Braising is a cooking technique that combines searing and cooking at low temperature in a liquid. This technique is generally used on tough cuts of meat, because the long slow cooking dissolves the fat and connective tissues, leaving you with a tender, flavorful meal. This technique is used in most cuisines. India, Thailand, Russia, East Africa and France all have their braised dishes. Braising can be done on the stovetop or in the oven. The slow cooker can be used for a type of braising, but we’ll discuss that later.
Braising begins by searing meat or vegetables (yes, vegetables!) in a heavy pan, then removing the seared food, adding some aromatic chopped vegetables (mirepoix—pronounced mere-pwah). A classic mirepoix would be onion, celery and carrot, chopped but not too fine. Continue cooking at the same temperature, stirring and turning until golden brown. Other vegetables such as garlic, mild peppers or fennel could be added or substituted. Next add flavorful liquid to the pan, heating and scraping up the browned bits of food left by searing. For meats the liquid is usually acidic to help tenderize. Wine, apple cider, tomatoes with their juice, stock with a little balsamic vinegar or a combination are all good. Return the seared item to the pan and cook it at a low temperature until it is done. Use a very slow simmer on the stovetop or a temperature of around 250º F. in the oven. Sometimes additional whole vegetables are added toward the end of the cooking time. The left over liquid is usually transformed into a sauce.
An iron skillet or dutch oven (preferably enameled) is often recommended because you need to keep the braise at a low but even temperature. Nowadays, heavy pots, fryers, and skillets are made with several layers of different metals in the bottom. Those work fine too.
Many foods are wonderful when braised. Meats such as beef chuck roasts and pork shoulder roasts are ideal. Vegetables can also be tasty when braised. Of course they don’t take very long to cook, but the technique is the same.
Chefs say that we taste first with our eyes, so to add that extra touch, garnish with something colorful, Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped red or green sweet pepper, minced spring onions, a minced herb or combination of herbs, grated orange peel or chopped olives. Anything which provides color contrast and a bit of fresh taste can be exciting.
Now what about that slow cooker? Most slow cooker recipes are not actually braises. They usually involve more liquid than is ideal and because of the way a slow cooker works, nearly all the liquid, both that exuded by the food and what you add, is captured. This is more like stewing then braising. With care, an approximation can be obtained. Be sure to sear meat well. It is normally not practical to bother with slow cooking vegetables. Deglaze the pan and add to the liquid in cooker. Be sure not to add more liquid than what will come up to one third the height of the meat. Especially with poultry, check from time to time to make sure the liquid hasn’t gotten too high. If it has, remove some and reserve. When meat is done, remove it to a serving dish and cover Pour the liquid into a pot to reduce until it becomes thickened and/or syrupy.
Remember that Fry’s and Safeway require a member card to get the advertised prices. Both stores have digital coupons, although Safeway does allow clipped coupons for some items. Sprouts has “double ad Wednesday” each week. Both last week’s ad and this week’s ad are valid on Wednesday only.