Braising is a method of cooking that utilizes both dry and moist heat. It comes from the French word, “braiser“.
In short, the food is typically seared at a high temperature and then finished in the oven in a covered pot at a lower temperature. Usually, some form of liquid will be added to the food while it cooks. This will sometimes add flavor, but this is what gives it the moisture it needs. Braising of meat can be thought of as pot roasting, however some contend it depends on whether additional liquid has been added. I will get more into the details in a moment.
Braising is something that any novice chef should become familiar with. It’s an ideal way of cooking tougher cuts of meat that are more affordable or even unpalatable by themselves.
It relies on heat, moisture, and time to break down the collagen (the tough tissue that binds the muscle fibers together). If you’ve heard the terms ‘pressure cooking’ or ‘slow cooking’ they’re both just different names for braising.
Here are the basic steps for a common braise:
Whatever foods are to be braised (meats, potatoes, vegetables, etc.) are first pan-seared over high heat, to brown the surface which enhances the flavor through the Maillard reaction.
Sometimes the food won’t produce enough liquid on its own, so additional cooking liquid should be added to the cooking pot. This is usually a combination of stock, and something acidic such as beer, wine, vinegar, or tomatoes for instance.
Usually whole cuts of meat are preferred, and depending on what you’re cooking, the braising liquid should cover 1/2 – 2/3 of the food in the pot.
Everything should be covered and left to cook in the oven at a very low simmer. Eventually, even very tough cuts of meat will break down and become so tender they will fall apart from nothing but a little pressure from a fork.
Any remaining liquid can then be used to make additional sauce.
Successful braises blend the flavors of the cooking liquid with the foods being cooked. Something else to keep in mind, is that since this method dissolves the collagen in the meat and turns it into gelatin, it will thicken and enrich the cooking liquid. This means, you can and should play around with how much cooking liquid you want to use and see what kind of results you get.