Braising Tips for the Ultimate Winter Comfort Food

Healthy Recipes Monday, December 22, 2014 Written by

Simply put, braising is cooking low and slow in a small amount of liquid. It produces the exceptionally tender results you get from a crock pot, but it doesn’t take all day, and no special appliances are needed. Tough cuts of meat — think pork shoulder, beef chuck and lamb shank — benefit from being braised, but so do chicken, beans and vegetables. All you need is a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid for the perfect winter comfort food. In a few simple steps, you’ll have a one-pot dinner that basically cooks itself!

We’ve provided a quick primer on how to braise, plus a few easy recipes to get you started.

winter comfort foodHow to Braise Meat in 4 Steps

1. Sear your meat
Heat a small amount of oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Season meat well with salt and pepper, then drop it in the pot and brown on all sides, cooking in batches if needed to ensure a good sear. Try to find locally raised meat, which can be purchased at farmers markets or food coops, or directly through local ranchers and producers.

2. Sauté aromatics and vegetables
Remove the meat and all but a tablespoon of drippings, and then sauté garlic, onion and spices in the same pot. If using other vegetables, such as carrots, greens, potatoes or other root vegetables, toss them in now.

3. Deglaze the pot
“Deglazing” means loosening the yummy food bits that get cooked to a pot or pan, and then dissolving them to make a sauce (called a “pan sauce”). Braising recipes will call for you to add a liquid — often a combination of stock and wine — at this point in your process to do the deglazing. As you dribble it over the vegetables, scrape up the delicious browned bits from the bottom of the pot so that they’re infused into the sauce. To complement a hearty beef stew or pork braise, try using a dark beer or cider from a local producer. You can also use plain old water, which will let delicate, mild ingredients shine.

4. Braise in the oven
Return the meat to the pot, with any accumulated juices and the broth. The liquid should only reach about a third to halfway up the side of the meat (do not submerge the meat entirely). Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover and slide into a 325-degree oven. Cook for 1-3 hours (depending on the type and size of meat).

Those are your general guidelines. Want to get more specific? Try one of these great braising recipes:

Recipe: Cider Braised Turkey

winter comfort foodWho says Thanksgiving is the only time of year to enjoy turkey? Braising the thighs is an easy way to prepare this bird. Cider, apples and thyme infuse the sauce and transform your turkey into something quite exceptional. Serve with roasted winter squash and a simple green salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 turkey thighs (about 2 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 local apples, peeled, quartered and cored
  • 2 cups local apple cider
  • 5 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar

winter comfort foodInstructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season turkey on all sides with salt and pepper and add to pot, skin side down. Cook until skin is golden and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer turkey to a plate.
  3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of drippings, then add shallot, apples and thyme and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add cider, and scrape up all the browned bits.
  4. Return turkey, skin side up, to pot, then add broth and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and place in oven.
  5. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Uncover; cook 30 minutes more.
  6. Remove pot from oven and transfer turkey to a plate. Skim fat from cooking liquid and stir in vinegar. Slice meat off bones (discard bones, or save for making your own stock later) and serve turkey with apples and pan sauce.

Recipe: Cabernet Braised Short Ribs

winter comfort foodShort ribs may sound decadent, but trimming the beef and skimming the cooking liquid eliminates much of the fat from this robust dish. Serve with simple boiled new potatoes or, for a more traditional Italian meal, over a plate of polenta.

Ingredients:

  • 8 bone-in beef short ribs (3 ounces apiece), trimmed of visible fat
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup each chopped onion, carrot and celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cabernet sauvignon (or other dry red wine)
  • 1 cup lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season ribs with salt and sear on all sides until browned, then set aside.
  3. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic and rosemary and sauté 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine to pan, and bring to a gentle boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook for 10 minutes until reduced by half.
  4. Return ribs to pan, add broth and return to a low simmer. Cover with lid and place in oven.
  5. Cook for 2 hours, turning after 1 hour. Remove ribs from pan, and strain cooking liquid with a sieve over a large bowl. Discard the solids, and skim all fat. Return cooking liquid to pan and bring to a boil.
  6. Cook 10-15 minutes until reduced to 1 cup. Stir in vinegar. Garnish with parsley and serve with boiled new potatoes.

Looking for even more braising inspiration? Check out these additional recipes for our favorite winter comfort food from around the web: