Craving something warm, hearty and cozy? Looking for an impressive dinner party dish you can make ahead? In autumn, braising is the perfect solution for every cooking occasion. And the truth is, it couldn’t be simpler.
Braising refers to simmering food slowly in a moderate amount of liquid (in other words, not completely submerged). The result is fall-off-the-bone tender meat and full-flavored dishes — think classic Beef Bourguignonne or lamb shanks. You can braise in a slow cooker or a Dutch oven (or any oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot), and the same steps apply: browning, deglazing and simmering.
Browning: Meat, poultry and even some vegetables can benefit from browning before the actual braising begins — it caramelizes the natural sugars in the foods, developing their flavor and color. Trim off excess fat from meats and season all foods with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you like before browning. Then heat oil or fat in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and place the food in the pan, leaving plenty of space between each piece so the food doesn’t steam. Resist the temptation to move the pieces around as they’re browning, or you’ll lose moisture. After all sides are brown and caramelized, transfer the foods to a plate. You may want to pour off the excess fat from the pan before moving on to the next step.
Deglazing & Boiling: As the food browns, juices and particles stick to the pan, sometimes even forming a glaze. That’s where all the flavor is! To capture it, add liquid — broth, wine, beer, juice or even water — to the pot and bring it to a boil. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dissolve everything into the liquid. Next, add any other liquid ingredients to the pot and bring the whole mixture to a boil; this will help jump-start the braising process.
Assembling & Cooking: If you’re using a Dutch oven, return the browned foods and any other ingredients you’re cooking to the boiling liquid, and place the pot in a preheated oven so the contents cook evenly. If you’re using a slow cooker, put the main solid ingredients in the crock first (these items take longer to cook, and heat comes primarily from the bottom). Then transfer the crock to the slow cooker base and add the boiling cooking liquid. Cover, set the heat and cooking times, and walk away — your work is mostly done!
Most braises are ready to serve just as they are, straight from the cooking vessel. You may want to reduce the cooking liquid for more concentrated flavor and slightly thicker consistency; if you do, remove the food from the liquid first. Bonus: these dishes tend taste even better the next day, so make them ahead and reheat for a no-fuss dinner party dish.
Here are some of our favorite fall braises to get you started. Enjoy!
|Braised Beef with Autumn Vegetables
This hearty stew has everything we crave in the cold weather months: tender beef, sweet carrots and pumpkin, and plenty of warm spices.
|Braised Chicken with Peppers, Olives and Capers
Fresh rosemary, spicy pancetta, rich olives and tart capers turn a simple stew into a popular weeknight meal. Use a mixture of red and yellow peppers for color, and spoon the stew over bulgur wheat or rice to complete the meal.
|Pomegranate-Merlot Braised Lamb Shanks
Pomegranate juice lends a sweet-tart flavor to this slow-cooked lamb dish, while cinnamon, cumin and allspice add an undertone of spicy warmth. Serve over couscous to soak up the delicious sauce.
|Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs
Cooked and served in a classic Moroccan vessel known as a tagine, this dish makes a dramatic presentation at the table. Accompany with fluffy mashed potatoes.
|Coq au Vin
A traditional dish of Burgundy, coq au vin is perfect for cool autumn and winter evenings. This version calls for whole chicken legs, which emerge exceptionally moist and tender after long, slow cooking in a Dutch oven.
The signature style of chef Pichet Ong of Batch in New York City is “blurring the line between savory and sweet to create a unique mix of flavors, textures and temperatures.” Here, he braises hearty pork shoulder roast and fresh pineapple in a savory-sweet sauce seasoned with plenty of black pepper.
Braised in the Italian style, these fork-tender veal shanks are the perfect cold-weather dish. Serve with pasta or polenta for a soul-satisfying supper.