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How to Braise Any Meat to Perfection

Chef Charles Schlienger and Chef Steve McHugh weigh in on how to make perfect, flavorful braises.

Team Made In|Feb 18, 2020
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When you have a

Dutch Oven

and some time on your hands, braising is one of the best things you can do for a piece of meat. A winning combination of roasting and steaming, braising involves first cooking the meat to develop some color. This is followed by covering it in liquid and letting it cook low and slow in a tightly covered vessel over a period of hours, sometimes the better part of a day.

Ideally, you’ll end up with a piece of meat that is succulent and full of flavor. However, if done incorrectly braising can occasionally backfire, resulting in meat that’s unpleasantly wet on the outside and bone dry on the inside.

In order to avoid the common pitfalls of braising, we talked to Chef Charles Schlienger of

Sway

in West Lake Hills outside of Austin, as well as Chef Steve McHugh of

Landrace

in San Antonio. They gave us  some expert advice on how to lock in flavor and moisture

every time

. Here are their top five tips.

Get a Good Sear

While not absolutely necessary depending on what kind of meat you’re cooking with, a nice, hard sear never hurts a braise. "That's going to create the

Maillard reaction

, which is going to add flavor," explains Chef Schlienger. Though you won’t get the same crispy texture as you would from simply searing the meat and serving it, this first  sear will yield some browned bits that will add to the overall complexity of finished braise.

To ensure that you don’t lose any of those, use the same pan for the sear as you are for the braise. A

Dutch Oven

is ideal for this but a

rondeau

would also work nicely. As an added bonus, making this a one pan meal also cuts down on the amount of

clean-up

you will need to do as well.

Lay a Bed of Veggies Down

“When I’m braising, I like to create a bed of veggies underneath my meat,” says Chef McHugh. Before putting the meat in, Chef McHugh adds a mirepoix of carrots, celery, onions, and other aromatics. “It helps with flavor, but it also helps keep the meat elevated,” Chef Mchugh says. This ensures that your meat won’t get stuck on the bottom of

the Dutch Oven

, but will instead float effortlessly in the liquid you’re about to add.

For Goodness Sake, Season Your Braising Liquid

As with any good dish, you want to build on layers of flavor. If, for some reason, you’re only using water for your braise, the meat is going to be seriously lacking. In order to create a multidimensional flavor bath, utilize stock and aromatics (think fresh herbs, citrus peel and whole spices like peppercorns or cloves).

Wine is also a great addition. “For pork braises, I love a good Sauvignon Blanc,” Chef McHugh adds. “It’s nice and crisp and will impart a ton of flavor.”

Lastly, don’t even think about discarding the liquid when your braise finishes. The resulting liquid, which will now also be infused with slow cooked meat juices, is called

cuisson

, and it’s about to become your new secret weapon in gravy,

risotto

and more.

Don’t Waterlog It

Remember, despite the desire to mine that liquid gold that is the cuisson, you are making a braise, not a stew. The liquid should serve to create a moist heat around the meat and work together with a tight fitting lid to help you cook low and slow.

“I recommend filling your

Dutch Oven

with liquid until only the veg is covered, too much and you’ve overdone it,” says McHugh. The meat will also release its own savory juices as it cooks so there’s no need to overdo it.

However, too little liquid can obviously lead to not just a dry braise but also uneven cooking. You want there to be enough liquid to effectively penetrate the meat and allow the connective tissues to break down. This happy medium will yield truly fork-tender meat.

Make Sure the Meat is Cooked Through

This is where the “forget it” part of “set it and forget it” can be an issue. "Make sure you don't overcook it as well, because you can still dry your meat out," reminds Chef Schlienger. To ensure this doesn’t happen, make sure you are checking your braise throughout its cook time. Taking a peek at its temperature every 20-30 minutes is a good way to keep it from overcooking.

Let Your Meat Cool in the Liquid

“One of the things I see a lot of young chefs do is remove the meat from the liquid before it’s rested,” says Chef McHugh. “You want the meat to absorb all of those juices while it’s cooling, otherwise it’s going to end up dry.” Instead, let the meat cool in the

Dutch Oven,

until ready to serve.

Remember: Your Braise is Only as Good as Your Ingredients

Braising meat is a great way to make less expensive cuts of meat taste fancy but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out quality meats if you can. "Don't go cheap on it," warns Chef Schlienger. To put it another way, if braising can transform inexpensive meats into things of beauty, just imagine what it could do for nicer ones! In short, braising is a great way to get your money’s worth. Not just for the meat you’re using but also your

cookware

, too.

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