From la braise, a French term for glowing coals heaped around a closed cooking vessel, braise is a slow, moist cooking method used primarily for meats and vegetables. English cooks focused on the cooking vessel itself and came up with the less romantic term “pot roast.”
In simple terms, braising takes the following steps: 1) Brown meat in a little oil. 2) Moisten with liquid, often stock and an acidic element such as wine. 3) Cover tightly and cook at low heat — often 325F or less — until meat is fork tender.
Roasting was for the wealthy who could afford to “fatten the calf.” Braising was the peasant’s way to coax succulence from older, muscular animals, which were tough but very tasty.
A good braise is more than the sum of its parts: Meat absorbs flavor from the liquid, the liquid takes body from collagens in the meat, and a flavorful sauce is an automatic byproduct. Classic braises include the coq au vin (chicken in wine) and the dish made with veal shanks, osso buco (literally, “pierced bone”).
Some tips: Brown meat on all sides to develop flavor. Don’t drown your meat in liquid. In general, add liquid no more than half way up the side of the roast. For especially fatty cuts, cool the braised dish until fat is easily skimmed, then reheat and adjust seasonings. Flavorful braising liquids produce a more flavorful dish, and recipes may call for reducing a bottle of wine to a single cup. Good candidates for braising include chuck roasts, shanks and short ribs. Braising is also a great technique for cooking vegetables ranging from cabbage to fennel.
Braised Chicken and Vegetables
This recipe is based on a French peasant dish. It uses inexpensive flavorful chicken thighs and other pantry staples.
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 potato, peeled and chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup white wine (such as Chardonnay)
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced (optional)
1. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chicken, and brown on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Add potato, onion and carrots; cook 5 minutes.
2. Return chicken to pan (with any juices). Add garlic, wine, broth, thyme, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Add chopped tomato and serve. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired. Serves 4.
Per serving: 320 calories, 12g fat, 75mg chol., 24g prot., 21g carbs., 3g fiber, 540mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn