Chicken with Carrots, Celery & Cauliflower braised in a slow oven.
The miracle of braising lies in the fact that the process demands so little form the cook yet what actually occurs is quite complex and wonderful.
All About Braising
Good morning sweet friends,
On Saturday, here in the Hill Country, it was wet and cold so we spent the whole day inside. I have no complaints. On the contrary…it was delightful. And since we are trying to dig our way out of a terrible drought here in central Texas, we all rejoice when it rains. And boy did it rain. And it was chilly too.
The winter weather here can be very unpredictable but one things is certain, rain or sun, January and February can bring chilly days and colder nights. When the thermometer dips below 50 (I know you East coasters are howling with laughter right now…I used to be one of you!) it’s time for me to pull out the dutch oven and create a cozy supper. So on Saturday, between the rain and a high temperature of about 47 degrees, my family was looking forward to a hot meal.
Creating suppers for chilly nights usually finds me braising meats or chicken. I love the ease of braising. Once filled, my dutch oven does the work sitting on the stove top or in the oven with no need for a babysitter. I could use a crock-pot and have on occasion, but, if I know I’ll be home, I prefer the Dutch oven. There’s just something about a Dutch oven that creates such luscious tenderness in the meat, which I never seem to quite catch hold of with a crock-pot. And when it’s cold outside, I love how the stove top or oven warms up the kitchen!
At its most basic, braising refers to tucking a few ingredients into a heavy pot with a bit of liquid, covering the pot tightly, and letting everything simmer peacefully until tender and intensely flavored.
All About Braising
To me, braising is a lot like making soup. I peek into my freezer and see what meats I have on hand – maybe a bone-in chuck or rump roast, beef shanks, or a whole chicken – choose one, then let it defrost. Next, I fish through my vegetable bin to see what I may have forgotten about that needs to be cooked now. And I often add in my usual suspects as well…carrots, celery, and onions just as a matter of course.
And, I’d like to add here that sometimes I’ll just braise vegetables if I don’t have time to defrost a cut of meat or a chicken. Braising vegetables can turn usual and ordinary kitchen fair into something that is both sublime and hearty.
A slight digression here
I tend to buy all my meat on the bone, or, in the case of chickens, whole chickens. I have multiple reasons. First, bone-in meats and whole chickens tend to cost less. This is a good thing for me since I tend to buy grass-fed beef and pastured chickens which can be a little more costly to begin with. (I can be a bit of a food fanatic!)
But the main reason I like my meats – bone-in – is because they are more flavorful and nutritious when cooked. Dr. Catherine Shanahan, MD, in her book Deep Nutrition shares the following:
Cooking meat on the bone does two great things.
1) It enables the bone nutrients to infuse into the meat, imparting wonderful flavors.
2) Heat, water, and acid break down the collagen. When making bone stock (by boiling bones in water with an acid source, for instance tomato sauce) you fill the water with molecules called glycosaminoglycans. These molecules act as joint growth factors, keeping the collagen in your joints healthy and facilitating the repair of damaged joints.
Getting back to braising…
Next I sear my meat of choice in the dutch oven (usually in a little extra fat…I like bacon grease) till it’s nice and brown. Then I deglaze the bottom of the pot with a wine or other spirit of my choosing, throw in the veggies along with a bit of more liquid – maybe some water, broth, or stock – put the lid on, and turn the stove to low or pop the whole thing in a slow oven.
In about 3 hours, I have a delicious meal ready to be served up in bowls alongside some thick sliced bread for soppin’ up all the wonderful braising liquid which, in my humble opinion, is truly gold!
Simple vegetables braising in red wine and crushed tomatoes ready to be covered to simmer slowly on the stove top.
A cookbook I have enjoyed reading tremendously is titled All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens.
All About Braising by Molly Stevens
I love simple and uncomplicated cooking – what I like to think of as intuitive or improvisational cooking – so the subtitle had me hooked. I’d like to share the following passage from a section of this book titled “Why I Cook”…
Knowing how to cook gives you the means to bring people together.
I’ve learned that the technique of braising produces food that draws people together like no other. Sharing a meal from one pot, as you often do with a braise, creates a feeling of community that leads to sharing a congenial meal. The warmth of the pot from the oven, the concentrated aromas of slow cooked meat (or poultry or fish or vegetables), the tender textures, and the deep favors all contribute to set people at ease.
Plus, the uncomplicated nature of braising is easy on the cook. Once you master a few basic techniques, there’s little that can go wrong. Everyone feels more at home than they would if you were to fuss with a fancy, individually plated meal. It’s the kind of food that makes us remember the comfort of childhood, whether we ate braised food or not.
And that’s why I love braising!
Have a wonderful day…and if it’s chilly where you are, I hope you’ll get to enjoy a cozy supper tonight.