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How to Braise

How to Take a Tough Cut of Meat and Make It Tender

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Braising means cooking something in a small amount of liquid. Usually braising involves large cuts of meat, but chicken legs, lamb shanks, and oxtails are also braise-able. Basically, anything that will benefit from long, slow cooking can benefit from braising. So cuts of meat with lots of tough connective tissue that will break down and become tender, unctuous gelatin and meat that falls off the bone are good candidates for braising. These cuts ted to be cheaper and less popular than cuts like chicken breast, beef tenderloin, pork or lamb chops that can be quickly broiled or grilled to great effect.

1. Brown the Meat

In a heavy pot or pan over medium high heat, cook the meat in a bit of oil, butter, or lard until the meat is well browned. Put the meat in the pan and cook, without moving, until the meat is browned and releases of its own accord from the pan. Turn and repeat on any and all remaining sides.

2. Deglaze the Pot

Remove the meat from the pot. Add a bit of wine, beer, or water with some vinegar or lemon juice in it to the pot. The acid will help release the browned bits clinging to the pot. Scrape up any browned bits that prove stubborn in the face of the acid treatment; they are the source of great flavor.

3. Add Seasonings

Aromatics (i.e. garlic, onions), vegetables, herbs, and spices will add flavor and body to the final dish. Return the meat to the pot.

4. Pour In Liquid

Add enough stock, wine, beer, and/or water to partially submerge the meat – about 1/3 to ½ of the meat should be under liquid. This is opposed to <i>stewing</i> in which the meat (usually smaller pieces) is completely covered by liquid for a long, slow cooking time.

5. Overnight It, If You Can

Like stews, braises tend to taste better if allowed to cool and then reheated – the sitting around and waiting lets the flavors get to know each other and blend into one perfect whole.

6. Cover and Cook

Cover the pot and simmer until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. Braises can be simmered on the stove or put in a 350 to 375°F oven.

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