Have recent increases in the price of meat leave you with the thought of becoming a vegetarian? With no disrespect to my vegetable eating friends, there is a great technique to bring extreme flavour and tenderness to cheaper cuts of meat. It’s called “braising”.
Braising is typically the process of first searing meat and then cooking it in a small amount of liquid at low temperatures for a long period of time. This low & slow method, along with the added moisture, is the ideal environment for breaking down connective tissue and thus making the meat more tender. The residual liquid is almost always transformed into a serving sauce with the prepared meat. Braising is used for both large cuts of meats and also for smaller individual cuts, with the main difference being the length of cooking time. Stews are a great example of braising.
Before the first step of searing, seasoning should be done. By seasoning before searing, the crust that is being created becomes more flavourful as the seasoning becomes part of the crust. This seasoning does not have to be complex. It’s as simple as a dusting of salt and pepper, or as intricate as you want it to be. This flavourful browning of the meat will bring out incredible tastes in your finished dish.
The searing should be done at a high temperature in order to create brownness on the meat. If the temperature is too low, or if a pan is too crowded, then the initial escaping moisture from the meat will not evaporate, and thus the meat will just boil in its own juices instead of browning.
The cooking liquid chosen should be selected to compliment the meat/dish. The amount of liquid will be different for every application. Stews are usually submersed in liquid for the cooking time, while pot roasts, for example, usually have just enough liquid to cover the meat by up to one third. Some individual cuts of meat, like pork chops, can be cooked with a lid with no added liquid. Just the trapped moisture in the meat itself may be enough for braising.
At the end of the cooking time, the residual cooking liquids can be easily transformed into accompanying sauces by reducing, thickening, or a combination of both. Before deciding how to finish your sauce, it will start with tasting. How are the flavours? How intense is it? If you decide that the flavours and intensity are sufficient, then a simple thickening will do: enter in a dissolved cornstarch slurry and bring to a full boil. If you find that the flavours and intensity are not sufficient, then boil the liquid as is, until it reduces through evaporation of water content. Taste along the way and decide when the sauce is ideal. This may also involve adjusting and balancing the flavours along the way. Once the desired taste is achieved, examine the sauce to see if thickening is even required, as it may have thickened enough on its own during this reduction time.
Learning many cooking techniques are great to assist you in the kitchen by increasing your skillset, but nothing can replace the hands-on experience of practice. Cook, be happy, know that you will make mistakes along the way, and enjoy life. Life is too short to get stressed out by a serving of food that is not perfect.