RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you've never tried braising, you're missing out on a cooking technique that's as satisfying as it is easy. Knowing how to braise can really come in handy when you're trying to stretch your food budget and free up your time. Basically, the food's cooked long and slow in a small amount of liquid until it's tender. Lower-priced cuts of meat become tender and succulent when braised, and dishes' flavors have lots of time to blend together, creating a deliciously complex sauce. There's no need for extra fat in the form of oil or butter. And once everything's assembled in the braising pan, this slow, moist cooking method requires little or no effort but delivers a huge payoff in the end.
To get started, you'll need a large, heavy enamel or cast-iron pot or dish with a lid. Alternatively, a slow cooker works well. If your largest, heaviest pot doesn't have a lid, you can cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil. First, brown your choice of meat on the stovetop to give your finished dish a richer aroma and flavor; add vegetables, if desired. Then pour enough liquid in your pot to cover the meat halfway to two-thirds, and cover. If you're using stock, match a low-sodium version with your choice of main ingredient (chicken stock for chicken, beef stock for beef, and so forth). Finally, season the liquid with herbs and spices as desired. Wine or beer will add even more depth of flavor to your braising liquid. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer. Or place the pot in the oven at a low temperature. You can turn your meat halfway through the cooking process, but it's really not necessary. As a general rule, cook beef and other meats for an hour to an hour and a half per pound. Cook a whole chicken for 45 minutes per pound.
Ideal meat choices for braising include pork shoulder, beef chuck roasts, short ribs, lamb shanks, and dark-meat chicken still on the bone (legs and thighs). Since slow cooking in liquid breaks down fat, any cut of meat with distinct fat marbling works great. But you're not limited to these types of meat: fish (which braises quickly) and vegetables are great braised, too. When adding veggies to the braising broth for meat, choose sturdy ones that will hold up to extended cooking times, like potatoes and carrots.
Read on to see recipes for braising chicken, beef, salmon, vegetables, and more.