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Braising Meat For Tenderness and Flavour

Posted on April 9, 2015

Remember when you used to visit grandma’s house and you walked into a kitchen overflowing with the most luscious smells you’ve ever encountered? There was always a large pot on the stove simmering away gently. And when that pot was opened at dinnertime, you found yourself face to face with a plate of the tastiest meat and vegetables you’ve ever eaten. Nobody could cook like grandma!

Now I don’t want to spoil your childhood memories, but did you know that you can now cook every bit as good as grandma? Chances are, in that stove-top pot, grandma was braising the meat. Braising is a method of cooking meats and vegetables and its especially effective for tougher, cheaper cuts of meat such as shanks, briskets and rumps. This is a basic technique taught in culinary school and its one every cook should master quickly. Braising is not only great for home cooked meals, it is also a method for gourmet preparations straight from the best kitchens of New York or Paris, and cooking school graduates have developed some wonderful variations to the meats, liquids, vegetables and spices included in braising to create some truly awesome dishes.

Irrespective of what you include in your pot, one thing is certain. Because braising involves cooking in liquid for quite a long time, your house is sure to be filled with the most delicious aromas, and your meat will be fork-tender… just like grandma’s.

In culinary arts school, professional chefs learn to start the braising process by searing the meat in hot oil. The reason for this is twofold. First, searing seals the meat trapping the juices inside so the meat doesn’t become dry when cooked. Second, searing your meat before braising brings out a lot of flavour. The caramelization of the meat on the bottom of the pan gives an extra layer of rich essence to the recipe.

Once the meat has seared and is browned on all sides, remove it from the pan. Create a bed of chopped vegetables (called a mirepoix) on the bottom of the pot. In culinary school, professionals are taught to pair the meat with the flavors of the vegetables. For beef or lamb, you might select carrots, onions and celery for your veggie mix. Allow the vegetables to sweat (cook just until they begin to produce liquid) then add your meat and liquid.

Add the meat back to the pan, add your spices and pour in your liquid. This is where your creativity will come in. In the south, you might find braised dishes such as traditional pot roast with carrots and potatoes. Seasonings could include garlic, salt and pepper. Liquids might be a combination of beef stock and Worcestershire sauce.

Once your favorite seasonings and liquids are in place, reduce the heat to a low setting for stovetop cooking or transfer your pot to the oven and bake at approximately 300 degrees. (Be sure you have an ovenproof pot.) Cook for about 3 hours on the stovetop or 2.5 hours in a 350-degree oven. Plate up your meal and serve with some of the delicious sauce left in the pot! It’s a meal everybody will love.

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