Now that grilling season is winding down, it's time to think about more cozy and comforting ways of cooking and braising is a technique that's perfectly suited to fall meals. Braising is all about cooking meats and vegetables slow and low, and it's actually a fairly simple, hands-off method that can yield truly tender results.
Michael O’Halloran, executive chef of Stella of New Hope, Pennsylvania told TODAY Food that braising is basically putting your main ingredient in a pan with aromatics and a flavorful cooking liquid, covering it with foil and putting it in the oven for an hour or so.
"It's perfect for fall and winter, as having a nice, toasty oven going all day on a chilly afternoon is not such a bad thing," he said. "Braising is also inherently imprecise, a really forgiving way to cook, so there is very little fussing, and the effort to final result ratio is as high as it gets."
Herve Malivert, director of culinary affairs at the Institute of Culinary Education teaches the technique to his students using tougher cuts of meat.
Malivert said braising is used to cook tougher cuts of meat, such as the shoulder and shank. "The method is simple: After it's been nicely browned in fat, the meat is cooked in a covered pot with some liquid (be it stock, wine or water) until it is tender enough to fall apart under the light pressure of a fork," he said in a post on Instagram.
"You want meat with a good amount of connective tissue for braising," Malivert told TODAY Food in an email. "If the meat is too lean it can become very dry. I recommend short ribs, brisket, veal, lamb shoulder (cubed) or lamb shanks."
How to braise meat
"Always sear the meat before braising," Gerald Addison, executive chef of Bammy's in Washington, DC told TODAY Food. Addison said that this will add a deeper flavor to the braise.
"Make sure you do so in a very hot pan with a coating of oil on it. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan so that the meat can turn a nice color before adding to the braise. To braise meat, first season it well with salt and pepper and sear it on all sides," Malivert said. "Searing the meat will give it nice color and develop flavor. Once seared, remove the meat from the pot and add in the mirepoix, typically diced onions, carrots and celery, to add flavor to the braise. Let that cook, then add a little flour and cook for a minute. The flour will help absorb some fat from the pan and give thickness to the sauce at the end."
Next, you can add wine; this is optional but if you do add it, make sure you cook it down. Add the meat back into the pot and add stock (Malivert recommends low-sodium chicken or veal stock) so it covers half to three-quarters of the protein. The exposed tops of the meat will caramelize and develop a nice crust, while helping to keep the meat together.
"Cover the pot with a lid and cook it either in the oven (around 350 F) or on the stove until fork tender," he said. "You should be able to easily pierce the meat with a fork and use two forks to pull it apart, the meat should feel soft. Don’t forget to taste it, it should be tender in texture. Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot and strain the remaining liquid. If the liquid is too watery you can reduce it to your desired sauce consistency and season."
"I recommend braising meat in the oven because it will cook more gently than on the stove," said Malivert. "This moist heat cooking method should be done slowly," he cautioned, saying that if you cook it too fast the meat will be dry. "The time it takes will vary, some meats will take 1.5 hours or much longer. You also want to avoid cooking the meat until it falls apart, fork tender is what you’re looking for."
The braise can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days, and keep in mind that the flavors will continue to meld and penetrate the meat, so the dish will taste better the day after it’s cooked. Reheat the meat in the sauce slowly.
How to braise short ribs
O’Halloran said that pork shoulder, leg of lamb, beef brisket and duck legs are all great choices for braising but that he prefers beef short ribs — the most classic choice and "a total crowd pleaser."
"I prefer bone-in short ribs, as the marrow from the bones adds a richness to the final sauce, and they usually cost less than bone-out," he said. "Many recipes call for dredging the short ribs in flour before cooking, as the gluten will thicken the sauce, but I prefer cooking them without as it results in a clearer tasting gravy."
Ready for some comforting, braised food? Try making O’Halloran's Fall Short Rib recipe, which calls for 1 pound of bone-in ribs per person. ("It sounds like a lot but you are totally going to regret it if you don't have leftovers").
Cook the ribs in a heavy-bottomed roasting pan so you can sear the meat and roast in a single vessel, keeping dishwashing to a minimum, he said. Use whole cloves of garlic and whole baby carrots, as the long cooking time will be enough to soften and sweeten both, they look great on the plate, plus less chopping. Be generous with the herbs (rosemary, thyme, or a combination of both), and don't chop these either, just lay them on top (looks great, less chopping).
"Don't be afraid to experiment with cooking liquids. Red wine is the classic choice, but brown beer works, as does orange juice with a touch of chili, or even milk," he said.
Make sure to leave time to strain and reduce the cooking liquid. Whatever you braised already tastes great, and reducing the sauce (simmering so that the water in the sauce evaporates and the flavorful solids remain) will significantly intensify the flavors, and is totally worth it, O’Halloran advised.
How to braise vegetables
As for vegetables, Malivert suggests fennel, endive, carrot or any root vegetable. "You can cut them in half before cooking, but keep the pieces large so they don’t fall apart," he said.
"First, season and sear them, then add the mirepoix and wine or stock to the pot," he said. "With vegetables, the cooking time is much shorter, so I braise vegetables on the stove until tender (time will vary but you can estimate about 15 minutes). This cooking method retains the nutrients and flavor of the vegetables in the liquid."
Looking for more braised recipes? We've got you covered!
A fattier cut of brisket will result in melt-in-your-mouth meat.
This is the classic short ribs recipe you'll want to make on repeat this fall.
Lidia's take on this recipe involves an American cut of meat with an Italian sauce. Parsnips, turnips and carrots are just some of the veggies that star in this dish.
Tri-tip is a cheaper, tougher cut of meat that transforms as it braises into a tender cut.
Add bacon to this recipe for a savory surprise.