Tough cuts of meat, or secondary cuts, were the food of peasants long ago. For years grandmothers braised meats like pot roast to serve to the family. Home cooks stumble over the process until, finally, they unlock the secrets of time, temperature, patience, and skill. In today's world having a beautifully braised hunk of beef is found primarily in higher-end, fine dining restaurants. Braising is a cooking method that transforms tough cuts of meats into tender and delicious meals. Braising relies on a combination of two cooking techniques, dry heat cooking, and moist heat cooking. We use the dry heat cooking method to sear the exterior of the meat, causing the browning of proteins known as the Maillard reaction. Then we apply moist heat cooking to break down the collagen which tenderizes it. When I met my fiance, Mikey, the first time I cooked for her I prepared red wine braised short ribs, sauteed brussels sprout leaves and potato puree. The short ribs were glazed with the reduction of the cooking liquid, blended with red wine and fresh herbs. The braised short ribs are tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Mastering braising allows you to approach secondary cuts of meat, ones that you might not have cooked before. Another benefit of braising is you can create a beautiful sauce from the cooking liquid with minimal effort. For braising, you want to choose a suitable broth or stock, along with aromatic vegetables, and herbs. The technique: In a small oven-proof pan, with a little bit of oil and whole butter, brown your meat evenly on all sides. Once your meat is browned, add enough cooking liquid to surround the meat about three-quarters of the way up the meat. The cooking liquid can be an appropriate stock, water, and/or wine. If you choose to use wine, reduce the wine in the pan until it has halved its' starting volume. At that point add stock and bring to a simmer. One important note is to use a pan that is only slightly bigger than the meat you are braising. Having a pan this size keeps you from using lots of liquid. Transfer the pan to the oven set at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid should be bubbling gently but not at a boil. Depending the size of the cut of meat, you will need to cook it for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat has become tender and falls off the bone (if there is one). It is important to get your meat between the temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to 180 degrees. At 160 degrees the collagen begins to break down and transform into gelatin. The process speeds up as you reach 180. Going above this temperature can result in dry meat, and no one wants that. Cool the meat in the cooking liquid, this allows the braised meat to soak up some of the liquid and develop more flavor. The next day, gently reheat the braise until it is warmed through. Pour off most of the liquid through a chinois into a new saucepan. Reduce the cooking liquid until thickened. The gelatin created by the long, slow cooking will produce a sticky, rich, and velvety sauce. Finish the sauce with fresh herbs, and a touch of cold butter. Swirl the butter into the sauce until it is completely emulsified. Glaze the ribs by spooning the cooking liquid that remains in the pan over the meat. The cooking liquid will thicken, and the meat will look lacquered. Place the meat onto a platter, and spoon sauce over the meat. Which meats should you braise? Think of it this way, any parts of an animal which are working muscles are ripe for braising. All of those muscles are full of connective tissue, collagen, and sinew. Today's episode included clips from Renee Schettler Editor In Cheif of Leite's Culinaria. Renee grew up channeling her grandmother, a relentless clipper, and tweaker of recipes, and swooning to the essays in her father’s issues of Gourmet, in which she both lost and found herself. And Matthew Glaser, Chef and good friend of Food Craftsmen. If you would like to leave a clip that could be used in our next episode of Food Craftsmen on PORK BELLY, simply go to foodcraftsmen.com/speak
. You can leave your 90-second thoughts on the beautiful pork belly there. We have just released our summer kitchen gear guide. You can get your copy of the guide by going to foodcraftsmen.com/gearguide
. Remember. Food is life, and life is great. See you next time on Food Craftsmen.