Cooking – braising

I’m a fan of braising. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know how to braise, but for those who don’t let me count the advantages.

1) Turns cheap (tough, less desirable) meats into masterpieces;
2) Low effort;
3) Lowered timing needs.

Here’s the basic deal. Braising is a sort-of boil. You need a pan that’s tall enough you can put a tight-fitting lid over the top of whatever you’re making. You put in what you’re going to braise, then you add liquid that comes between 1/4 and 2/3 up the side of what you’re cooking. Close it up and apply low to medium heat for a longish time. Like bbq-ing, you’re going to run the proteins past the overcooked tough stage into the ‘fall apart’ stage where they start soaking everything up. Depending on what you’re cooking you want to get it before you get meat mush, but it’s useful to know you can get there as well.

er, unfair. You’re not going to get meat mush. You’re going to get a mush of meat fibers. Which with seasoning makes one of the most magnificent sloppy joe’s you’ll ever meet. But that’s “too far” for most things.

If you go back you’ll find my smothered pork steak. (here, if you’re looking) That’s braising.

Long, slow cook with some liquid and a tight-fitting lid.

Let me give an oven-based demonstration of a recent dish, one that did me a LOT of good food recently. You want a pork shoulder (aka pork butt), and you don’t need the whole thing. In my case I had it cut apart, and the part that still had the bone was maybe four or five pounds. Anyway, then you want a can of crushed pineapple. And you’re going to want some water. Or if you’ve got it some broth (pork, vegetable, chicken, or beef, in order).

So the first thing you do is find your pans. You need one for browning and one for the oven, and if you can use one pan for both you’ve probably got a dutch oven and you should use it. But I digress. Preheat the oven to medium low (300) and get the browning pan hot over medium high heat.

Brown all sides of the shoulder. Put a little (couple of tablespoons) of oil in the bottom of the pan, then put the meat in the hot pan and let it sit for two minutes. Pick it up and put another raw spot down and leave for another 2 minutes. Repeat till most of the surface has been browned. Put the shoulder in the braising pan, or if you’re using the same pan for both duties set it aside on a plate for a moment. Use a little water to deglaze the browning pan. You’re going to pour the glaze over the meat, or turn the meat in the glazing liquid if it’s the same pan.

Another digression: deglaze. More yummy goodness that a lot of people miss. You know all the little sticky bits of meat and stuff that get left behind in a skillet or other pan? Well, you can work that loose by adding some liquid – water, broth, wine, or whatever will taste good – and stirring over heat. As a digression in the digression I’ll use the technique to remove stubborn bits from my cast iron when I’m cleaning it and I don’t want to burn it out. If I don’t let it sit forever I don’t have to re-season, especially since I almost always finish the cleaning of cast iron with a light oil rub. But back to the digression, you can use this glaze as a finishing sauce over whatever you cooked, and the crowd will (usually) love it. Don’t do it if your bits are burned. Trust me, it isn’t good then.

So anyway back to the shoulder. We browned it. We deglazed the browning pan. We put the shoulder in the braising pan and added the glaze. Now you want to add the crushed pineapple – just pour it over the top. Now you’re going to add that last liquid, the water or broth, till it comes up about 1/4 the way on the shoulder.

Why so low when I gave a range above? Because the shoulder has a lot of liquid of its own. Trust me on this.

So, what I tend to do here is put a lid of foil across the top of the pot and then close it with the pot’s lid. The double-seal works.

The five pounds goes into the oven, and I walk away for four hours. Maybe five. And I’m not going to worry if I can’t get to it for seven.

What’s going to come out is going to be tender, almost fall apart tender. Remove it carefully, then turn your attention to what’s left in the pot.

Remove the fat. There will be a LOT. Take what’s left and reduce it – do it carefully as the sugars from the pineapple are just short of caramelizing. Yeah, guess what you’re aiming for – those caramel tones. Cook it down by about half and use it as a glaze for the pork slices.

I was cutting it – just to prove I could – with a butter knife. you will probably be able to do the same.

Braising is a moist-and-dry technique that lets poor cuts of meat dissolve and redistribute the connective tissues and re-absorb any flavors in the liquids used. It’s a great technique for the poor-man’s kitchen to keep handy.

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