Braising Notes

Why braise?

Turn tougher cuts of meat into melt-in-the-mouth, moist, tender treats. It counts on—and is all about—the collagen to gelatin transformation.

  1. Transform tougher cuts into tender ones (texture)
  2. Reduce and concentrate flavors (flavor)
  3. Hands-off method (reduced effort) (lifestyle)

See Ethan Chlebowski.

How to braise...

  1. Salt and season meat.
  2. Sear meat and set aside.
  3. Sauté an aromatic base.
  4. Add braising liquid.
  5. Cover and simmer until tender.
  6. Make a sauce.

Common mistakes...

  1. Wrong cut of meat for braising. You can braise anything, but there are cuts that lends themselves better than others to braising. For instance, cuts with lots of fat, connective tissue, and collagen. Lean cuts aren't so good.

    Examples: Chuck, brisket.

  2. Fail to braise long enough. The collagen hasn't turned to gelatin yet. Collagen breaks down from 160° to 205°, so your braise must be hot enough for that. Also, the larger the cut, the more time it needs to penetrate all of the meat with the right temperature. Last, it takes not only heat, but time to melt the collagen.

    Note, you can sous-vide at 131° for a much longer time (like 24 hours for a 2-inch slab of chuch), so collagen does function at lower temperatures, it just takes longer.

  3. Braising and consuming right away. Braised meats are even better the next day. Don't plan to make your pot roast for Sunday dinner that afternoon.

  4. Too little liquid. This is the most important component in braising. The collagen needs moisture to transform itself into gelatin. It cannot do this "dry." Liquid means "water," and this also controls the temperature of your cooking by never letting it get above 212°—automatic safety mechanism.

    If your liquid evaporates, you're in dry cooking (not braising) and the meat will lose moisture and fail to get the collagen broken down plus all the fat will melt out onto the bottom of the pot.

    Fill pot to ¾ up to the top of the meat. Add liquid if it drops below this.

  5. Undersalting. Dry-brine to begin with to help meat retain moisture. When ready to braise, you want to sear it so pat the meat dry with a paper towel to enable that. You should do the dry-brine at least a day in advance.