If you always seem to end up with stringy, tough meat that you can’t get a knife through (let alone your teeth), you can only blame the animal and/or the cut for so long! I firmly believe that with the right cooking method, you can turn the most humble of cuts into a star.
Braising is a very important cooking method to learn. You might remember the term “braise” from your high school home economics class as a cooking method involving liquid, but I want to help you really master this technique. Once you do, you’ll always be able to save a bit of money in your meat budget (braising makes even the cheapest, most leathery cuts tender), and you’ll be able to impress everyone around the dinner table.
The types of meat that are most suited for braising are the ones that are most fibrous with a fair amount of fat. Think of the body parts of an animal that would get the most exercise (and therefore be the most tough) as being best for braising: shoulders and legs.
Lean cuts of meat aren’t suited well for braising. Also, dark meat is better than white for this cooking method.
My favorite meat cuts for braising:
• Bone-in chicken legs and thighs
• Pork shoulder
• Pork butt
• Chuck roasts
• Veal shanks
• Lamb shanks
You can also braise vegetables. Tough, fibrous ones would be the best options here, too. Think:
How to braise:
No matter what you choose to braise—cabbage, chicken or pork—,you’ll follow the same series of steps.
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Season ingredient with pepper and salt.
3. Sauté the ingredient in a cast iron pan or Dutch oven on medium heat in oil or butter. If it’s meat, you want a sear on all sides.
4. If it’s meat you’re braising, remove it from the pan and deglaze the pan by adding wine, juice or stock and scraping those golden brown bits from the bottom of the pan. If you’re braising a vegetable, this step can be skipped.
5. Return the meat to the pan and add cooking liquid (wine, stock, broth, water or a combination) so that the ingredient you’re braising is half covered in liquid.
6. Cover the cooking vessel and put it in the preheated oven.
7. Cook it until your main ingredient is perfectly tender. Depending on what you’re braising and its size, this could take anywhere from 1 hour to 5 or 6 hours.
8. Remove your ingredient from the pot and keep it warm. Skim excess fat from the cooking liquid.
9. Reduce your sauce by cooking it down over low heat until it reaches your desired thickness.
From this point, you can make a gravy from the juice and serve that with your meat if you so desire.
I like to braise meats and vegetables together for a nice and hearty one-pot meal. If you do that, too, remember that veggies will braise more quickly than a large, tough piece of meat, so add them to the pot during the last couple hours of cooking time.
Experiment with combinations of meats, vegetables and liquids to see what you like best. Think of flavors that taste good together. When I think pork, I think apple cider. When I think beef, I think red wine, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. With chicken, I think white wine.
Do you have any braising tips or questions? http://www.facebook.com/savingdinner