Braising renders tender, pull-apart meat (and vegetables) with rich flavor for an impressive dinner party entree or Sunday supper. My favorite dishes using this method include short ribs in red wine, chicken thighs with mushrooms, cabbage in vegetable stock, and whole cauliflower in tomato sauce.
With a few fundamental techniques, you can learn how to braise with confidence and create the slow-cooked dish of your dreams.
What is Braising?
According to Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking," the traditional French term "braise" refers to "a closed pot sitting on top of, and covered by, charcoal." Nowadays, the definition of braising has expanded, but it generally involves pan-searing meat (a form of dry-heat cooking) and subsequently simmering the meat at a gentle, low heat in liquid. As a result, the meat is both flavorful from the aromatic liquid and succulent in texture.
Braising differs from roasting in that the meat is cooked in liquid. Often, the meat sears on the stovetop first and finishes cooking in the oven, submerged in liquid. It can also simmer on the stovetop at low heat. Searing helps brown and caramelize sugars in the meat (or vegetable) through the Maillard reaction, adding robust flavor.
What Type of Meat or Vegetable is Best for Braising?
Because braising happens at low heat, it can often take several hours. This method is ideal for tougher, cheap meats with a lot of connective tissue because the extended time allows the collagen to break down into gelatin and help pull apart the meat fibers.
For meats, we recommend beef short ribs (thick-cut), beef chuck roast, pork shoulder, chicken thighs or legs, lamb shank, lamb shoulder, turkey legs, and veal shanks (osso bucco).
Most vegetables work well with a braise; my favorites are onions, artichokes, green beans, fennel, cabbage, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, leeks, and even potatoes. Braised vegetables are sweet and soft but not mushy. Vegetables require significantly less time than meats, though larger vegetables like cauliflower could still take up to an hour.
What is the Best Temperature for Braising?
Because braising involves both dry and wet heat cooking, there are a few different temperatures to consider.
First, the meat sears in the pan at medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Then, the meat is removed, and any aromatics are cooked in the residual fat. In the final stage, the meat is added back in with liquid to simmer at low heat either on the stove or in the oven. In the oven, braises can be as low as 250°F to 325°F.
How Can I Ensure my Braise is Flavorful?
There are a few ways to infuse flavor into the dish:
- Dry brine your meat: If cooking with meat, make sure to season the meat on all sides before pan-searing. Even better, apply a dry brine a few hours up to a day in advance; salt the meat and place it uncovered in the fridge to really soak up the seasoning.
- Add aromatics: Onions, carrots, celery, and garlic are traditional aromatics that add sweetness and earthiness to the dish. But you can experiment with other ingredients, like bell peppers, fennel, or chili peppers.
- Add spices and herbs: Black peppercorns, red chili flakes, and bay leaves can add heat and earthiness. I may also add dried herbs, like bay leaves or oregano, or fresh herbs, like parsley or basil, to simmer in the braising liquid.
- Choose your favorite braising liquid: There are many options for braising liquid -- white wine, red wine, meat or vegetable stocks, crushed tomatoes, juices (orange, pomegranate, apple cider). I've even seen coca-cola as a braising liquid. Remember that a sweeter braising liquid will continue to reduce and caramelize. You can also combine different options, such as a combination of red wine and beef broth.
What Special Equipment do I Need?
The one piece of equipment you need is a braiser or heavy-bottomed pot. Dutch ovens work well, but even a wide, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot can do the job. If you plan on using the oven, make sure the pot is oven-safe.
How to Braise Meat and Vegetables (Step-by-Step Instructions)
- Sear the meat (optional): Heat your braiser to medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Let the pan preheat, then add meat or vegetables and sear until browned on all sides. Typically, the initial sear on the first side will take at least 5 minutes. Continue adjusting the heat up or down as needed to ensure it's adequately caramelized. Remove the meat or vegetable from the heat and set aside.
- Cook aromatics: If the bottom of your pan burned, turn the heat off, wipe the pan, and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. If not, keep the fat in the pan so you retain the delicious frond (brown bits). Add your aromatics (onion, celery, garlic, etc.) and any tough, dried herbs or spices (bay leaves, cinnamon sticks). Cook at medium heat until aromatics are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add any pastes: Add any paste, such as anchovy, tomato, or Calabrian chili. Stir to combine, then let cook down at medium heat until the paste caramelizes and the oils separate, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the wine (optional): Increase the heat to medium-high and add your wine. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes until the wine reduces.
- Add your braising liquid and herbs: Pour in any other braising liquids and herbs you'd like to simmer the meat in. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the meat or vegetable back in: Add the pan-seared meat or vegetable back into the pan and nestle gently in the liquid. For meats, you generally want to have enough liquid to submerge the meat fully. For vegetables, you can submerge halfway or fully. Submerging halfway will create a reduced sauce at the bottom and roast or crisp the vegetable on top.
- Let simmer: Let the meat or vegetable simmer on low heat, covered, anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the cut. You can simmer on the stovetop or in the oven. When done, meat should be tender and fall-apart easily with a fork. A knife should cut through vegetables with little resistance.
- Remove excess fat: For meat, you can serve as is or skim some of the excess fat with a spoon. It's often easiest to remove the fat once the liquid has chilled in the fridge so that you can prepare the braise the night before, let it sit in the refrigerator, and then remove the fat before serving the next day.
- Reduce the sauce further: If you'd like to thicken the sauce, remove the meat or vegetable and let it cook down until it reaches the desired consistency. Sometimes, I will actually blend the liquid; it transforms into a thick, velvety sauce.
Ready to get braising? Here are some of our favorite recipes:
- Roman-Style Braised Artichokes
- Slow Cooker Bourbon Short Ribs with Cheesy Grits
- Turkish Braised Greens
- Braised Onions
- Lamb Braised in Milk with Fennel
- Herb Marinated Braised Lamb Shanks
- Beer Braised Chicken and Onions