Braising is a cooking process where you sear the meat, or brown it in fat, them cook it on low heat in liquid. The best choices for braising are a crock pot or a pressure cooker. You also can buy an enameled pot or pan that will work well for this, as well.
Whether you choose to braise your meat in the oven or on your stove top, we think you will be really pleased with the outcome. Braising is a very effective method to cook meats that are cheaper or tougher. It is a great way to end up with a piece of meat that is both flavorful and tender. Keep in mind that there are other good reasons to braise your meat other than to save money.
After you have seared your meat, most of the cooking time that remains does not require a lot of your attention. That is, until you need to prepare the sauce or gravy. Once you have reduced the heat, you can do other cooking or move on to other chores. Braising is also a smart choice when you have guests. It does not require every moment of your attention, so you can focus on your guests.
Braising gives you a wonderful-tasting piece of meat with a tasty broth or sauce. There is not much clean up needed, because you basically have used just one pot. And you can reheat the leftover meat or even freeze it. So you can use your braised meat for more than one meal.
Some of the most popular cuts of meat for braising are:
Osso buco (from Milan, Italy: veal shanks braised with veggies, broth, and white wine)
Just about any meat can be braised, as can fish or vegetables. You can do as much or as little as you like as far as seasoning.
How Braising Works
How does this cooking process make tough meat so tender and tasty? It is accomplished by doing the cooking of the meat slowly, in liquid, and covered over low heat for several hours. This long process helps to break down the tougher tissue in the meat into collagen. Through the longer cooking process, the moisture and heat trapped inside the pot allows the collagen to break down further into gelatin. The heat also causes the muscle fibers in the meat to coil and contract.
Over several hours, these muscle fibers tend to lose their moisture and the meat actually starts to become dry. However, over several hours, these fibers again relax and begin to draw in the fat and gelatin that has been melted down. And the braising also breaks down the cellulose in the vegetables. In the end, everything in your braising pot ends up very moist and tender.
Types of Meat Best for Braising
You want to utilize the tougher and cheaper cuts of beef that tend to come from the more exercised muscles of the cow. These less expensive cuts have more connective tissue in them to be broken down during the braising. You should never braise a lean cut of beef from the loin. The meat is tender already, and has very little fat to be broken down.
Some of the best cuts for braising are:
Top blade roast
Seven bone roast
If you want to braise chicken, we think the legs and thighs are what you should focus on. Do not bother braising boneless chicken breasts. These are better for grilling or sautéing. For fish, consider using larger, firmer species, such as swordfish or shark.