Feature photo: Williams Sonoma
This weekend we’re having some friends over for dinner and I want to spend time with them, not cooking in the kitchen, so I’ll be preparing something braised.
Braising is a technique that will let me not only spend time with my friends but create a tasty dish that fills the house with a mouth watering aroma. This method of roasting will make anyone look like a rockstar in the kitchen and deliver complex flavours with a rich gravy. You may have already braised some meats without realizing it, pot roast is a common way of braising a beef roast. Braising goes well this time of year when you can have your oven on for several hours, it produces a comforting result that can’t be beat. Another benefit to braising is that it makes a delicacy out of tough cuts of meat. The best cuts of meat to braise are those from parts of the cow, lamb, pig or chicken that do a lot of work, such as the leg or shoulder. This means you can feed a lot of people without breaking the bank, since these are some of the cheapest cuts.
Here are some tips to successful braising and a few traditional recipes for you to try:
Pick the right cut of meat.
As mentioned previously, the best cuts to braise are those that do the work, and have lots of connective tissue. After a long roast the connective tissue takes on a gelatinous texture that makes a great thick sauce. Make sure you leave the meat on the bone, it adds flavour and bone marrow is a real treat. Some good cuts are lamb shanks, beef shank or pork shoulder.
Use a deep heavy pot with a tight fitting lid.
The perfect pots for this are dutch ovens. A dutch oven is a pot that can go from stove top to oven, they’re heavy, often made of cast iron or enamel covered cast iron. You can spend a fortune for these but don’t have to. You can spend five hundred dollars or more for dutch ovens made by the french manufacturer Le Creuset. You can also pay as little as thirty bucks for a cast iron one and you won’t tell any difference in taste. The other great thing about this method is that it can be a one pot meal.
Brown the meat and aromatics first.
To add more depth of flavour, brown your meat and aromatics (onions, garlic, carrots, celery) right in the roasting pot (or dutch oven). Heat the dutch oven on the stove and add some oil. While the oil is heating, dredge the meat in flour and add to the pot in small batches until brown. Remove the browned meat from the pot and add your aromatics until the onions are translucent. Add the meat back into the pot along with some woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme and a liquid. Red wine is a good liquid to use for beef, beer is good with pork and chicken or beef broth work well with any type of meat. Put a cover on your dutch oven and put it into the oven at a low temperature between 275F and 350F.
“This essentially is braising, long slow cooking in a moist environment.”
Now the easy part.
Sit back and relax. Let the meat braise in the oven for a couple of hours at least. You might want to check now and then to make sure the pot hasn’t boiled dry, you should keep the liquid level about half way up the meat. The beauty of braising is you don’t have to accurately time it, once the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, you’re done. So if your friends are late arriving, or you get carried away in conversation, dinner will still be fabulous.
When it’s ready to serve, strain the liquid and serve with the roast. To dress it up you might want to add a few fresh herbs or finely chopped lemon zest and parsley sprinkled on top.
Here are a few popular recipes you may want to try.
- braised lamb shanks
- osso buco
- bœuf bourguignon
- pulled pork
- chicken caccitore
- beef short ribs
- coq au vin
So don’t stress over your next dinner party, braise!