Braising means searing or browning an ingredient to develop color and flavor, then simmering it in a flavorful liquid, so the food becomes tender.
Reasons to Braise
Braising is one of our favorite ways to make meat that’s packed with flavor or some incredibly delicious veggies and lentils. Braising might sound like some next-level French chef thing, but don’t let the name fool you. It’s a forgiving, flexible way to cook that’s easy to pick up.
Braising is great for foods like these:
• Beef bottom round
• Chicken Pieces
• Lamb or pork shoulder
• Pork loin and chops
• Short ribs
• Stew meat (chuck)
How to Braise Meat
- Sear (or Brown) the Meat. First, rub the meat with a little bit of oil. Next, season the meat with salt and pepper and place it in a hot pan. Because you’ll be using a hot pan for searing, use an oil with a high smoke point like canola oil, vegetable oil, or sunflower oil. Save the olive oil for pasta night.
Cook the meat for a couple minutes, then flip it to brown as many sides as you can. You’re looking for browning on all sides, but don’t cook the meat entirely yet. That comes later.
- Sear in Batches. Each piece of meat should have a little space around it. Why? Cooking meat releases moisture from all sides. If the meat is overlapping or placed very close together, the liquids can’t evaporate, and the food will begin to stew rather than sear.This liquid needs to evaporate in a hot pan to start the browning process—the Maillard reaction. This wonderful chemical reaction gives you the pleasing flavors, aromas, and color you want from a browned crust. This crust doesn’t seal in juices but rather gives your meat more concentrated, complex flavors on the outside.
- Build up Some Flavor. Once you’ve browned the meat, remove it from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add aromatics like onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic first because they need longer to cook. They add a delicious sweetness and complexity to the final dish. When the kitchen starts smelling amazing, add any other veggies you want along with hardy herbs (like bay leaf, oregano, rosemary, and thyme) and spices.
- Create a Flavorful Liquid. At this point, you’ll probably see a lot of dark brown bits stuck to the bottom of a pan that looks like it’ll never come clean. But your job is to keep calm and reach for the white wine, red wine, vermouth, stock, or even water. You’re going to deglaze the pan, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Add a little liquid to the hot pan and scrape all the stuff up with a wooden spoon.” This is the start of your flavorful liquid.
- Slow-Cook in Your Flavorful Liquid. Reintroduce your meat to this flavor party. A lot has happened since they last visited. Add more liquid of choice to the pot so that the meat is partially (but not entirely) submerged. How much liquid you want depends on how soupy or concentrated you want your final sauce to be.
Cover the pot and let everything cook in this simmering broth on medium-low on the stovetop or in a 250–300°F (120–150°C) oven until the meat reaches your desired doneness. How long depends on what you’re braising. Chicken breasts and thighs might only take 15–20 minutes, but a big ol’ pork shoulder could take hours. It’s a good idea to rotate the meat when you check on it with a thermometer. Or you can skip the temperature reading when you see the meat is fall-apart tender with just a fork poke.
- Adjust the Sauce. Thicken or season the braising liquid to turn it into a creamy gravy or sauce. Start by tasting the liquid—season with salt and maybe a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to taste. You can also remove the meat and thicken the liquid up with a roux. It’s just another fancy-sounding word for equal parts butter and flour and is used to thicken up a sauce.
- Brighten Things Up. A braised meal is often rich, dense, and brown, so adding a little burst of freshness at the end helps it all come together. A little lemon zest, fresh spinach, arugula, or chopped herbs like parsley, dill, or cilantro can give it that chef’s kiss. Serve it on something starchy like mashed potatoes, polenta, or egg noodles.
You’re ready to start braising! This beautiful Braised Chicken recipe is excellent for starters, and the video brings it all to life.
How to Braise Vegetables & Lentils
Braising is a very gentle cooking technique that works great for preparing side dishes like vegetables and lentils. This cooking method creates a concentrated, flavorful sauce to serve them in. Here are some basic steps to get you started.
- Trim and cut your vegetable of choice into equal-sized pieces, so everything cooks evenly.
- Heat olive oil or butter in a pan over medium-high heat. We’re not searing meat here, so olive oil works well for braising vegetables.
- Once that oil gets shiny or the butter starts to bubble, add your aromatics. Onion first for a few minutes, then some minced garlic.
- Next, add your vegetables along with whatever stock you want. Use just enough to partially cover the veggies.
- Then, bring the liquid to a boil. As soon as you see large bubbles, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pan with a lid.
- Let the vegetables braise until tender. You can test their doneness with a knife. If the knife easily slips in and out but the vegetable still has a little firmness, they’re done. If not, cover the pan again, braise for another two minutes, and then check the vegetables.
How to Make a Pan Sauce From Braised Veggies
The wow-factor of your side dish is all in the beautiful sauce you can make with the braising liquid. Take the veggies out of the pan and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Let the liquid bubble energetically until it’s reduced to about 1/3 cup (75 mL). Stir in 1 tsp (5 mL) butter and a little pepper to taste. If the sauce is still bland, you can add lemon juice or more salt and pepper until you get the flavor you want.
With a few recipes to get started, you’ll have the skills to braise flavorful meats, veggies, and lentils without a specific recipe any night of the week.