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Mar 6, 2017 @ 10:37

Learn the Basics of Braising and Transform Meat to a Dinner-Worthy Feast

Chilly weather is made for braising. Cooking tougher cuts of meat in a braise transforms them into tender, fall-off-the-bone dinner masterpieces that satisfy our desire to hunker down and cozy up. As an added bonus, the low-and-slow cooking time is largely hands-off, making your kitchen warm and great-smelling. What’s not to love? Also, you don’t even need a recipe to braise successfully. This kitchen technique is all about mastering the basics, then putting your own spin on them. Get ready to braise the roof (sorry)—here’s how to do it tonight.

Meet Your Meat

Penny-pinchers, rejoice: Cheaper, tougher cuts of meat make the best braises. In fact, we never use pricier, sought-after cuts that benefit from quick-cooking (think pork chops, cutlets, and steaks). The combination of a low oven temperature and moist heat turns the chewy sinew and muscle in cheap meat into unctuous, gelatinous broth and tender meat. Some of our favorite cuts to braise are bone-in beef short ribs, chuck, round, or brisket, pork shoulder or Boston butt, lamb shoulder and shanks, and chicken thighs. If you can choose bone-in meat, definitely do: It will impart better flavor to the braising liquid and sauce—you can also use the bones later to make a stock for your next braise. Even better, these cuts of meat freeze well (wrap them tightly in plastic, then store in a freezer bag). Just transfer them from the freezer to the refrigerator a day before you plan on cooking them, and you’re ready to go.

Brown, Baby, Brown

The first step to a successful braise is to brown the meat. No matter what cut you’re using, and no matter what you’re flavoring it with, the finished dish will be so much more delicious if you sear if first. Heat a heavy pot or Dutch oven on the stovetop and add your well-seasoned meat to it with a little fat (i.e. oil, butter, lard). Brown the meat on every side. Don’t be shy about adding as much color as possible—the meat should be deeply golden all over. Once you’ve achieved that perfect hue, remove the meat from the pan so you can deglaze. The caramelized “brown bits” that stick to the bottom of the pan can be lifted with a splash of liquid and a wooden spoon. You can use just about any liquid you happen to have on hand—white or red wine, vinegar, vermouth, beer, stock, or even water. Those little browned bits add an intense depth and richness to the braising liquid, making the finished dish even more flavorful.

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