What’s braising and why should you be doing it now? In short, braised recipes—like the Spice-Braised Brisket with Shallots and Tangerines pictured here—are ones that simmer for hours and hours, filling the house with wonderful, warming smells and cozy, comforting tastes. So they’re are the ideal antidote to a chilly day.
For the (somewhat) longer answer, plus more braises to try, read on.
What exactly is braising?
Generally speaking, cooking methods can be categorized as fast or slow and wet or dry.
Pan-searing, for example, is a fast, dry cooking method. Poaching is a fast, wet cooking method. The kinds of meats best suited to fast cooking are small, lean, relatively tender meats, ones that’d get overdone or dried out if they’re cooked for a long time. A chicken breast, for example, or a fish filet.
Now let’s look at slow cooking methods. Roasting is a slow, dry cooking method. It’s ideal for large, relatively tender cuts, those that need a longer cooking time to get cooked through, but that’ll get dried out if they’re cooked much beyond that. A whole chicken or turkey, for example, or a beef or pork loin.
Which brings us (finally!) to braising—cooking something for a relatively long time in a relatively moist environment (usually a liquid)—a slow, wet cooking method. Braising is ideal for tougher cuts that need a long cook to become tender. Think chuck roast, short ribs, or pork shoulder. With a quick cook they’d be edible, but they’d also be tough and chewy. But with a long cook, ideally one that involves some kind of steam or moisture, those tough sinews melt down and become soft and unctuous. The meat becomes tender and succulently satisfying in a way that a boneless, skinless chicken breast never will.
You probably do a lot of braising but don’t know it. A stew or chili with chunks of meat is basically a braise. Most things made in a slow cooker are braises. Other braises include brisket, pot roast, cacciatore, lamb shanks, and coq au vin.
Why you should be braising now
While it’s not quick, braising is generally easy. After just a little prep, most braises mind themselves on the stovetop or in the oven for hours. But that’s an argument for braising any time of year.
You should be braising now because it’s perfect for cool weather, when something long-simmering fills the air with delicious savory sells and makes it comforting and cozy to stay inside.
Braising is perfect for now because sometimes the end of the winter can be the hardest to weather. Cozy comforts help us hang on.
If you’re celebrating Passover, braising is perfect for now because, well, it’s tradition! But it’s also perfect because you can make it in advance and then simply pop it back in the oven to reheat about an hour before dinner.
And this particular Spice-Braised Brisket with Shallots and Tangerines is perfect for now because, like winter itself, citrus season is coming to a close, with many types of citrus only available through March or April. Tangerines add both sweetness and tang to this braise, making it a great way to celebrate them.
All in all, braising is sort of the original slow food. It can’t be rushed, so it forces us to take time with our cooking, to relax.
Sunnier days, both literally and figuratively, are right around the corner. But meanwhile, a braise or two will get us through.
Braises to try:
Spice-Braised Brisket with Shallots and Tangerines
Wine-Simmered Beef Stew with Carrots, Mushrooms, and Sweet Onions
Sierra Chicken Stew
Chicken Posole Verde
Chunky Beef and Syrah Chili
Some of my braises on others’ sites:
Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs with Gorgonzola Polenta and Mixed Herb Gremolata
Sticky Asian Barbecued Baby Back Ribs
And just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Stew