Real talk: You don't need a recipe to make the braise of your dreams. Not that there's anything wrong with following a recipe—it's just that when you cook from enough of them you'll notice that, by and large, they all follow the same template.Learning how to braise meat is all about mastering the basic process and then putting your own spin on it, customizing the ingredients and flavor profile to your liking.
At the end of the day, braising is just cooking a tougher cut of meat gently in liquid until it is transformed into a tender, succulent, fall-off-the-bone masterpiece. The low-and-slow cooking time is largely hands-off, warming your kitchen and filling the house with the expectant aroma of dinner while you putter around and binge watch Netflix. And it's a great way to feed a crowd: A modest amount of meat can easily be bulked up by plenty of veggies, and creates a rich, flavorful sauce that's begging to be soaked up with rice, polenta, bread, or whatever starch you're working with. What's not to love? Here's how to braise meat without a recipe.
Meet Your Meat
No money? No problem. (OK, you will need some money, but just not that much.) See, cheaper, tougher cuts of meat make the best braises. In fact, we never use pricier, sought-after cuts that benefit from quick-cooking (think pork chops, cutlets, and steaks). The combination of a low oven temperature and moist heat turns the chewy sinews, well-worked muscles, and connective tissue in cheaper meat into rich, gelatinous broth and tender meat. Some of our favorite cuts to braise are beef short ribs and chuck, pork shoulder and Boston butt, lamb shoulder and shanks, and chicken thighs and legs. And if you have the option of getting bone-in meat, you should: It will impart better flavor to the braising liquid and sauce.
Brown, Baby, Brown
The first step to a successful braise is to brown the meat. No matter what cut you're using, and no matter what you're flavoring it with, the finished dish will be so much more delicious if you sear if first. Heat a heavy pot or Dutch oven on the stovetop and add your well-seasoned meat to it with a little fat (i.e. oil, butter, lard). Brown the meat on every side. Don't be shy about getting as much color as possible—the meat should be deeply golden all over. Once you've achieved that perfect hue, remove the meat from the pan and set it aside so you can get to work building the rest of the flavors for your braise.
Dial Up the Flavor
Now that your meat is good and seared, that hot Dutch oven is a blank canvas for building flavor. You've got some tasty fat left behind in the pan (you can drain some off if it seems like too much), and now you're going to sizzle any combination of vegetables, aromatics, herbs, fruits, and spices your little heart desires in it. The only non-negotiable is something onion-y like leeks, shallots, onions, and/or garlic, which should be the first thing you add and will lend an irresistible sweetness and complexity to the finished product. After that, add any other veggies you like along with hardy herbs or spices, which will bloom in the hot oil and express more flavor. Once everything gets to a nice happy place and starts smelling incredible, it's time to move on to the saucy portion of our program.
At this point, you've probably noticed that there are some browned, stuck-on bits at the bottom of the pan—that's a good thing! Now you're going to deglaze the pan, which is just a fancy term for getting the delicious caramelized bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan unstuck with some liquid and a wooden spoon. You can use just about any liquid you happen to have on hand; white or red wine, vinegar, vermouth, beer, stock, or even water all work. Those little browned bits add an intense depth and richness to the braising liquid, making the finished dish even more flavorful. Once you pour the liquid in, the whole thing will make a whoooosh sound, which is your cue to try to use a spoon to scrape up whatever is stuck to the bottom. Place your seared meat back in the pan, and add enough other liquid (again, whatever is delicious and/or available will work) so that the meat is partially, but not fully, submerged. How much you add depends on how you want to serve it—add more if you want a more soupy, stewy situation, less if you want a more concentrated sauce.
Let It Go
Great news—the hands-on portion of your dinner is almost finished. Once you've browned your meat, and added your aromatics, and liquid, all you need to do is cover the pot with a tightly-fitting lid and cook it in the oven at a low temperature—aim for a steady 300-325°F. You can also cook it on the stovetop over the lowest possible heat, but we prefer the oven for it's consistency; burners (and pans) tend to have hot spots that can cause meat to cook unevenly. Your call! How long it will take depends on what you're braising—chicken thighs can achieve tender perfection in as little as 45 minutes, while a whole pork shoulder can go for hours, and it's a good idea to move the meat around whenever you check on it. And that's the thing about a braise: It doesn't cook to a specific temperature, just until it's fork-tender and ready to fall apart. Dinner's almost done!
Dig In—Or Reduce & Intensify
Remember all that great flavor you built into your braising liquid with the browned bits, the onion, the fennel, the soy, the whatever? For goodness sake, don't let it go to waste! If you added a lot of liquid to create a stew situation, you can just taste it, season to taste with salt and maybe a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to perk things up, ladle it into bowls and dig in. If you held back on the liquid to create something richer, you might want to take the time to reduce the liquid into a more concentrated sauce. Remove the meat and cover it with some foil to stay warm, strain the liquid (if you want a smooth sauce), put it back in the pot, and heat it at a lively simmer. Once it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, taste it, season it if it needs it, sauce the meat and finish with something fresh—bright pickle-y things and roughly chopped herbs like parsley, dill, or cilantro are always nice. Braises can be heavy and a little brown, and a garnish can add the flavor, texture, and color needed to bring the whole thing into focus. And remember to serve it all with something satisfying and starchy (think polenta, egg noodles, or rice) to soak up all that meaty goodness.
Go forth and braise!
Braised Short Ribs with a Pretty Great Bacon-Pineapple Situation on Top
We're topping all of our braises with bacon from now on.
How do you braise tough meat? ›
Add stock or water halfway up the meat you're braising and bring to a boil, then immediately lower to a simmer. Once it's simmering, you can add in aromatics. Cover and keep it at a low simmer on the stovetop or in the oven at 350 degrees F. Cooking low and slow breaks down the tough meat so it's tender and delicious.Is braising good for tough meat? ›
Braising is a combination cooking method that uses both dry- and moist-heat techniques to break down tough cuts of meat over a long period of time. You start by searing the food in a small amount of oil to caramelize the outside, browning and crisping up the exterior without cooking the meat all the way through.What is the best cooking method for tough cuts of meat? ›
Cook It Slowly
This is certainly true when it comes to notoriously tough cuts of meat like beef brisket and pork shoulder. Cooking these cuts of meat slowly, either by braising, stewing or grill roasting, is the best way to get these tasty cuts of meat meltingly tender.
Braising is the best way to coax as much flavor and tenderness out of tough cuts of meat as possible. It enhances the flavor of the food, and it improves the texture of what is cooked, too.How do you make tough meat tender after cooked? ›
Simmer in liquid. Just like for burnt meat, if your meat gets tough and dry then you can simmer it in a little bit of broth for a couple minutes. Don't allow it to overcook again but just allow the liquid to penetrate the meat.How do you break down the tough meat into something tender? ›
There are different ways to tenderize meat, including slow cooking, marinating, and pounding. While you can tenderize meat at home using a meat mallet or rolling pin, some manufacturers handle the process by using mechanical tenderization, which involves breaking down the meat's connective tissue with sharp blades.How do you make tough meat less tough? ›
- Physically tenderize the meat. ...
- Use a marinade. ...
- Don't forget the salt. ...
- Let it come up to room temperature. ...
- Cook it low-and-slow. ...
- Hit the right internal temperature. ...
- Rest your meat. ...
- Slice against the grain.
The meat that you are braising should be partially covered in liquid, but not submerged. This liquid will eventually become a sauce for the meat, so make sure it is full of flavor. It will take flavor from the meat you are cooking, but it should also provide flavor of its own.
You can use just about any liquid you happen to have on hand; white or red wine, vinegar, vermouth, beer, stock, or even water all work. Those little browned bits add an intense depth and richness to the braising liquid, making the finished dish even more flavorful.What are the 3 methods of tenderizing tough meat cuts? ›
To better understand this, let's look at the three main methods of tenderizing meat: mechanical, thermal, and enzymatic. Mechanical tenderization involves pounding or piercing the meat with one of those medieval looking devices.
Does baking soda make meat tender? ›
Briefly soaking meat in a solution of baking soda and water raises the pH on the meat's surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which keeps the meat tender and moist when it's cooked.What is the best way to braise beef? ›
Braising is a low and slow cooking method that begins with dry heat and ends with moist heat. Sear beef at high temperatures in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven to attain a caramelized crust (dry heat), and then cover and finish cooking in a liquid at lower temperatures (moist heat).What are the two methods involved in braising? ›
Braising uses dry and moist-heat cooking methods.Can you overcook beef when braising? ›
“You can overcook a braise,” she says, even if there is more wiggle room for when it's done. “Just because it's in a moist environment doesn't mean you can't dry it out. . . .How do you fix tough meat in stew? ›
Place your meat on the bottom of the slow cooker, so it's closest to the heat source. Add your other ingredients and liquids, then set your cooker to “low.” Plan for 6-9 hours of cooking time. This long, slow braise breaks down the connective tissue and fat, creating deliciously soft and juicy meat.Can you tenderize beef after it is cooked? ›
In order to tenderize a cooked steak, you just need to leave the meat to stand for 5 minutes after cooking, until the juices flow back towards the outside. Then you'll be able to serve perfectly juicy meat. For a roast beef you'll need to wait longer — about 20 minutes .What ingredient breaks down meat and tenderizes it? ›
The acetic acid in vinegar breaks down meat fibres and makes them more tender and flavoursome. Method: Add a tablespoon of white vinegar to your cooking liquids or soak your meat in vinegar before you cook it.What method is used to soften tough meats and joints? ›
Braising is a great method for producing fork tender meats that fall off the bone. Best foods for braising: Meats: Braising is most commonly used with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat because it softens and tenderizes the muscle fibers. Choose pork shoulder, chuck roast, or lamb shank.How do restaurants get their meat so tender? ›
Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate). If you find the meat has a spongy texture aside from being very tender, then very likely the restaurant put baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate) in the marinade. The sodium in baking soda chemically reacts with the meat and make the meat very tender and soft.Does vinegar soften tough meat? ›
The answer is yes—to an extent. When collagen and muscle fibers, the connective tissues in meat that make it tough, are tenderized and broken down, it helps the meat retain all of its juices. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt and wine weaken collagen and protein in meat.
Can tough beef become tender? ›
Slow cook it. Tough cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, like brisket, chuck roast, and bottom round, are some of the best choices for the slow cooker. Cooked low and slow for many hours, the collagen in these tough cuts eventually breaks, leaving you with shreds of tender, juicy meat.How do Chinese make their meat so tender? ›
Velveting is a Chinese method of marinating which keeps delicate meat and seafood moist and tender during cooking. The velveting technique is very easy and gives amazing results.Should you flip meat when braising? ›
Braising can average around three hours of cook time, but smaller meats like chicken thighs can braise in 45 minutes, while short ribs could take up to 8 hours. You don't have to babysit a braise too much, just check on it every hour or so for liquid levels and gently flip it for more even cooking.What is the best temperature for braising? ›
For best results, do not allow the braising liquid to boil; adjust your burner to the lowest setting (the liquid should be at a bare simmer), or braise in a slow oven set between 275°F (135°C) and 300°F (150°C). Some chefs swear by an even lower oven temperature of 200°F (95°C).Should you sear meat before braising? ›
The cheaper cuts of meat are ideal for braising and stewing. It's always best to brown the meat before braising as this makes the meat look more attractive and adds extra flavor, although some say that the meat tastes sweeter not being browned.What are 3 disadvantages of braising? ›
- It takes a long cooking time. Except for fish and vegetables, most braised dishes will take several hours to cook. ...
- Food may have a lack of texture. ...
- It reduces the nutrient content of food.
In its basic form you season the meat, dredge in flour, shake off excess, sear the meat, deglaze the pan, add in a flavorful liquid covering the meat about half way, add some aromatics, cover tightly and put it in the oven, ignoring it for an hour or two, turn over the meat, add more liquid if necessary, cover it again ...What are tips for braising? ›
- Select fatty, tougher cuts. These cuts benefit from a long cooking time. ...
- Cook in the appropriate size pot. Your meat and vegetables should fit the pot. ...
- Brown your meat first. It develops the flavour and adds a bit of colour. ...
- Braise in the oven. ...
- Don't let the temperature exceed the boiling point.
Slow-cook it. Cooking tough cuts of meat with low-temperature heat over a long period of time is a great way to tenderize it. Tough fibers, collagen and connective tissues will break down, leaving you with tender meat. Try using a slow cooker, or braise with broth or other liquids in a covered dish in the oven.Can sour cream tenderize meat? ›
After adding your seasonings and spices, spread a tablespoon or two of sour cream all over your chicken breasts and marinate it briefly before searing it. This helps add a subtle tangy flavor, and the acidity in the sour cream helps to tenderize the chicken.
Does oil and vinegar tenderize meat? ›
Time Required to Tenderize
Balsamic vinegar is a good marinade for red meats because it helps to tenderize them. The acid in the vinegar helps to break down some of the protein and fat in the beef, which makes it softer. The balsamic vinegar also adds a sweet flavor while tenderizing, without having to add any sugar.
- Step 1: Dissolve Baking Soda into water. Use 1 teaspoon of baking soda and ½ cup of water for every 12 ounces of meat.
- Step 2: Soak meat in solution for at least 15 minutes. ...
- Step 3: Remove meat and rinse thoroughly. ...
- Step 4: Cook as desired.
To use baking soda to tenderize a tough cut of meat, rub the baking soda all over the meat and let it sit, refrigerated for several hours, according to “Baking Soda” by Vicki Lansky (Book Peddlars, $8.95). Rinse the baking soda off just before cooking.What can I add to meat to make it soft? ›
- Salt. Sprinkle sea salt (not table salt) to your steaks one hour before cooking. ...
- Tea. It contains tannins which are natural tenderisers. ...
- Wine, citrus juice or vinegar. These are acidic liquids that soften muscle fibres and add flavour. ...
- Tomato-based sauces. Tomatoes are acidic. ...
- Beer. ...
- Cola. ...
- Ginger. ...
The protein will absorb the flavor from the marinade, and the cornstarch will help with tenderize the meat. Either way, the starch will protect the food from touching the hot oil directly and lock the moisture inside, thus resulting in tender meat.Will cooking meat longer make it tender? ›
The more a muscle is used, the stronger, and therefore tougher, the cut of meat will be. And the longer meat is cooked, the more liquid it loses and the tougher it becomes.Why is my braised beef tough? ›
You're Using the Wrong Cut Of Meat
The idea is that over the long cooking time, all that tissue softens and becomes gelatinous, giving well-braised meat a juicy, tender flavor. You wouldn't use a filet mignon or a rib-eye for braising because the end result would be very tough and overcooked.
Pour In Liquid
Add enough stock, wine, beer, and/or water to partially submerge the meat – about 1/3 to 1/2 of the meat should be under liquid. This is opposed to stewing in which the meat (usually smaller pieces) is completely covered by liquid for a long, slow cooking time.
Pour in the liquid of your choice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and either simmer on top of the stove over very low heat, allowing 30 to 35 minutes per pound, or cook in a 325°F oven, allowing 35 minutes a pound, about 3 hours, until the meat is quite tender.What are the 4 steps in braising technique? ›
How to Braise Meat Without a Recipe
- Step 1: Sear the meat. ...
- Step 2: Cook some aromatic ingredients. ...
- Step 3: Deglaze and add your liquid. ...
- Step 4: Cook low and slow.
What is the modern braising technique called? ›
Braising of meat is often referred to as pot roasting, though some authors make a distinction between the two methods, based on whether additional liquid is added.What are the 4 steps in creating a braised item? ›
How to Braise Anything
- Sear your meat. ...
- Sauté your mirepoix and aromatics. ...
- Deglaze the pot. ...
- Cook low and slow.
Add stock or water halfway up the meat you're braising and bring to a boil, then immediately lower to a simmer. Once it's simmering, you can add in aromatics. Cover and keep it at a low simmer on the stovetop or in the oven at 350 degrees F. Cooking low and slow breaks down the tough meat so it's tender and delicious.How do you cook braising steak so it's tender? ›
Stir in the garlic, cook for 1 more minute, then transfer the onion and garlic to the casserole dish. Pour over the stock and add the tomato purée, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then cover the casserole and transfer carefully to the oven. Cook for 1¼–1½ hours, or until the beef is very tender.How long should you braise beef? ›
Step 3: Braise Meat Until Tender
Cover the pan and cook over low heat on top of the stove or in the oven for approximately 1 to 3 hours depending on the cut you're using. This low and slow time allows the meat to become super tender.
Add Marinade or Tenderizer
Marinating a tough steak or other piece of beef can make it more tender, according to Michigan State University. Choose marinades that are acidic, such as a marinade containing vinegar or citrus.
Slow-cook it. Cooking tough cuts of meat with low-temperature heat over a long period of time is a great way to tenderize it. Tough fibers, collagen and connective tissues will break down, leaving you with tender meat. Try using a slow cooker, or braise with broth or other liquids in a covered dish in the oven.Does meat get softer the longer you simmer it? ›
There is no point where meat gets tougher when being slow cooked, what happens first is that the collagen breaks down, then the proteins start to denature. Generally once the collagen is all broken down is the ideal time to take it out, any longer and the meat itself starts to break down.Does baking soda tenderize tough meat? ›
Briefly soaking meat in a solution of baking soda and water raises the pH on the meat's surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which keeps the meat tender and moist when it's cooked.What liquid makes meat tender? ›
The acetic acid in vinegar breaks down meat fibres and makes them more tender and flavoursome. Method: Add a tablespoon of white vinegar to your cooking liquids or soak your meat in vinegar before you cook it.
What are the two different methods to tenderize meat? ›
- Pound it out. Pounding softens and tenderizes meat, making it easier to cut and eat. ...
- Harness the power of salt. ...
- Use an acidic marinade. ...
- Consider the kiwi. ...
- Give it some knife work. ...
- Slow cook it.
The meat was not cut into the correct size: If the meat is cut into large chunks, it may take longer to cook and could become tough. It's usually best to cut the meat into smaller, uniform pieces to ensure even cooking.Does high heat make meat tough? ›
Various proteins in meat fibers coagulate over a range of temperatures from 105 F/40 C to 195 F /90 C‹temperatures that are far below boiling point (212 °F/100 °C). The higher the cooking temperature, the tougher the muscle fibers become, and the more they shrink in both length and width.Do you simmer meat covered or uncovered? ›
Better to Simmer Covered or Uncovered? Because simmering is something that needs some supervision, it's best to keep the lid off of the pot until you're sure that the heat is steady. Adding a lid can intensify the heat and before you know it, you're boiling again!