Written on October 29, 2013 at 9:00 am , by Lauren Katz
With one pot, a splash of liquid and a little love, you can slow-cook the simplest ingredients into rich, satisfying, supremely easy dishes. The secret is braising:a hands-off technique that lets foods simmer themselves tender and creates a succulent sauce almost effortlessly. And if that’s not enough temptation, here are five reasons you’ll be praising braising!
Without any extra prep work–pounding, marinating and brining begone!– you can magically tenderize tough bargain cuts like short ribs, shanks and stew meat by simmering them in a little liquid. Cooking low and slow in a covered pot melts down fat and tissue, basting meat from inside to keep it moist, and making the sauce thick and silky.
You’ve had chicken a thousand ways, but never this moist! When you braise a bird, the flavorful cooking liquid–be it stock, wine or, in this case, beer–infuses the meat, making it tender to the bone. In exchange, the meat and skin give the sauce a rich taste and glossy texture.
Delicate fillets can quickly become dry or rubbery if you’re not careful with your pan or grill. Braising is far more forgiving. Searing fish first, then cooking it at a gentle simmer, means the outside won’t scorch before the inside is fully cooked, and the liquid “bath” ensures moistness. What’s more, oven braising guarantees that fillets won’t fall apart; the gentle, indirect heat cooks fish evenly without you having to turn or flip the pieces.
4. Vegetables turn silky and sweet
In around half the time it would take to roast them, braising intensifies vegetables‘ sweetness and succulence. First, the veggies caramelize in the pan and form a golden crust. Then, the liquid you add creates steam that helps cook them through evenly. The end result is juicy and soft, never dry and shriveled.
5. Fruit becomes saucy and spoonable
You know how fruit tastes sweetest when it’s soft and ripe? Braising brings that same flavor forward, ripe or not, and delivers a tart, tantalizing sauce to boot. Fruits release their juices in the pan, naturally sweetening and enriching whatever cooking liquid you use. Use luscious braised fruits (try the technique with peaches, pears, apples and pineapple) as condiments for meat and fish; tossed into rice dishes, yogurt or granola; or dolloped over ice cream for dessert.
Simple steps to braising
1. Hit the heat. Start by browning your main ingredients in a little butter or oil over high heat. This caramelizes the outer layer– whether you’re cooking meat, fish or produce– and creates deep flavor that will later make its way into the pan sauce. Use a heavy- bottomed, ovenproof pot with a lid, such as a dutch oven
2. Add liquid. Pour in stock, water, juice or other liquids to cover the food about halfway. This accomplishes two things: It dislodges flavorful browned bits from the pan (scrape them up using a wooden spoon) and helps tenderize the ingredients. Using acidic liquids such as lemon juice or vinegar can help speed up the process.
3. Cover and simmer. Most braises should be fine on the stovetop, but for leaner and more delicate foods like fish and chicken, the oven’s indirect heat can be gentler. In either case, a covered pot traps steam, which tenderizes from above while the braising liquid simmers beneath. Never let the liquids boil– if food cooks too quickly, it can toughen up.
4. Finish the dish. The liquids you’ve already added will become your sauce. Tweak it all you want: Skim the fat from the top; cook longer (or stir in cream or butter) if it’s too thin; or strain if you prefer smooth to chunky. Add fresh herbs, lemon or vinegar to cut richness, or honey, maple syrup or ketchup for sweetness.
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