‘Tis the season braising and stews!
Braising is the simmering of foods, usually meat or poultry, in liquid to exchange flavors and to tenderize the protein. If the meat or poultry is cut into bite-sized pieces, it is often called a stew, but the technique is the same. Braising is usually reserved for tough cuts with lots of connective tissue, and generally calls for less liquid than a stew. The moist heat helps the tissue dissolve into gelatin, which in turn gives the cooking liquid a luscious body. Here are some helpful tips to ensure success in the kitchen.
- Choose the right cooking utensil. A flame-proof Dutch oven will allow you to sear the meat in the pot, then continue the cooking at a slower pace in the oven. An oval pot is perfect for a long cut of meat, such as pork loin, or for a whole chicken.
- Pat the meat completely dry before browning, and season it with salt and pepper. If the meat is floured, shake off any excess flour before adding it to the pot.
- Working in batches, brown the meat over medium-high heat, so it sears without burning. Use oil, not butter, for browning. The milk solids in butter will burn. Do not crowd the meat in the pot, or steam will collect that will inhibit browning. Remove each batch as it is done.
- If after browning, the fat in the pot is discolored, pour it out. Wipe out and discard any burned bits with a wadded paper towel.
- Braises cooked on the stove top risk burning from the direct heat. Instead, put the covered pot (covering the pot prevents the liquid from evaporating) in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven, where the liquid is less likely to cook away and result in scorched contents. Bring to a simmer on the stop top before placing in the oven.
- The cooking liquid should be kept at a light simmer, not a boil, and the food should be surrounded by steam. If necessary, reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the liquid from cooking too fast.
- You can overcook braises and stews. Cook the meat just until it is fork-tender. Overcooking yields dry, stringy meat with no flavor.
- If you have the time, let the braise cool completely and reheat before serving. For the very best marriage of flavors, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Source: Tips Cooks Love By: Rick Rodgers
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