The Beauty of Braising
On: January 02, 2017
Food is at its best when eaten in season, as nutrition and flavor are top quality. This is especially true here in our local climate: we think of strawberries in spring, sweet corn in summer, and apples in autumn, to name a few. Yet, the late-breaking news is that it’s cold outside and our beloved Ohio soil is asleep under a blanket of snow. What’s good to eat? After you’ve shoveled snow or cleaned the house, a soulful dish beckons; of savory meats and restorative root vegetables. We’re talking a health-giving, flavorful dish where the meat is fall-off -the-bone tender and sauce so succulent you sop up every drop with a torn piece of crusty, buttered bread. Hungry? It’s time to braise!
Nearly two decades ago I had the opportunity to spend a summer in Paris to take courses at the same cooking school where Julia Child attended, Le Cordon Bleu. I still remember the day I learned the wonders of braising when we had the class on France’s grand dish Beef Burgundy, or Baeuf Bourguignon. From that day forward, braising remains my favorite cooking method.
What exactly is it? Simply put, braising is a slow, wet cooking method. Most often it involves searing pieces of meat to brown, then cooking over low heat in a closed pot such as a Dutch oven, along with vegetables and other ingredients, in a small amount of liquid. Braising is perfect for those less expensive cuts of meat that have a lot of connective tissue, because when you do it right, the connective tissue breaks down into that sticky, rich, most delicious sauce mentioned above. This method is my favorite because the prep and cooking is not too difficult, the tasks can be shared, and the resulting dish is so rewarding, especially in the dead of winter.
The chefs at Le Cordon Bleu would often stress the importance of caramelization to attain full flavor. Caramelization was used as a catch-all phrase for browning, from the most basic, browning sugar to make caramel, to more complex dishes such as Baeuf Bourguignon where you begin by searing the pieces of meat in bacon grease until brown. Strictly speaking, the browning that happens when you sear a piece of meat is the result of the Maillard reaction, so named for the French scientist Louis-Camille Maillard who first described it in 1912. You can thank this reaction for many good flavors resulting from the proper browning of foods, from seared meat in Baeuf Bourguignon to roasted peanuts and coffee to the golden brown crust on DLM’s Farmhouse Bread.
Technique and Ingredients are Key
Proper technique is vital. So are ingredients. As to technique, don’t worry … you can do this! For starters, see Chef Carrie’s recipe for Beef Bourguignon. And ingredients? You can trust the DLM Meat department! Our expert meat cutters will help you pick out a beautiful slab of one of our flavorful, all-natural meats. Specifically for braising, you will need a cut with connective tissue, such as chuck, round, or shoulder roast, brisket, stew beef, and short ribs. You can also braise dark cuts of poultry, such as chicken or turkey legs, and even seafood, such as monkfish. Lamb shanks are also excellent for braising, as are several cuts of pork.
Braising is an ancient way to cook, nonetheless you will be a great chef in any era once you master this timeless cooking technique. It’s the perfect dish for the season!