Braising is a form of cooking that uses moist heat to cook the food and simmer it for a long time at a low temperature. It can be done on the stovetop, but is best when done in the oven because the heat surrounds the entire cooking vessel which enables even cooking.
How does braising help?
Braising works extremely well when cooking meat that is from older animals or when you’re cooking cuts of meat that are generally tougher. The connective tissue in meat like this can become tough and chewy if not cooked properly, and is best dissolved through long and slow application of heat. Braising also allows the fibres in the muscles to absorb the moisture from the cooking liquid and steam, which makes the meat tender and juicy. The breaking down of the connective tissue also forms gelatin which further thickens the cooking liquid. Braising the meat also ensures that any flavour from the stock, herbs, and seasoning added are all absorbed into the meat.
How do I braise my meat?
Before you braise any meat, you should sear it to create the outer crust. Add a little bit of oil or fat to the cooking vessel, and sear the meat well on it. Then, add your cooking liquid, deglaze the vessel, and cook the meat for a long time, covered. The temperature should stay between 90-100°C, and it’s best to do it in the oven because you can maintain a steady temperature with minimal supervision. To maintain these temperatures, the temperature in the oven should be set to between 120-150°C, so that the cooking liquid creates the moist heat required within the vessel. The heat is transferred into the meat and stays there, since meat is not a very good conductor of heat, breaking down the tough connective tissue and fibres. Don’t season the meat before you add it to the cooking liquid; season the cooking liquid well and that will transfer flavour to the meat.
Can I braise vegetables as well?
Cooking tough and fibrous vegetables like celery and carrots using the braising method works very well. Sauté the vegetables lightly, add enough liquid to cover them, and cook covered in the oven.
What should I do with the cooking liquid once the meat and vegetables are cooked?
The cooking liquid will be thickened to some extent by the gelatin from the meat, but it might not be enough. You can remove the meat and vegetables and set them aside to rest, while thickening the liquid to create a sauce. If you were braising a particularly fatty piece of meat, it might have added a lot of fat to the liquid, so remember to skim it off the top of the liquid. You can store this fat to use in cooking later, or use it to make your roux. Cook the liquid down a little more, and then mix with a roux to create a thick and delicious sauce to serve alongside your meat and vegetables.