From la braise, a French term for glowing coals heaped around a closed cooking vessel, braise(braze) is a slow, moist cooking method used primarily for meats and vegetables. English cooks focused on the cooking vessel itself and came up with the less romantic term “pot roast.” In simple terms, braising takes the following steps: 1) Brown meat in a little oil. 2) Moisten with liquid, often stock and an acidic element such as wine. 3) Cover tightly and cook at low heat — often 325F or less — until meat is fork tender.
Roasting was for the wealthy who could afford to “fatten the calf.” Braising was the peasant’s way to coax succulence from older, muscular animals, which were tough but very tasty. A good braise is more than the sum of its parts: Meat absorbs flavor from the liquid, the liquid takes body from collagens in the meat, and a flavorful sauce is an automatic byproduct. Classic braises include the coq au vin (chicken in wine) and the dish made with veal shanks, osso buco (literally, “pierced bone”).
Some tips: Brown meat on all sides to develop flavor. Don’t drown your meat in liquid. In general, add liquid no more than half way up the side of the roast. For especially fatty cuts, cool the braised dish until fat is easily skimmed, then reheat and adjust seasonings. Flavorful braising liquids produce a more flavorful dish, and recipes may call for reducing a bottle of wine to a single cup. Good candidates for braising include chuck roasts, shanks and short ribs. Braising is also a great technique for cooking vegetables ranging from cabbage to fennel.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.