Braising is a busy cook's best friend since it doesn't require much hands-on time or fancy equipment. A heavy Dutch-oven with a tight-fitting lid is all you need to make hearty, delicious dishes that will give everyone the impression that you spent much more time creating than you really did.
Another plus -- braising recipes generally call for inexpensive cuts of meat, which appeals to everyone during these financially trying times.
The term braise has its roots in the old French word, brese, meaning "ember," and the Germanic bhreu, roughly translated as "boil" or "bubble," and dates back to when cooks took advantage of the dying coals in their fireplaces by tucking a covered pot filled with meat and vegetables into the coals.
The most significant difference between braising and stewing is the size of the pieces of meat, fish, or poultry. Braised meats are generally prepared with larger cuts of meat that are cooked partially covered in liquid. Stews require the pieces of meat to be cut into 1-to-3-inch pieces (depending on the recipe) and are cooking entirely submerged in the cooking liquid. Both are cooked for long periods of time over low heat.
Braising involves cooking in a small amount of liquid over low heat; this is also known as "moist heat" cooking. Braising concentrates the flavors and tenderizes the food being cooked. Many dishes can be made in advance, which actually enhances the flavors of the dish upon reheating. You can use this method of cooking on a stove-top burner or in the oven; use a tight-fitting lid on the pot or Dutch oven to keep the liquid from evaporating. A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven is a good investment. In this cooking lesson, learn about the two types of braises: short-braise and long-braise. Then, try your hand at preparing some of Martha's favorite braising recipes.
Types of Braising
A short-braise should last just long enough to cook the food through. Such a method is also a flavorful alternative to steaming vegetables (also called glazing) such as carrots, onions, and leeks. A short-braise depends on the thickness and type of food you are preparing. Examples of foods to short-braise include chicken, fish, and shellfish.
Although long braises require a lengthy cooking time, they are typically simple to prepare. Additions to long-braises include aromatic vegetables, herbs, and sometimes wine, which result in a delicious sauce when reduced. Tough, inexpensive cuts of meat are typically used in long-braises. The long cooking time and liquid heat turn out meats that are fork-tender and full of flavor.
Recipes for Braising
Now that you've learned the basics of braising, try some of Martha's favorite recipes: Braised Lamb Shoulder with Potatoes and Fennel, Braised Short Ribs, Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Braised Pork and Cabbage.
To practice your braising skills, try making the Pork Shoulder Braised in Hard Cider.