Braising is: cooking a fibrous cut of meat, over a long period of time, over a low simmering heat, in a covered dish with a small amount liquid. The steam trapped inside your Slow Cooker/ Dutch Oven/ Baking Dish cooks the top of the meat that is not submerged in liquid with steam. Halfway through the cooking process turn the meat over. That's really all there is to it.
Braising is used by cultures all around the globe: Indian Lamb Curry, English Stews, Viennese Sauerbraten, Southern Pulled Pork, Mexican Barbacoa; the combinations of meats and flavors are endless. This method requires the tougher, more fibrous cuts of meat because the process of braising is designed to tenderize these tough cuts and break down all the collagen holding the fibers together, so that eventually, the meat just falls apart and melts in your mouth!
To get started: pick your meat. Some cuts that are popular: Pork Butt, Pork & Beef Shoulder, Beef Brisket, Pork & Beef Cheek, Rib Meat, just to name a few. I chose Beef Brisket because I ate a delicious brisket at a holiday dinner in Rochester and I was hooked! But also through my quick reseach I realized that it is a very popular cut for braising and many chef's top choice.
Braising is popular because it's economical--the tougher cuts of meat are usually the less expensive cuts, especially in comparison to common "tender" cuts like sirloin or filet. Braising works very well with beef, lamb, and pork, bone-in-chicken and tougher fish like skate or mackeral.
The next step is to figure out how MUCH of the meat you can handle. Some people like to keep the cut whole and this works best in a large baking dish, meant to be cooked in the oven. Since I still don't have a working oven (ironic, I know), I had to use either my Dutch Oven or Slow Cooker for this meal. I had to cut down the Brisket in order to fit evenly in the Dutch Oven. In the end, I shredded the meat anyways, so it wasn't a problem.
NOTE: many recipes call for 3 to 4 pounds of meat for Braising. This makes a LOT of meat and you will need a Large Dutch Oven or a Large Slow Cooker or Baking Dish. I have a Smaller 2 Person Le Creuset Dutch Oven and it held 1.5 pounds perfectly. It is still plenty for 2 people with leftovers for another meal.
Another technique linked to braising is Browning, which is just searing the meat at a very high temperature to carmalize the exterior and "lock in flavor" before covering with liquid to braise. Whether this really is necessary is debated, but if you have the time, it certainly doesn't hurt and my dish came out amazingly and I'm sure it had something to do with searing the meat beforehand.
After your meat is browned (all instructions below), you just have to choose your liquid of preference in which to braise your meat. You can literally choose anything--even water if nothing else is available, but the options are wide. The most popular are: wine, stocks, soups (like french onion/soup mix), beer, water or any combination of all of these. It's up to you. I prefer cooking with wine, so that's what I used, with a little chicken stock thrown in for good measure.
Then choose your spices/flavorings. Of course, I added garlic and an onion that I had laying around. I also added some dried spices and some fresh thyme that I just thought would smell delicious with everything else. You can really add whatever you like! Experiment. This recipe was my first attempt and I didn't use a recipe, braising is a very forgiving method, it's ripe for experimentation!
Then, once you have all that settled, all you need is time!
BRAISED BEEF in the "FRENCH STYLE"
1 to 2 pound Beef Brisket, cut into large, even pieces (about 8)
Salt, Pepper & Garlic Powder to season the Brisket Pieces
Dry White Wine (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a bottle)
Chicken, Veg or Beef Broth (optional)
Half a Palmful of Dried Herbs de Provence
1 Onion, cut in half & sliced thickly
4 Garlic Cloves, quartered
8 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme (optional)
- Allow the Brisket to sit and rest for half an hour before you begin to dress it. Cut the Brisket in even, large pieces--the goal of cutting the Brisket is to make it an easier fit in the bottom of your Dutch Oven. Ideally you will want an even layer in the bottom of your Dutch Oven.
- Season the Brisket with Sea Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder, massage it into the Brisket.
- Now time for the Browning/Searing of the meat. Put a tiny amount of EVOO in the Dutch Oven, you want just enough to grease the bottom of the pan--not a visible layer--you do not want to fry the meat. Raise the heat to High.
- Once the Oven is hot (the EVOO will smoke a bit) add a few pieces of the Brisket, browning in batches. Adding the meat all at once will lower the temperature of the Oven and defeat the purpose of browning.
- When you add your batches of Brisket (2 to 3 pieces at a time), you will hear a searing sound. This is good. Turn on your exhaust if you have one. Sear each side (not just top and bottom) for 30 seconds, set aside. Repeat until all pieces are seared all around.
- While the Oven is still hot, add a little wine to deglaze the bottom of your Oven. Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.Turn off the heat, keep the liquid in the pan--these browned bits add loads of flavor when you cook.
- Arrange all the meat at the bottom of the Dutch Oven in as even a manner as possible. If some pieces are thicker than others, arrange so that the thicker pieces are towards the center of the pot and the thinner pieces are towards the edge.
- Fill Oven with Wine and/or Stock until the meat is submerged in liquid half-way. Add Garlic, Onions, Thyme and Dried Herbs de Provence.
- Turn back on High to a boil, then slowly drop to low, while maintaining a boil. Cover the Dutch Oven with the lid.
- Cook, covered, on a low simmer for 1 hour. Then remove fresh Thyme Sprigs and flip the meat pieces, so that each part will recieve equal time in the liquid and on top of the liquid. If the liquid has evaporated, feel free to add more. Cook on low for 1 more hour.
- At this point the meat will be tender, but you will most likely want to cook it longer for about 30 minutes to an hour and the meat will literally fall apart. At this point, you may want to add more liquid as well--because as it breaks down, the meat absorbs the liquid. The onions and garlic will evaporate into the broth/meat. It's fantastic.
- Turn off heat. Shred/Pull meat apart with a pair of forks, it doesn't take much force at all. The broth will mostly be absorbed by the meat.
Serve with your favorite potato dish, vegetable. Or use on a sandwhich or on a salad.