Let’s talking about cooking methods, shall we? Generally speaking, they 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 that are best suited to fast cooking are small, lean, relatively tender meats, those that’d get overdone or dried out if they cooked for a long time. A chicken breast, for example, or a fish filet.
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 to braising, 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, the 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 could.
(The photo in this post is my All-Clad braising pan and lid, cookware that I bought just so I can make a proper pot roast when the mood strikes. It’s ideal for braising because of the domed lid – all the better for the moisture to rise to the top, then roll back down into the pan. That said, you can use pretty much any pot with a tight-fitting lid for a braise – even if that lid happens to be a couple of sheets of foil.)
Braising has kind of fallen out of fashion. Our busy, fast-paced lives demand foods that can cook quickly, and our relatively well-to-do ways have afforded us more tender meats, ones that are literally high on the hog – although maybe that’s changed some, what with the economy and all.
But braising is due for a comeback. It’s the original slow food, in that it can’t be rushed and so it forces us to take time with cooking, to relax. Braising is also beautifully suited to wintertime, when something simmering for hours and hours, filling the air with savory smells, makes it easier to weather the chill outside.
“100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love” – my cookbook coming out in April – will have recipes for these braised dishes:
Sticky Asian Barbecued Baby Back Ribs (to pair with Gewurztraminer)
Merlot-Braised Lamb Shanks with Gorgonzola Polenta (Merlot)
Shallot and Green Peppercorn Brisket (Syrah)
Good Old-Fashioned Pot Roast (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Meanwhile, here’s one I developed for Bon Appetit magazine:
Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs with Gorgonzola Polenta and Mixed Herb Gremolata