Braising is a great cooking method for fall and winter. With a little bit of preparation time and a few hours of letting a big pot of food slowly simmer, you can create a wonderful meal plus leftovers that can give you days of enjoyment.
We enjoyed three meals from one pot of braised chicken thighs. First we had them with brown rice and vegetables, then in a big batch of fried rice, and finally in a frittata.
What Is Braising?
The New Food Lover's Companion defines braise as, “A cooking method by which food (usually meat or vegetables) is first browned in fat, then cooked (tightly covered) in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers.”
Braised dishes can be as simple and homey as pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Or you can create zesty dishes like our favorite lamb shanks in a coffee chipotle sauce with carrots and onions or marinated chicken thighs flavored with ginger, garlic, soy, and scallions in the photo above.
That lamb is a dish we often make for company. Lamb shanks are a tough, bone-in cut of meat and are perfect for braising. The connective tissue and bone marrow melt into the braising liquid giving it an unctuous mouth-feel.
Penny always cooks the dish the day before and lets it sit in the refrigerator overnight. That lets her remove the fat that comes to the top before tucking it back in the oven to reheat. While the lamb bubbles away, she makes a big batch of cheesy polenta to serve alongside. The next day leftovers become one of the best lamb chilies you’ve ever tasted.
We enjoy braised chicken thighs more often as a way to stockpile good food for a busy week.
After the chicken has marinated, it’s cooked in the marinade plus some wine and Asian chicken stock. When the meat is meltingly tender, we enjoy a wonderful supper. In addition we have two great products to make other meals – the chicken thighs and a rich, Asian flavored chicken sauce. (Penny often freezes a bit of that sauce to enrich the next chicken braise.)
A recent batch of chicken thighs was served the first night with brown rice and fresh vegetables. The following day, leftover rice and shredded chicken became a wok full of fried rice (shown above). As a last act, the remaining chicken appeared in a frittata for Sunday brunch (shown below).
Bonus Points for Braising
It can make entertaining a breeze because a braised dish is often better a day or two after you make it. The cook can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying guests.
One year we made braised turkey for the holidays and cut back the work on the day of the meal.
The best cuts of meat for braising are the inexpensive ones. If they're on the bone, it adds to the flavor and, by the end of cooking, the meat will be falling-off-the-bone tender.
Removing excess fat can make a braise a healthier option allowing you to include a lot of vegetables to balance your plate.
A braise fills your home with lovely, warm, comforting aromas – just what you need on a stormy day.
Finally, as Michael Ruhlman writes in his book Ruhlman's Twenty, “Another great facet of braising is that it’s easy. Anyone can do it and do it well. It’s not like decorating a cake or boning a chicken in one piece. Everyone can get a pan hot, get a good sear on a piece of meat, add some liquid to the pan, slip it in the oven, and then find something else to do for hours.”
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2008-2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino
(Adapted for BostonZest from one of our Fresh & Local newspaper columns.)