Whether you’re a trained chef or a home cook that enjoys preparing a gastronomic delight, this age-old cooking technique will prove that low and slow is the way to go. Braising refers to tucking a few ingredients into a heavy pot with a bit of liquid, covering it tightly and letting everything simmer peacefully, until tender and intensely flavored.
Braising goes back to the earlier days of cooking, when the braising pot would be buried in the embers of an open hearth or slid into the community bread oven after the days baking and left to simmer slowly for hours. The miracle of braising lies in the fact that the process demands so little of the cook and gives up a complex and wonderful meal. I know that many of you love to grill, roast or bake, but for me, give me a braised meal on a cool fall or cold winters days or give me nothing at all!
The American Heritage Dictionary, says that braising is:
To cook (meat or vegetables) by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered vessel. Hopefully by now, you can recall partakingin a few classic braised dishes such as, osso bucco, short ribs, coq au vin or lamb shanks.
The best way to understand braising is to picture the exchangebetween the moisture in the food you’re braising and the liquid in the pot. Whenever you cook fresh ingredients such as meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables they release moisture. In sautéing and grilling this produces the sizzle you hear. In braising these juices are trapped in the sealed pot so that they comingle with the braising liquid. The enriched liquid bathes the food. It’s a delicious cycling of flavor, a give and take between the braising liquid and the other ingredients inside the closed pot that is unequaled in any other form of cooking. By simmering meat gently, you are making sure that the meat cooks slowly and is constantly bathed in flavorful juices. The meat emerges well done, tender and succulent throughout, enveloped by a velvety sauce. The process causes the collagen to melt away, turning it into a gelatin, a soft protein that contributes to a rich, silky textured sauce.
We have two methods of braising, Long Braising being the more traditional approach for a tougher cut of meat, simmering away from anywhere to 1.5 hours to perhaps up to five. The Short method takes less than an hour and is reserved for more tender foods, like cut up chicken, chicken thighs, seafood and vegetables. All braising starts stove top for the browning process and for longer braising the oven is employed to finish the dish. Shorter braising will continue after the browning process is complete using the stove top for the desired time frame.
Enameled cast iron cookware is the pot of choice to braise in. There are many manufacturers, such as Le Crueset, Staub, Lodge and even Martha Stewart has a line. It has been my experience that the thinner the wall of the pot, the faster and more evenly the heat is distributed. Enameled cast iron cookware is healthy and safe to use. Unlike cast iron, you can cook any type of food in them, including tomatoes and other acidic foods. The surface provides a non-stick surface, is extremely durable and can be heated to high temperatures. There is also super heat retention and this provides for very energy efficient cooking. The enamel does not need seasoning, requires very little maintenance and is the perfect choice for braising and the making of soups, stews and chili. There are many colors to choose from to fit your own visual appeal. The pots come in many different sizes and shapes and the dish you are preparing will decide which one you will need.
My braising career started with a PBS show on how to braise leeks. That rather humble beginning into the braising world, many years ago, enabled me to add a flavorful dish to our Thanksgiving Holiday for a few years. In 2004, I quite accidentally stumbled onto Molly Stevens and her cookbook, AllAboutBraising. My wife and I belonged to a cookbook club, because we were under the belief that the family with the most cookbooks would win a culinary prize and did we.
The rest is history, we found Molly or shall we say she found us and since then I’ve become a braising student, convert and now preacher. Through the whole process, I’vehad the good fortune of establishing a friend ship with her, making this a truly enriched experience, not to mention the wonderful meals that I’ve prepared since then.
In 2004 All About Braising was the Cookbook of the year and since then I’ve tried my best to make as many followers as possible. This cookbook changed my life! The braising techniqueshaveenabled me to become a better all around home cook. I’ve given out many copies of this book to friends, family and business associates and everyone has enjoyed the wonderful recipes contained therein.But, what is the real beauty of braising? Knowing that the dining room table is your destination. Always invite others to share in the meal and some heartfelt conversation.
Knowing how to cook gives you the means of bringing people together. Sharing a one pot braised meal, smelling the concentrated aromas floating about the house, enjoying the tender textures and deep flavors, all contribute to putting you and your guests at ease.
I invite you to join the Rod Michael “Braise Craze” and cook your way through All About Braising. Molly Stevens is a brilliant author, chef and human being and I promise your journey will be easy and full of many wonderful meals. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to add some fresh ground coriander to your Braise!
I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of the greatest chefs of all time, Julia Child:
“People who are not interested in food always seem rather dry and unloving and don’t have a real gusto for Life”.
So please remember, that you are just one braised meal away from putting a smile on your guests faces and a joy in everyone’s heart.
See you at the Table,