their make up- and once cooked at a low slow temperature, the fat and collagen melt right back into the cooking liquid making a smooth luxurious sauce, and producing fork-tender, fall-apart meat.
GET THE RIGHT POT
Use a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid for best results. You want the moisture to stay in the pot. You also want the heat to be distributed evenly to prevent scorching or burning on the bottom of the pot during the long cooking time.
SEAR YOUR MEAT
The first step in a successful braised dish is searing (or browning) your meat. Heat your pan until very hot, add just enough oil to coat, and once both are hot, add your dry meat, being careful not to overcrowd your pan. If the pan is too crowded, the meat will steam instead of caramelize, and you’ll end up losing a whole layer of flavor. If need be, brown your meat in batches. Cook on all sides until a deep golden brown crust forms.
Adding aromatic vegetables like onions and garlic after the meat has been browned will add another layer of flavor to your final dish.
DEGLAZE YOUR PAN
After searing the meat and adding aromatics, you’ll notice that there are lots of browned bits on the bottom of your pan. Not to worry! These browned bits will add loads of flavor back into your dish. Add a flavorful liquid such as wine, beer, broth, or stock and use the back of a wooden spoon to stir and scrap them up. These bits will dissolve back into your sauce, adding enormous flavor to the final dish.
LOW AND SLOW
Now that you have your braise going cover the pot tightly with a lid and lower your heat to a low flame. The secret to your success is the age-old mantra- low and slow.
Alternatively, instead of cooking on the stovetop of in a crock-pot, you can place the Dutch oven in a 300-degree oven to braise. The key here being to cook on low heat and to cook it slowly.
Any veggies that you add at the beginning of the recipe will most likely be dissolved into the sauce at the end of cooking time (especially true with a long braise like when you’re braising something like brisket or chuck roast). If you desire some more texture, add carrots, green beans, and potatoes the last half hour of cooking. Adding fresh herbs at the very end of cooking adds a pop of color and freshness to the final dish.
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