Here in the Scrimp household, we braise meat at least two or three times per week. It is by far our preferred method of cooking. Why? Well, it's easy, it's quick, and it's a great way to make the cheapest cuts of meat taste mind-blowingly good.
Braising is a type of slow-cooking that is best done in the oven but can also be done on a stovetop. All you need is a pot with a good lid. You can even braise in a crock pot, although my experience has been that meat braised in the crock pot does not turn out as well.
The best braising dish is a dutch oven. I have two of them, I swear by them, and I use them for just about everything. One of them is a discontinued Martha Stewart model that I got as a wedding gift, and one of them was a Christmas present last year from Mother-in-law Scrimp--the lovely red Food Network model below.
A dutch oven is made of enameled cast iron. It's heavy. It's a beast. It retains heat beautifully and it turns cheap cuts of meat into magic. If you're going to braise, I recommend getting one, because it just makes life in your kitchen better.
Last night for dinner, I took a $3.99/lb cut of beef and turned it into something that we gladly would have paid ten times more for. And I didn't even need a recipe. All I needed to know was the secret formula of braising.
Are you ready? Here it is.
Cheap meat + vinegar or wine + seasoning + braising = Tender, succulent, flavorful wonderment.
Let me explain.
Cheap cuts of meat are typically full of extra bones, sinew, and/or skin. They're usually (especially in the case of beef and pork) very tough. They're cheap because you can't slap them on the grill untouched and come up with something delicious and tender.
However, the cheapest cuts are often the most flavorful and the most healthy. Why? Well, all of those extra bits that have been taken out of expensive meat are full of good things like collagen, cartilage, calcium, and other minerals. They make the meat tough, but they also make it good for you.
To braise meat, the first thing you need is one of those cheap, tough cuts. Yesterday I used beef shanks, literally the cheapest cut of beef available at my Whole Foods. Sometimes we use ribs, or chuck, or shoulder roasts (a perennial favorite). Any meat works, honestly.
Vinegar or Wine
The next thing you need is something to help break down all that connective tissue that is making the meat tough. This is where vinegar or wine (or other alcohols) come in. You don't need much; the meat should only be covered about 50% or a little more. In combination with heat, vinegar or alcohol will melt that toughness down into flavor.
Toss a little salt or pepper in with your meat and liquid, too. You can even get fancy and add other things, like herbs, onions and garlic, or vegetables. Sometimes we get real crazy and add tomato sauce or a jar of salsa, or even curry. Any flavoring will work, whether simple or complicated.
If you have a dutch oven or other oven-safe pot with a well-fitting lid, set your oven temperature between 300 and 325, pop it in there, and leave it for... well... as long as you want. Typically it takes at least 3 hours for the meat to really be falling-off-the-bone cooked, but sometimes it takes as little as 1 1/2 and you can leave it in there for 8 hours and as long as you make sure there's always some liquid in there, all that's going to happen is that it's going to taste better and better.
If you don't have a dutch oven or oven-safe pot... well... you can buy the one that I have for $49.99 (full disclosure: If you use that link to buy a dutch oven, I will theoretically be compensated for advertising it). I really do own it, though, and I really do recommend it and have recommended it dozens of times before when Google affiliate ads weren't promising me filthy lucre in exchange.
If you don't have the $50 on hand to buy a new kitchen tool (even one that will last you through years of every day use), all is not lost. Like I said before, you can braise on the stovetop or in a crock pot, as long as you have a pot with a lid. It's best to use a heavy-bottomed pot, and then just put it on the back burner, covered, on a simmer. Check on it occasionally to make sure it isn't boiling too hard, as this can make the meat tough. Cook the meat until it's succulent and tender.
Famous Recipes that Use Braising:
Still not convinced? Here are some examples of famous recipes and dishes that use braising to achieve intense flavor and tender meat:
- Coq au Vin
- Boeuf Bourguignon
- Chicken Cacciatore
- Moroccan Tagine
What's your favorite braising recipe?