If you want to enjoy a gourmet meal using inexpensive cuts of meat then you’ll want to learn how to “braise”. Braising means browning the meat oil and/or butter then slowly cooking in a covered roasting pan. The meat is covered in a liquid which usually includes some combination of water, broth and red or white wine. Cooking time can take from one to several hours as this method is used to tenderize and intensify the flavors in the meat and accompanying vegetables. Despite the time frame, most recipes are usually fairly simple and don’t require any advanced skills.
Follow these basic steps and you and your family or friends will thoroughly enjoy the results.
Step 1-Choose your favorite cut of meat. Lamb, beef, veal or pork shanks are very common in these recipes. Beef shoulder roast, chuck roast or brisket are also good choices. These cuts are usually tougher with higher levels of collagen. Collagen, when cooked at low temperatures for an extended time creates a gelatin which helps the tenderizing process. You can use chicken but it should not be skinless and bone should be in. Legs and thighs work best. The real secret is in the slow cooking.
Step 2-Brown the meat in some type of fat… olive oil, butter or some combination suggested in the particular recipe. The browning process is intended to add color and flavor enhancement. Frequently, the recipe may call for rolling the meat in flour seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper. Again… a flavor enhancement. The browning process is done in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot with a lid. The browning step may take 10 -20 minutes to cover all sides of the meat. It only cooks the surface of the meat and the searing locks in flavor.
Some tips… the meat should be patted dry and free of moisture or it will “steam” more than brown… don’t crowd the meat so any moisture can escape. Size of the portions, if not whole, should be the roughly the same for even cooking.
Step 3-Add liquids. As I mentioned earlier, depending on the type of meat and recipe, you can use wine, water, stock/broth… usually a combination of these liquids. At this point you will usually add onions, garlic, spices, vegetables and any other flavoring you may like. Some cooks/recipes say don’t cover the meat & vegetables entirely. I have covered with liquid and the results are very good.
Step 4-Cover the Dutch oven or pan. You can cook over a stove top or in the oven. I prefer the oven as it provides more even cooking on all sides and results in the best flavor and tenderizing. Follow the recipe for the correct oven temperature. Remember it will always be low… 300-325* or less.
Here are some typical cooking times…
Lamb shanks… 4-6 each a pound… 2 ½ hours
Veal shanks… 4-6 each a pound… 2-2 ½ hours
Shoulder roast… 3-4 pounds… roughly an hour per pound
Chicken (remember bone in/skin on)… 1-1 ½ hours
Give ‘braising” a try… you don’t have to be a gourmet cook to enjoy a wonderful meal!