As March happens to be our “Comfort Food Issue” I spent some time asking myself…”What are some of the most comforting foods?” The answers I came up with included dishes like; soups, stews, polenta, risotto, and most of all succulent and tender roasts. I’m talking fork tender meat that literally melts in your mouth…what could be better?
So, what makes a roast just that…fork tender and amazingly delicious? The answer is the cooking process. Most often roasts are braised. Braising means to cook with moist heat, typically with a variable amount of liquid. This cooking process relies on heat, time and moisture to successfully break down the connective tissue and collagens in meat. The process is quite simple and essentially only takes about 3 steps:
Step #1: Sear the meat and vegetables (if using) which gives the meat great color and taste by browning the surface and enhancing the flavor.
Step #2: Add an acidic element like tomatoes, beer, wine or some other alcohol along with the addition of water or stock. The liquid added does not cover the meat (this would then become stewing).
Step 3: Cook at a low simmer until the meat is fork tender. Most braising takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours for really tough roasts or ribs.
Braising is economical, as it is great for inexpensive, tough cuts of meat. Not only that it is a rather efficient cooking process – often it only uses one pot to cook an entire meal.
The best cuts for braising include pot roast, chuck roast, ribs, shanks, and poultry legs & thighs. It’s important to make sure you use tougher cuts of meat for braising because as the meat cooks the collagen, a key connective tissue, converts to gelatin when cooked slowly in liquid which softens the surrounding muscle. Braising doesn’t work well with tender cuts because they have little collagen. If you braise a tender piece of meat, such as a tenderloin, the long cooking time will contract and tight the muscles too much and have the opposite intended result.
You can also use the braising method for vegetables, fish and even fruit. But be aware that these items require much less cooking time, usually about 30 minutes or less. Vegetables that braise well are fennel, onions, beets, carrots, and potatoes, but with shorter cooking times you can also braise vegetables like peppers and green beans.
Below you will find some of my favorite braised dishes for you and your family to enjoy this March:
Braised Asian Short Ribs
Balsamic Marinated Pot Roast
Braised Chuck with Bacon & Onion
Italian Pot Roast
Beef Pot Roast with Prunes
Coq au Vin
Braised Beef with Soft Polenta
Braised Chicken with Apples & Pears
Braised Duck with Cranberries & Madeira Sauce
Braised Osso Buco
Braised Short Ribs
Braised Green Beans with Bacon