Every Sunday growing up my mother would put a pot roast in the oven before we went to church. When we returned the benevolent aromas of the stewing meat, potatoes, onions and carrots filled the house.
She was a horrible cook. She usually prepared the bland Dutch-American fare common throughout the Midwest. But Sundays were different. Sundays she didn’t cook. Sundays she let a roast cook itself.
That is the beauty of braising. It turns bad cooks into Michelin-starred chefs. It’s a virtually error-proof method of cooking. And you can turn out great meals with little to no effort.
What you need to start braising:
-A French oven, a Dutch oven, a pot, or a cast-iron skillet that can be used both on the stove top and in the oven
-A hunk of meat and/or vegetables
-A small amount of fat
While you can braise any hunk of meat, the cuts from the front and hind sections work the best. These cuts are usually also the cheapest. The front and hind sections of an animal work harder than the middle sections and have more muscle and connective tissue. Braising is a very slow method of cooking, which breaks down the connective tissue and results in a moist, tender roast.
Best cuts of meat for braising:
Chuck-the chuck is the front top shoulder and neck of a cow. Look for chuck arm pot roast, chuck 7-bone pot roast, chuck shoulder pot roast, chuck shoulder steak, chuck short ribs, chuck top blade, chuck mock tender.
Brisket and shank-this is the front lower chest and front leg of a cow.
Round-this is the hind quarters of a cow. Look for round rump roast, round steak, heal of round, top round roast, round bottom rump roast, round eye round roast, round tip roast.
For veal, lamb, and pork look for shoulder or shank cuts. For turkey, use the legs and thighs.
The best vegetables for braising are root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and beets. However, you will also want vegetables that add flavor to the braising liquid like onion, garlic, celery, and mushrooms.
For the braising liquid you can use almost anything. Any stock, wine, beer, or juice work well. Even things like Dr. Pepper can work well with pork ribs or pork shoulder. If it sounds good, chances are it will taste good.
Bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and peppercorns are the most common aromatics. But don’t be afraid to add cloves, allspice berries, juniper berries, cinnamon sticks, or star anise. If it sounds good, it will probably taste good. Just be sure to remove the aromatics before serving.
How to Braise:
-Heat your Dutch oven, French oven, pot, or cast iron skillet over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of fat-olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, butter, or lard. When the oil or fat is hot, put in the hunk of meat and sear all sides until well caramelized. Remove meat and set aside.
-Add vegetables, carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, etcetera. Cook for two to five minutes.
-Return the meat to the pot and add the braising liquid. Fill the pot with braising liquid until the meat is approximately two-thirds covered in liquid. Leave the top of the meat exposed.
-Add the aromatics.
-Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place pot in oven to bake, covered, for at least 90 minutes. Cook until the meat is fork tender.