Cooking by Braising

Cooking by Braising

This technique is considered appropriate for foods that are portion-sized or larger, or cuts from more-exercised areas of large animals, mature whole birds or large fish. Relatively little liquid is used in relation to the main item's volume. A bed of mirepoix, which should be peeled if it is to be served, also introduces additional moisture and flavor.

One of braising benefits is that less tender cuts of meat become tender as the moist heat gently penetrates the meat and causes tough connective tissues to soften. Another bonus is that any flavor from the item is released into the cooking liquid, and becomes the accompanying sauce; thus, virtually all flavor and nutrients are retained.

Tender foods, even delicate fish and vegetables, can also be braised. To properly braise these kinds of foods, the chef must use less cooking liquid, and must cook the food at a lower temperature and for a shorter time.

The first step for most braises is to sear the main item in a small amount of hot fat. This develops the proper flavor and color and is done in a rondeau or brazier over direct heat on the stove top. Braised vegetables, however, are usually blanched before they are braised. Mirepoix is then allowed to lightly brown or sweat in the same pot and the cooking liquid is added and brought to a simmer. Once these steps are completed, the pot is usually covered and placed in a moderate oven.

Braising in the oven tends to result in a better product without danger of causing the food to scorch from prolonged contact with a pot in direct contact with an open flame. Air is less efficient conductor than metal - the result is a gentler transfer of heat. There is also less chance of inadvertently overcooking (and thereby toughening) the item. Finally, burner space is kept open for other needs.

If the entire braising operation is to be done on the stove top, certain precautions must be taken. The cooking speed must be carefully regulated because the liquid can easily become too hot. If this happens, the portion of the main item covered by the liquid will cook more quickly than any exposed areas and could become tough or stringy. Scorching could also be a problem.

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