The Basics of Braising

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As the days grow grayer the light inside glows a tad warmer and anything cooked over a slow, mellow heat seems to suffuse our very souls with comfort. These, my friends, are braising days.

How to Braise

Braising is a cooking method that breaks down tough, fibrous meat through the convective action of steam. After an initial browning on the stove top, meat is sealed in a pan with a small amount of liquid and cooked at a low, steady heat—often for several hours. The reward is meltingly tender meat and a savory, complex sauce with surprisingly little hands-on cooking time.

Ironically, tougher cuts of meat yield the most tender and flavorful braises. Shanks, ribs, legs, shoulder, and chuck or round roasts have ample connective tissue which breaks down and tenderizes meat during a long cooking time, while lean cuts like chicken breast or beef tenderloin simply dry out.

When braising, choose a heavy-duty shallow pot or deep, straight sided pan with a secure lid, like a Dutch oven, a doufeu or even a deep-sided oven-proof saute pan. It should be wide enough to accommodate the meat snugly in a single layer and deep enough so the lid fits tightly. You may need to brown in two batches in order to allow air to circulate freely around the food, but during the slow simmer, meat should be nestled as closely together as possible.

There are four basic steps to braising: browning the meat, deglazing the pan, slow cooking and finishing.

1. Brown the meat on the stove top. Heat the Dutch oven over medium-high heat and swirl in a minimum of fat. Then thoroughly brown the meat on all sides. Allow at least 1/2-inch space between the pieces so that air can circulate or the meat will steam rather than sear (brown in batches if necessary). Don’t rush this process; the more developed the crust, the deeper and more concentrated the flavor of the braise will be. Transfer to a plate when done.

2. Add aromatics like garlic, shallots and hardy herbs to the pan and cook until fragrant and golden. Deglaze the pan with wine, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the braising liquid and bring to a vigorous simmer.

3. Add the meat back to the pan, nestling it into a single layer, then cover tightly and move to the oven. Cook at a low to medium heat until meat is fork tender.

4. Remove meat from the pan and cover loosely with foil. Reduce the sauce on the stovetop over medium-high. Lower heat, add meat back to the pan and simmer to heat through.

There are dozens of variations on the basics, leaving the technique open to interpretation and imagination (like the Five Spice Braised and Glazed Beef Short Ribs below). The ultimate hallmark of a braise is the comfort it brings, both while in the oven and at the table.

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Braised and Glazed Five Spice Short Ribs

Braising renders these Asian-inspired short ribs meltingly tender with relatively little hands-on cooking time (and the glaze makes the flavors even more intense).  The ribs freeze beautifully, so cook up this extra large batch and stash half away for a later date.


2 teaspoons Canola oil
3 tablespoons five spice powder, divided
1/4 cup whole wheat white flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 pounds bone-in beef short ribs (roughly 12 ribs)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce, divided
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, divided
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 300. On the stovetop, heat Canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

In a wide bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons five spice powder, flour and salt. Dredge each rib in the flour mixture, tapping off excess, and brown on all sides in the Dutch oven, 10-12 minutes total (in batches if need be to allow enough space between the ribs for air to circulate). Remove to a plate as done.

Add onion, carrot, garlic and ginger to Dutch oven and brown for 8-10 minutes. Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar and beef broth. Bring back to a boil, nestle ribs in the pot, cover and transfer to the oven. Braise for 3 hours and remove from oven.

While ribs are cooking, mix together honey and remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon five spice powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and reduce glaze until a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes.

When ribs are done, transfer them to a cookie sheet and turn the oven to broil. Brush ribs with half the glaze and broil for 3 minutes, until bubbly. Turn over, brush with remaining glaze and broil another 3 minutes.

Serves 10-12

  • janmstanley

    …and I was so looking forward to your special recipe for roasted vegetables :) But this one will do just fine (as did yet another wonderful Lia Huber recipe on Sunday night)! JAN

  • MountainRN

    Oh – I love this time of year ONLY for the food. Not crazy about being cold. But, today I’m processing our concord grapes into juice with my mother-in-law and last night I ate some of the lovely oven-dried tomatoes I made a few days ago (cut in half, drizzle in olive oil, cook at 200 degrees for 4 hours, store in a jar with olive oil or freeze individually on cookie trays and then put in freezer bag). They tasted like heaven – better than store-bought for sure. My husband and son are hunting for deer and this weekend it will be duck. Comfort food is the price I pay for this cold weather I guess. ;-) Thanks Lia for the recipes. steph

  • Lia Huber

    Jan . . . glad to hear Sunday night’s dinner turned out better than ours did ;-)! Although we punted with a delicious broccoli/kale/sausage pasta, so all was not lost. Great to see you!

    Steph . . . Those tomatoes are my favorite! Now if only I could get my husband to go hunt some deer and duck (and boar). ;-)

  • Jacqueline Church

    Mmmm short ribs. Braising brings out umami. Cuts like short ribs are perfect for these Fall days. We’re having short ribs tomorrow. Our butcher had some beautiful ones today. I can hardly wait.

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