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Culinary Term of the Week: Braising

September 24, 2009

by Chef Gusteau

Chef Gusteau here, with the start of an important new segment called “Culinary Term of the Week.”  The goal here is to review a concept or technique that is valuable for any cook eager to learn more about the culinary world around him/her.  Today we will jump right into one of my favorite cooking techniques – Braising.  Before getting too carried away, first let’s review the types of cooking we have available to us.  We can cook foods with dry heat, which is characterized by baking, grilling, broiling and sautéing (don’t get me started there…”But Chef Gusteau, you sauté with fat, which makes it wet, not dry”  Trust me on this one…it is dry).  On the other hand, we have cooking with moist heat, which are typically poaching and steaming.  Finally, we have the hybrid technique using both dry and moist methods, of which braising is the star (stewing would be the redheaded step child of combo methods).

Ok, now that we have the frame, let’s paint the picture.  Braising was created as a cooking technique to help cooks work with tougher pieces of meats (shoulders, shanks, ribs, etc).  It was discovered that by combining the dry and moist cooking methods, these cuts of meats became tender, juicing and very satisfying.  How many people can think of Osso Bucco or succulent braised ribs and not imagine the delicate meat, and the thick, unctuous sauce poured lovingly over it.  Now braising has been elevated from its humble status to an art form, as well as being used more creatively.  Every notice braised vegetables on a menu?

Now the technique in a nutshell.  First, secure a pan/pot that can be both used on the stove top and then placed covered in the oven.  Next, find an appropriate cut of meat.  Short ribs would be a good example, beef tenderloin would be a very bad one (and expensive as well!).  What we are trying to do is first sear the meat on all sides.  This will impart flavor, texture and color to the meat.  It does NOT seal the meat so juices will stay trapped inside the meat.  If that were the case, the meat would explode like a bomb when heated, right?  Now, season the meat with salt and pepper, although other spices/herbs may be used.  Heat the pot on the stove with a medium to medium high heat and pour your choice of fat into the pot to heat up (extra virgin oil is nice, clarified butter as well, a combo of both is great).  When the fat is hot, place the meat in the pan and LEAVE IT THERE!!  No poking, shaking or stirring required.  Let the magic happen.  You will see after a minute or two that the meat has caramelized and turned light brown, not black or burned.  And magically enough, you will see that when this happens, you will be able to flip the meat to the other side without it sticking to the pan.  If it sticks, you did not have the pan hot enough, or you didn’t sear it long enough.

After the meat is seared on all sides, remove it to a plate.  With the pan/pot still hot, add diced vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery (this combination is the classic “mirepoix”) as well as herbs such as thyme, parsley, etc.  Quickly cook these ingredients without burning, and then deglaze the pan with a red wine of choice (something you’d drink is best…bad wine is bad flavor, no matter how you look at it).  When the wine is slightly reduced, place the meat back into the pot, on top of all the vegetables, and then pour in a stock of your choice (beef, veal) until the stock is about half-way to the meat’s height.  Cover the meat with stock and you’re boiling, not braising.  Now cover the pot with the lid, and put into an oven at 350-375 degrees.  Expect the cooking process in the oven to take several hours depending on the meat you put in.  You are done when the meat is easily “shredded” with a fork.  If you want that gourmet touch, remove the meat and all vegetables from the pot, return the pot to the stove top, and reduce the braising liquid until thick.  This is now your sauce!

Have fun, and Bon Appétit!


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