Braising Meats for Tenderness and Flavor

Braising is a way of cooking meat long and slow so by the end of the cooking process, the meat is so tender that it literally falls apart when you spear a chunk on your fork.

Sounds great doesn’t it? So how can you achieve this seemingly impossible outcome for a cheap cut of meat?

The biggest problem with cheap cuts of meat is that they are riddled with tough sinewy strands of fat and tendon.

This type of meat might be cheap, but unless you find a way of cooking it properly, you will not enjoy the resultant dish.

Common examples of cheap cuts of meat include lamb shank, beef brisket and rump, and neck joints.

Cheap joints of lamb and beef are far less expensive than fine fillet steak or lamb cutlets, but as long as you adopt the correct cooking process, they can be just as tasty, which is why more and more people are choosing to save money by buying cheap cuts of meat.

Indeed, fifty years ago, cheap cuts would have been the norm, not the exception, as the majority of people could not afford to splash out on a piece of fillet steak or a rack of lamb. Instead they opted for the cheapest joints of meat they could find and looked at ways of making the meat tasty instead of tough like old boots.

How does braising tenderize meat?

Cooking any meat long and slow over a low heat helps to break down the collagen fibers in the meat. When meat is roasted over a high heat, moisture is released and eventually the meat dries out, but when meat is braised, the meat fibers slowly reabsorb the moisture and the end result is a tender piece of meat that falls off the bone. Braising works in a similar way on vegetables as well—cellulose fibers are broken down and the vegetables softens.

Braising is a classic technique for cooking meat. Rather than roasting a joint of meat in the oven for a relatively short period of time, to braise a piece of meat you sear it in hot oil and then cook it slowly for several hours over a low heat in a sealed pan. Only a small amount of liquid is needed and the end result is the most amazing and tender piece of meat you will ever taste.

What are the advantages of braising meat?

Braising meat offers cooks a number of distinct advantages. As we have already discussed, braising is the best way to cook a cheaper cut of meat because it makes tough meat considerably more palatable, which saves you money on your grocery bill because you no longer need to spend extra cash on better quality meat.

Braising food also saves you time. Instead of slaving over a hot stove, once the meat is in the pot, you can leave it to cook and get on with other tasks. Braised dishes can be started in the morning and left alone, cooking gently, until the end of the day, which makes them perfect for busy cooks out at work all day. Braised dishes are also very useful if you are entertaining guests—instead of spending more time in the kitchen cooking than talking to your guests, you can forget about the food until it is time to dish it up.

Braising is ideal for cooks who hate clearing up since it is a one-pot dish with very little preparation required. Once dinner has been eaten, aside from the plates and cutlery, there will be very little washing up to do, so you can chill out in front of the TV instead of spending the next two hours up to your elbows in hot soapy water.

How do I braise meat?

Braising meat is really very easy when you understand how the process works. Any kind of meat can be used, although the process is more effective on tough meat joints. You can also braise fish and vegetables—braised cabbage is a popular winter warmer.

The first step in the meat braising process is to seal the juices into the meat by sautéing it in hot oil. Heat up some oil in a shallow pan and once the oil is smoking hot, add the meat and brown it on oil sides. This helps to seal the flavor in as the meat cooks.

Next place the meat in a pan, slow cooker, or crock pot and add a selection of vegetables of your choice—these will depend on the type of meat you are braising, but popular choices for traditional lamb and beef braised dishes include potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables.

Finally, you need to add some liquid and flavorings. Use stock or wine to add liquid, or even beer or cider if you prefer, but be careful not to add too much as a braised dish does not require too much liquid to cook the meat. You should also add your seasonings, herbs, and spices at this stage, which is your opportunity to be creative.

Place a tightly fitting lid on the pan or pot and place in the oven on a low heat, or if you are using a slow cooker, switch it on to the low setting. Leave the pan to slowly cook for several hours. The exact cooking time will depend on what you are cooking—large joints of meat can take up to nine hours to cook, whereas fish and chicken will only take an hour or so.

Once the meat is nice and tender, remove it from the pot, place on a warm dish, and cover while you make the sauce or gravy. Scoop off any fat from the remaining liquid in the pan and discard, and then turn up the heat and reduce the liquid down until it thickens. Alternatively, add some sauce flour and butter and whisk until the gravy begins to thicken.

What equipment do I need for braising?

All you need to produce perfect braised dishes is a pan with a tight fitting lid, a crock pot, or a slow cooker.

Image author: Alpha