Braising is a busy cook's best friend since it does not require much hands-on time or fancy equipment. A heavy Dutch-oven with a tight-fitting lid is all you need to make hearty, delicious dishes that will give everyone the impression that you spent much more time creating than you really did.
Another plus point of braising is that its recipes generally call for inexpensive cuts of meat, which appeals to everyone.
What is it: Braising is a combination-cooking method that uses both moist and dry heats: typically, the food is first seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in some amount of liquid.
Stewing and Braising: The most significant difference between braising and stewing is the size of the pieces of meat, fish, or poultry. Braised meats are generally prepared with larger cuts of meat that are cooked partially covered in liquid. Stews require the pieces of meat to be cut into 1-to-3-inch pieces and are cooked entirely submerged in the cooking liquid. Both are cooked for long periods of time over low heat.
Braising involves cooking in a small amount of liquid over low heat; this is also known as ‘moist heat’ cooking. Braising concentrates the flavors and tenderizes the food being cooked. Many dishes can be made in advance, which actually enhances the flavors of the dish upon reheating. You can use this method of cooking on a stove-top burner or in the oven; use a tight-fitting lid on the pot or Dutch oven to keep the liquid from evaporating. A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven is a good investment.
There are basically two types of braises: short-braise and long-braise.
Short-Braises: This should last just long enough to cook the food through. Such a method is also a flavorful alternative to steaming vegetables such as carrots, onions, and leeks. It depends on the thickness and type of food you are preparing. Examples include chicken, fish, and shellfish.
Long-Braises: Although long braises require a lengthy cooking time, they are typically simple to prepare. Additions to long braises include aromatic vegetables and herbs, which result in a delicious sauce when reduced. Tough, inexpensive cuts of meat are typically used in long-braises. The long cooking time and liquid heat turn out meats that are fork-tender and full of flavor.
Braised lamb shoulder with potatoes and fennel: Preheat the oven to 148 Degrees Celsius with rack in the lower third of the oven. In a medium bowl, combine ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs with four finely chopped garlic cloves, one chopped sprig rosemary, and one finely chopped sprig fresh sage; drizzle with two tablespoons oil, and toss to combine. Set aside. Using kitchen twine, tie together remaining sprigs of rosemary and sage to make an herb bouquet; set aside.
Season two kilogram lamb shoulder (with ten inches of shank bone left intact, trimmed) with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat three tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb, searing on all sides for seven to ten minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add ¼ kilogram scrubbed fingerling potatoes, three bulbs fennel, trimmed and cut into eight wedges each, one tablespoon crushed coriander seeds, eight thinly sliced garlic cloves and reserved herb bouquet to the Dutch oven; sauté, stirring for five to six minutes. Stir in four peeled, halved and cored plum tomatoes, two thinly sliced Meyer lemons, two cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth and two tablespoons tomato paste. Return lamb to pot, and sprinkle reserved breadcrumb mixture evenly over the lamb. Cover, and transfer to oven; cook for an hour. Using a pastry brush, baste the lamb, being careful not to disturb the crumb crust. Cover, and cook for about 30 more minutes. Transfer lamb and vegetables to a large serving platter; serve immediately.
Braised chicken with mushrooms: Season four boneless and skinless chicken breasts with coarse salt and ground pepper to taste. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon oil over high heat. Add the chicken and cook for two to three minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Add a tablespoon oil to skillet. Then add ¼ kilogram mushrooms and four halved garlic cloves, and season with salt. Cover; and cook over medium heat for two to three minutes. Remove lid and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally for four to five minutes.
Add 1 ¾ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth and two tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and cook over medium-high heat for eight to ten minutes.
Return chicken to skillet. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for ten to twelve minutes. Serve chicken topped with mushrooms, and drizzled with cooking liquid. Garnish with chopped parsley.