Braising is the epitome of cozy decadence—all it takes is one pot, a main ingredient, aromatics, liquid, and a little patience to get amazing depth of flavor. This cooking method starts hot but then mellows with a low-and-slow shallow bath in flavorful liquid, which conducts heat better than the dry air of roasting, resulting in a delicious meal fit for any night of the week.
Tough cuts of meat from well-exercised parts of an animal, or those with lots of connective tissue, are well-suited to a braise, with bonus points awarded for bone-in. Time and heat break down collagen, which both tenderizes the meat and creates a rich, hearty broth with a silky texture. You can also braise delicious fish, chicken, and vegetables by simply reducing the cooking time. Mirepoix is a fancy French word for an aromatic combo of onions, carrots, and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio, but you can use anything including peppers, celery root, fennel, leek, garlic, or peppercorns. Beer and wine make excellent braising liquid, but again you can use any liquid including stock, fruit and vegetable juice, or milk.
Once you have chosen a main ingredient, dry it thoroughly on all sides (moist ingredients do not sear well) and salt heavily. Grab a heavy, lidded pot such as a Dutch oven, place over medium-high heat, and swirl in a small amount of fat that has a high smoke point (extra virgin olive oil is not your friend here). When that fat is shimmering but not smoking, use a pair of long-handled tongs to sear the meat or hearty vegetable on all sides in batches to avoid steaming. Be patient with this step and curtail the urge to check and flip. Your eyes, nose, and ears will tell you when it is ready to turn—well-seared ingredients release easily from the pan.
Remove the seared meat and toss in your aromatics of choice to sweat in the fat rendered from the meat. Keeping the heat medium-high, add a small amount of braising liquid to deglaze the pan (deglazing simply uses liquid to easily detach the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan, ensuring retention of flavor). Return the main item to the pot and add additional liquid, leaving about one-fourth of the meat or vegetable uncovered (this is a braise, not a stew). Pop the pot into a low heat oven and let time do its magic, checking periodically for doneness or need for additional liquid.
When the meat is fork tender, remove and admire your handiwork. Braised items taste even better the next day, so it is absolutely fine to braise the day before, cool right in the pot, skim off excess fat after it solidifies at the top, and reheat before serving. To take the braising liquid to another level before serving, remove meat and aromatics, reduce if needed and defat. For the ultimate in decadence, finish last minute with butter, fresh herbs, and a splash of heavy cream.
At Upstream Brewing Company, Executive Chef Jeff Everroad creates a mouth-watering, comforting pot roast using the bottom flat cut from a beef round. To develop maximum flavor, he sears the roasts fat-side down, turning to ensure a solid crust on all sides, and finally returning to the fat side (most of the fat renders out and melds with the liquid to create that velvety texture during the long braise). The meat is removed, and mirepoix, black peppercorn, smashed garlic cloves, parsley stems, and tomato scraps are added for a brief sweat in the rendered fat. Next the pan is deglazed further with red wine (less for flavor and more for color and body) and finished with Dundee Scotch Ale and beef stock. At Upstream, the braising liquid is recycled for subsequent batches, because it just gets better and better.
The meat (typically four roasts per batch) is placed back in and then cooks low and slow at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until fork tender (lower temps are even better if you are afforded the space and time).
The pot roast at Upstream is plated with blanched and sautéed vegetables and covered in gravy created from the amazing braising liquid. It is the ultimate cozy Fall dish; warming, flavorful, and satisfying. Braised meat that does not make it to the plate is often used on pizza or as part of family meal for the kitchen.
According to Everroad, the great thing about braising is that you can use different cuts and flavor profiles to create a completely different dish based on seasonal changes. Upstream is doing just that by introducing a new Fall dish: a play on Barbacoa. Instead of traditional aromatic mirepoix, beef cheeks are braised in an aromatic blend of different chiles with the resultant braising liquid providing a base for a traditional mole sauce. The meat is then served with Spanish rice, corn tortillas, braised kale, and a tomatillo crema.
Along with cozy sweaters, raking leaves, and listening to football on the radio, make time to try a braised dish this fall—you will not regret it.