Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

May 15, 2014

Nancy Krcek Allen: The big braise — a simple path to a great meal

Homely braising, despite its deficit of star power when compared to deep-frying and grilling, offers cooks a wondrously rich return that only low heat and slow cooking can achieve.

Simmer foods in a covered vessel with a small amount of added liquid, over slow, steady heat and you’re braising.

Braising may seem fuddy-duddy if granny’s pot roast comes to mind, but it lays claim to timeless, succulent dishes like osso buco, rabbit fricassee and coq au vin.

Braising straddles seasons. Depending upon which of the four ways (white or brown and short or long) are employed the results can be spring-light or rib-sticking.

White braising requires the cook to arrange ingredients — like thick fish fillets, scallops, whole leeks or a vegetable mélange — into a braising pan with a small amount of liquid, like wine or broth, and seasonings, cover and simmer.

For a brown braise, cooks first sauté ingredients — like lamb shanks, beef brisket or pork belly and aromatic vegetables (onions, carrots and celery) until browned — add liquid and seasonings, and simmer.

Browning ingredients adds color and builds the first layer of deep flavor.

Simmering creates the second layer, as the protein, seasoning and vegetable flavors coalesce.

A third layer of flavor can come from a sauce made by reducing the braising broth.

The short and long of it: most vegetables and delicate proteins, like fish or scallops, because they don’t require braising’s tenderizing effects, need only short cooking — 1 hour or less — to achieve a flavor enhancing exchange.

Long, slow, moist heat — 1-1/2 to 4 hours — is best for tougher cuts of meat because it breaks down their collagen and muscle fibers, and renders meat or tough root vegetables into tender spoon-food.

If you’ve got a hunger to braise, start with a heavy, oven/flame-proof vessel.

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