Oven Braising 101

September always bring a pang of nostalgia for our brief and beautiful summers in Vermont, but with the cooler nights, my mind turns towards the comforting cold weather meals of autumn – steaming stews, baked casseroles and roasted or braised meats.
Of the latter, braising becomes a “go to” for feeding our a busy family of growing teenagers, so when there are several mouths to feed and not a lot of time to do, we turn to our oven, a roll of aluminum foil and a deep casserole dish or oven proof pot to give us flavorful, nutrition filled meals all season long.
Oven braising a large and tougher cut of meat requires minimal equipment, minimal prep and because the cooking is both hands off and over the course of two or three hours, it is a method that allows you time to do other things (hopefully fun things!) while the low, slow heat works its magic.

Key things to remember
Sear it:
Because meat is cooked at low temperature, I like to sear the meat in a large pan or deep pot first, giving the meat color and giving me a base to make a flavorful sauce.

Plan ahead:
Low and slow is key to making tough cuts of meat moist and meltingly tender, so make sure you give yourself at least a couple of hours to let the meat cook. If you can cook the braise a few days ahead of time, all the better! The flavors meld and mellow and the dish is even better when reheated one, two or three days later.

Keep it simple… or not:
Seasoning with a rub or soaking in a brine will do wonders to infuse the meat with flavor or to tenderize a very tough cut, but on the flipside, salt, pepper and some kind of liquid in a sealed container is really all you need to achieve big flavor and tender results.

Know the difference:
Roast = dry (tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; whole young birds, whole fish; vegetables)

Braise = wet (less tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; tough, older birds; vegetables)

Know your cuts:
When looking for cuts to use, looks for words like top or bottom round, shoulder, shank, butt, etc. The cuts closest to hoof and horn will be the least expensive and vice versa – cuts furthest from hoof and horn will be the most expensive. For beef, this means top and bottom rounds, chuck, shoulders, shanks and tails (yes, tails!) and for pork, we look for ham, Boston butt and picnic shoulder.

 

Beer Braised Beef with Pork Belly Onions
Serves approximately 4. See Cook’s Notes for non-alcoholic and non-pork substitutes.

Ingredients:

3 to 3 ½ pound of boneless beef round or chuck roast

1 tsp sea or kosher salt plus more to taste

1 tsp cracked/ground black pepper plus more to taste

2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil

2 slices of bacon, roughly chopped

1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half moons

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 celery rib, finely diced

2 cloves peeled garlic, thinly sliced

12 oz bottle of favorite beer, allowed to go flat

2 cups water

Special Equipment:
4 to 5 quart oven safe pot with heavy lid or deep casserole dish and enough aluminum foil to cover snugly

Suggested Accompaniment:
creamy polenta, mashed potatoes, steamed rice or roasted root vegetables

Cook’s Notes:
Substitute an additional tablespoon of olive or canola oil for the bacon and use red wine or beef broth in place of beer.

Technique:

Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 f.
In a deep, heavy bottomed pot or a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat, until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking. Add the meat and with tongs, sear all sides until they take on a golden to dark golden color. Remove and let rest on a plate. Turn down the heat to medium low.
Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the sliced onions, stirring in the fat and cooking until just golden – approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium high and add the garlic, celery and carrots, continuing to cook until the vegetables are slightly soft and golden and the mixture is aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Carefully, add the beer to the pot or pan, scraping the bottom. Bring to a simmer and let reduce for about 3 to 5 minutes.
If transferring meat to an oven proof casserole, place the meat into the casserole dish and carefully pour the sauce on top. Add water to the dish. Cover tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil, pinching it around the sides to create an airtight “lid”. If using a lidded pot or dutch oven, place the meat back into the pot of sauce, add water and cover with a lid, using parchment paper to create a more airtight seal if necessary.

Place the covered meat and sauce into the preheated oven. Allow to cook in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.
If possible, allow the meat to sit in the cooler for 2 or 3 days and reheat on the stove top. Serve with suggested accompaniments.

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef
Photo Credit: Elena Gustavson, Supper at the Farm, Craftsbury, VT 2013

Classic Beef Stew

Growing up, beef stew was a staple in my mom’s cooking. I knew we were having it for dinner the moment I walked in the door. It’s one of those dishes that fills the house up with warm, comforting flavors. Often, she’d cook it in her slow cooker – allowing it to be a practical dish even on the busiest of weeknights.

But it’s also perfect for weekend cooking or entertaining. And even if it’s just yourself you’re cooking for, you’ll get several dinners out of the stew, making it worthwhile at any time.

Chuck roast, from the shoulder of the cow, is an ideal cut for stew. It’s economical and full of connective tissue that will break down during a slow cook and make the pieces of meat super tender. It’s just matter of cooking until the meat reaches that point of tenderness.

Start with a 2-3 pound piece of chuck. Trim the outer layer of fat then cut into one inch cubes.

Sear (brown) the meat in a large dutch oven or pot by heating a small amount of canola oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. For a good sear you will have to do a couple of batches. Just do one layer of meat at a time and be sure not to crowd the pan. Brown 2-3 minutes per side. You’re just looking to brown the meat, not cook it through at this point. When done, remove the meat from the pot.

Add in another small splash of oil then the vegetables. Use 3 cups of your choice of sliced veggies. Onions and carrots are the standard. I add in potatoes and mushrooms if I have them, or roots like turnips and rutabaga. Your call. Just cook until browned and almost tender. Season with minced garlic, dried thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf.

When done, return the meat to the pan. Now it’s time to deglaze the pot. That means scraping up the brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot with liquid. Red or white wine, cider or beer add some great flavor. But if you just have broth or even water – that will do the job. Just add the liquid in and gently scrape the pot with a wooden spoon.

Add in the tomatoes, broth and extra liquid, if needed, to make sure everything is covered.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Let the stew stew for about an hour before checking the tenderness of the meat. If still chewy, continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes until ready.

If the stew looks too thin you can uncover the pot in the last 1/2 hour or so of cooking to let some of the liquid evaporate. Or, if you’d like to thicken it up even more, remove a cup of liquid from the pot and whisk in two tablespoons flour. When completely blended, stir back into the pot and cook another few minutes.

If making in the slow cooker: Follow steps 1-4 as written, then transfer everything to the slow cooker. Cook on low 4-6 hours.

Classic Beef Stew

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6-8

Ingredients

  • Canola oil
  • 2-3lb chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cups sliced veggies such as onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, or potato
  • 1/2 cup deglazing liquid such as wine, beer, cider or broth
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.
  2. Sear the chuck, in a single layer, in batches, without crowding 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan when browned but not cooked through.
  3. Add in the veggies with another tablespoon oil. Brown and cook until just slightly tender, 5 minutes. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the garlic, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf.
  4. Return the meat to the pot and deglaze with your liquid of choice.
  5. Pour in the broth, and some water if needed, to cover everything in the pot with liquid.
  6. Bring a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low to bring the stew to a simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour.
  7. Check the tenderness of the meat. If not yet done, cover and continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes until to your liking.
  8. If you’d like to thicken the stew, remove a cup of the stew liquid and whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Stir back into the pot and cook another 5 minutes.
  9. Taste, adding salt, if necessary, or a splash of apple cider vinegar, for some extra flavor.
  10. To serve, remove the bay leaf and top with the chopped parsley, if desired.

Braised Pork Chops and Turnips

It seems the sun is having a difficult time finding its way to Vermont this spring. And while I’d rather be cooking out on a grill, the perpetual dreariness still has me inside and largely using produce from last season. And that’s alright. But I did finally dig up my garden and plant a few seeds this week and I’m happy about that.

While I’m over the filling stew-like dishes of winter, I like the simplicity of these pork chops and turnips. They’re browned and simmered in one pan and aside from a minimal sauce, don’t need much else. It reminded me of how much I enjoy the combination of braised meat and vegetables. It’s a good technique to know. The particular kind or cut of meat can change, and any root vegetable would work here too.

Braised Porkchops and Turnips

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 – 1 inch thick, bone in pork chops
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound turnips or rutabaga, cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 cup white wine, chicken stock, or cider
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Let your pork chops come to room temperature for a few minutes. This helps the meat cook evenly in the pan. Then season both sides with salt and pepper.

Pre-heat a saute pan over medium high heat for a minute or two. Preheating is important, so don’t skip it. Add your oil and let that get hot as well. Both of these steps will help the pork chop, or any piece of meat, in browning. Also, be sure to give the meat plenty of space in the pan.

Let the meat sear, without disturbing, about 3-4 minutes on each side. The meat should sizzle when it hits the pan. If oil starts flying out, cover the pan for a minute and lower the heat a little.We’re not looking to fully cook the pork in this step, just get a nice browning.

When both sides are browned, remove the chops from the pan, set aside, and add in the chopped turnips.

turnips

Then add in the liquid, 2 tablespoons of parsley, butter and brown sugar. Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove anything that might have stuck during browning.Cover, let the turnips simmer for 10-15 minutes, until almost tender, then add the pork chops back in.

The chops should be sitting in the liquid, add a little more if this is not the case, and put the cover back on the pan. simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until the pork is cooked through (at about 145F) and the turnips are completely tender.

pork chop1

Portion the turnips on two plates, top each with a pork chop, juice from the pan and the remaining parsley.

Orange Maple Glazed Carrots

I don’t cook carrots often enough and I have no idea why. They’re colorful, crunchy and delicious without requiring much embellishment to highlight their awesomeness. I often unfairly regulate them to the standard raw salad or happily enjoy them in carrot coconut soup, but I’m always pleased with the result of a simple, light cooking.

Glazing a root vegetable like carrots – or parsnips or rutabaga – is accomplished through braising. That is, cooking on top of the stove in a small amount of liquid that is reduced down to a light coating, aka glaze, but the time the vegetable is tender.

carrots

Peel and slice your carrots. Or skip the peeling if you want and just give them a good wash, especially if they’re local. Then slice. I go with about a 1/4 inch slice, not too thin or thick. That way they will be perfectly tender yet still crisp. Slice them too thick and they won’t cook up enough in this quick braise.

I find that a wider pan works better than a small pot for quickly reducing the liquid and creating a nice glaze.

Any liquid works for a braise and orange juice pairs perfectly with carrots. Maybe it’s the orange color? Try wine, broth, beer, cider or fruit juice, depending on the ingredient you’re braising. You don’t need much, though. We’re not boiling the carrots here, so only a few will be submerged.

I threw some raisins in the pan, another nice complement to carrots, but you don’t have to.

carrots and raisens

Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and reduce the heat so that a steady, rapid simmer continues in the pan. It will take about 15 minutes, give or take, for the liquid to reduce and carrots to approach tenderness. At this point, you want to remove the cover and add in some maple syrup. Everything is better with maple. But there’s no need to get carried away with it, as carrots have a bit of sweetness on their own.

From there, it’s just another couple of minutes before the carrots are ready for dinner. Or snacking, because, like me, you just might want to eat them right out of the pan and that’s okay too.

carrots finished

 

Braised Parsnips

I feel bad for the parsnip; it just seems so neglected. Ask someone to describe a parsnip and they’ll probably tell you it looks and tastes just like a carrot. Or, in recipes and you’ll find them lumped together as root or winter vegetables to be used interchangeably with rutabagas or turnips.

Parsnips are indeed a root vegetable that looks much like a carrot but with a lighter, cream color and sweeter taste. They’re full of fiber and folic acid – a B vitamin necessary for healthy cell production. You can find them throughout the fall and into the spring. The longer they remain in the ground the sweeter they will be. Some growers even keep them in ground through winter. Because of their innate sweetness, I pass on glazing in maple or brown sugar, as many recipes suggest. There’s no need – unless you’re looking for candy. Now that I think about it, I bet they could be incorporated into a dessert of some sort.

Peel 5 medium parsnips then slice into circles.

cut pars

After browning 2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the sliced parsnips to the pan and cook a couple of minutes to get some color.

Next, you want to cover the parsnips in liquid. I just used water here, but you could try broth if you wanted.

pars in liquid

Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cover. Let simmer for 10 minutes, undisturbed, before checking for doneness.

When cooked, drain any excess water from the pan and top with some freshly grated nutmeg

nutmeg

and a handful of chopped, fresh parsley. Enjoy.

parsley

Braising Greens

Braising is a cooking method that involves both dry and moist heat and can be achieved in a pan on top of the stove. What’s great about braising greens is that it’s the same technique for whichever green you chose to use: kale, escarole, collards and Swiss chard are all good options. You can even mix different greens together. This makes a great side dish any night of the week.

Braised GreensServes 4 Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water, broth, or white wine
  • 1 large bunch of rinsed and roughly torn greens  (6 – 8 cups)

Preparation

  1. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add garlic, red pepper, and greens.
  3. Cook until greens just begin to wilt.
  4. Add in the liquid and salt.
  5. Simmer until liquid has reduced in half and greens are tender.