Don’t be scared. Just make sure to get a recipe from a source that you trust. Every one of the recipes in my book (including the ones below) is tested. I started out in New York in the test kitchen at Ladies Home Journal, so I understand the value of testing. Not every cookbook has recipes that are tested, and that’s one thing that I’m known for, recipes that work.
Read the recipe through several times before you start, so you can familiarize yourself with it.
Before braising anything, get everything ready: chop the onions, smash the garlic, or do whatever is required. Have all the equipment on hand so you don’t have to stop mid-recipe to chase things around. If you do that, then you won’t have a problem at all. Once the meat is in the pot to braise, the recipe cooks itself; you don’t have to do anything. And it also fills the house with wonderful smells, so you know a good meal is coming.
In the beginning, you want to get a lot of good rich, deep brown color on the meat, before you add any liquid, because that is key for flavor. That is sort of the basic idea of braising, to brown the meat, then add a small amount of liquid and cook it, but I do think getting that a good brown color on the meat is really important for flavor in the end.
Also for braising, in comparison to stews, you do not want a lot of liquid because you don’t want to drown the meat. You can certainly vary the type of liquid that you use: you can use water, broth, tomato juice, chopped tomatoes with their liquid, wine, or beer.
Low and Slow
Low and slow is something to remember for braising, because you want to cook it low and slow until it literally falls of the bone. If you overcook or use too high a temperature, the meat will be tough.
What is so great about braising?
One of the things that I think is most important about these tough, less expensive cuts is that they are so versatile. I mean what can you really do with steaks? You can throw them on a grill or in a skillet, but they are very limited. One thing people do not realize is that tender cuts of meats will never be more tender than they are raw. The whole point of cooking steak or prime rib is to preserve as large amount of that tenderness as possible. It’s the opposite for these cheaper, gristly cuts; the muscles in these less expensive cuts are incredibly tough when raw. A lot of magic takes place in the pot and the oven: what happens is that the sinew, or the gristle, that contains a lot of collagen, is converted to gelatin when cooked slowly in liquid, even just a small amount of it. This happens even more so when the liquid is something acidic like tomatoes, vingear, wine or lemon juice.
For people on a time crunch, when do you recommend braising?
I do this myself, so I think other people can too. When I have a little time, I will cook one of these recipes, then freeze them in portion sizes that are logical, depending on how many people I will serve. Then I reheat and serve it when I need to. It’s great to have on hand and lasts six months in the freezer.
Last thoughts on braising?
One thing that I’d like to say, is that I grew up in a middle class family. My dad was a college professor, and professors didn’t make a lot of money then, they still don’t really get what they deserve, but my mother struggled to feed us nutritious meals every day. And so she used cheaper cuts of meat to make these types of stews. These cuts are just endless in possibilities, and that is what I was trying to show in this book. So you can really be fed well and stretch the food dollar; that’s what these cheap cuts and recipes are all about. We really need to discover what our grandmother and mothers knew all along. There is a lot of good eating in these tough cuts of meat.