By: The Reluctant Gourmet © 2007
A Culinary Web Site For Beginner and Intermedieate Home Cooks
Was your mom a pot roast queen? Remember the wonderful flavor of succulent meat and vegetables cooked together? And that gravy that flavored everything? Pot roast is one of the “comfort foods” that makes us nostalgic for “home,” isn’t it? Even when you have your own home and family.
You can create the same wonderful dishes and memories for your family. That’s part of what good cooking is about. Sure, it’s great to impress your friends and to create really good food. But the memories that go with family meals are at least as important. Sometimes, simple meals are the best.
Mom was a smart lady. These simple, home cooked meals were good, but they were also nutritious and cheap—qualities that only Mom cared about. She could watch her budget and give her family healthy meals that they enjoyed. Meals like pot roast, Swiss steak and braised chicken.
How did she do it? And how can you do it? By learning the simple cooking technique of braising. Braising is what transforms a cheap seven-bone roast or chicken legs into a succulent meal.
Have I convinced you yet? Well, here are a couple of other reasons to try your hand at braising. Braised meals are perfect for entertaining because they are good, and because you don’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen. You get your meal going, and then you can go watch soaps for a while before you clean the house and get yourself ready. (Hint: The French term for braising is estouffade. If you want to impress your guests, tell your guests they are having Boeuf et pommes estouffade instead of pot roast.)
Perhaps the best reason for you to learn how to braise meals is that it is the perfect solution for today’s busy families. You can serve nutritious, budget-conscious, good meals on the busiest days. In fact, a braised meal is the perfect dinner for those busy days. You start dinner before you leave home in the morning, and it’s done when everybody gets home in the evening.
Okay, now you’re convinced, right? Here’s the deal. Braising is simply cooking food in liquid for a long time over low heat. You can braise meals on top of the stove, in the oven or in that great gift to busy moms, the crock pot or slow cooker.
There are three essential elements to braising: choosing the right food, choosing the right liquid to cook it in, and cooking it.
The Right Food
For braising, you want the cheaper, tougher, more fibrous cuts of meat, like blade roast or beef brisket. They hold up well under prolonged cooking and are flavorful. The moist heat and long, slow cooking breaks down the tougher fibers and makes them tender and gives the meal a rich flavor.
If you are braising chicken, try the legs and thighs, rather than boneless chicken breasts. The darker pieces will give your more flavor than chicken breasts.
And you want firmer vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, parsnips and onions. Yes, you can make even parsnips taste good by braising them with a beef brisket.
The Right Liquid
You can braise in just about any clear liquid. Including water. Water doesn’t add any flavor, though, so try wine, stock, juice—or even beer. Even here, the good stuff isn’t best. Don’t waste money on an expensive red wine for making pot roast. Save that bottle for drinking with the pot roast, and get a cheap local burgundy for the cooking.
There are three steps to making a braised dish: preparation, combination and cooking.
Preparation: If you are preparing meat, you will usually sear, or brown it. To do that, you cook it in hot oil until the outside is brown. (That’s why they call it browning.) You may want to dredge the meat in flour first, but you don’t have to.
To prepare the vegetables, wash them. You can peel them or not—in fact, it’s usually better not to peel potatoes and other root vegetables because they hold together better. Either leave the veggies whole or cut them into fairly large chunks. If the pieces are too small, they overcook.
Combination: Put everything together in one pot. Meat, vegetables, liquid, any herbs or other seasoning. It all goes in one big pot (or crock pot).
Cooking: Cover the pot to keep the moisture in. Moist heat is what turns your cheap roast into a wonderful pot roast. Put it in a low oven or set it on the back burner on low heat or turn the crock pot on low and leave it there for several hours.
That’s it. Very easy. Only one skillet (for browning the meat) and one pot to clean up. Dinner cooked while you were doing other things, it’s cheap, it’s nutritious and it’s good. And, best of all, it creates memories for your family of Mom’s wonderful pot roast (and Swiss steak, braised chicken, etc.).
Copyright © 2007 The Reluctant Gourmet
The Reluctant Gourmet, created a web site back in 1997 as a hobby to assist other novice cooks who may find the art of cooking a little daunting. As an ex-Wall Street broker and Stay-at-Home Dad, I try to explore cooking from a different perspective. Visit http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/ for more tips, techniques and recipes.