Cooking is more than the preparation of food. Cooking is a passion, a celebration of taste, the study of how ingredients come together to ignite the senses. Cooking is the mastery of techniques, the art of integrating the sciences, and a reinvention of cuisine.
Join us to celebrate the ingredients that allow us to create brilliant dishes to delight and inspire. “The Study Of” culinary series features an in-depth exploration of ingredients with the chefs of the Destination Culinary Collection. Each quarter, we’ll unveil a new gastronomic topic for our chefs to examine through cooking demonstrations, educational lectures, innovative recipes or sumptuous tastings.
Explore the featured ingredient below, and dine at our participating restaurants to personally sample our expertise. Bon appetite!
There are probably as many similes for braising, as there are combinations of braising liquids, and spices used in this time honored cooking method. A successful braise is like a group of good, veteran musicians collaborating, perhaps with a couple of young, talented upstarts, and throwing them all into a studio to allow their talents to shine. Likewise, we feel our professional kitchens are much the same braise of talent, passion, experience, and experimentation that with guidance and patience will produce a richly-flavored, complex, and delightful product. The Saturday night busy times provide the seer, while the midweek allows for the flavors to meld into something new and unique. If we are mindful of balance, and patient, the finished product is greater than the sum of all the par.
The word braise originated in the 18th century. It is of French origin and can be translated as, "live coals." This described how the French country folk would pile hot coals under and on top of closed cooking pots containing pieces of meat left for their use after the affluent took the tender cuts for themselves. Often this pot would contain root vegetables and mushrooms from the forest that these folks would forage.
Traditionally, braising is most often associated with long-cooking stews that involve large, tough cuts of meat that need time to tenderize and break down. A braise is essentially any dish where the main ingredient is lightly browned to create flavor, then slowly cooked in a tightly covered pot in just enough flavorful liquid to cover 2/3 of the main ingredient. The braised item is cooked slowly through contact with the hot liquid, and also through contact with the mixture of dry and steam-filled air that is captured in the braising pot.
In order to best describe how this process works, let's talk about beef. The muscles in the leg and shoulder areas are leaner and filled with more of a connective tissue called collagen.
If cooked quickly, or with just dry heat, all of the moisture is significantly reduced in the meat, resulting in a very tough and dry product. The good news is that through the proper application of the braising technique will add richness to the meat and allows for the reabsorption of moisture into the dish.
How To Braise:
For the home cook who wishes to braise, you will want to choose cuts of meat from the leg, shoulder, or hindquarter which are generally leaner and less expensive.
No matter what cut is chosen, you will want to brown your meat, then start to braise slowly and allow the temperature to rise to a slow boil on your cook top. Cover the pot tightly and control the heat from this time forward so that the liquid remains at approximately 200 degrees. Estimate the cooking time to be an hour per pound of meat once the liquid has reached proper temperature. This can be accomplished either on the cook top, or by placing the tightly covered pot into a 300-degree oven.
Brisket, a popular cut to braise, is a fairly tough piece of meat but is marbled with flavorful fat, and provides an almost foolproof braise. If choosing brisket, figure on a pound of raw meat per adult you plan to feed, and ask your butcher to leave ½" of fat on top. This will allow for your brisket to self-baste and keep the meat from drying during the cooking process.
Some care will be needed at the end of the process to remove any fat from the braising liquid prior to finishing the sauce. I add a mixture of root vegetables and fennel bulb to my brisket braise, and I brown these vegetables at the beginning of the process. Additionally, I add tomato and a touch of wine and vinegar for complexity and acidity; cracked black pepper, 1 chipotle pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and a cinnamon stick add the balance of flavors.
Speaking of finishing the sauce, once the protein portion of the main ingredient is braised, you will need to remove it from the liquid, and then plan how to finish your sauce. There are some chefs that will puree the aromatic vegetables remaining with the braising liquid, and serve that as the finished sauce. Others will strain the vegetables out, and reduce the braising liquid until it is correct in consistency and flavor.
Either way, the first thing you need to do is taste the liquid prior to doing anything. Assess how the flavors have married, whether there is a predominant flavor that you might feature, and most importantly assess the strength of flavors present.
Remember if you reduce the liquid further, the flavors will only intensify. If too strong at this point, the best bet might be to add liquid (either stock or water) and use a starch to thicken the sauce to the correct consistency.
If thickening with cornstarch use 1tsp. per cup of hot liquid; mix cornstarch in a small amount of cool water to make slurry. Whisk slurry into hot liquid.
Braising Techniques and Ideas:
The fall holiday season is a great time to take a culinary adventure. The chefs from Destination Hotels & Resorts often feature wild game during these months. These cuts are invariably much leaner than their domesticated counterparts, and thus are well suited to the braising technique. Braised rabbit (Hasenpfeffer) is a classic example of this technique as well as Braised Elk Shanks, Braised Boar, and Braised Pheasant which we feature at Lansdowne Resort. Our pastry chef will even braise carrots in her rendition of Braised Virginia Harvest Carrot Cake Tres Leche-Style.
Modern Chefs have embraced the basic technique, but have applied it to meats, fish such as Red Snapper, fruits and vegetables. They have done so by changing the amount of liquid used, and/or the time and temperature that a given item is cooked. Executive Chef Robert Bradley, enjoys a braise of Belgian endive with pears and goat's cheese, which will be featured in November, as a relatively quick application of the braising technique, vs. Osso Bucco, which might take the better part of a day to complete.
Today's chef is likely to braise using any, or a combination of, wine, vinegar, beer, stock, cider, or any other appropriate liquid. Exotic spices, non-traditional ingredients, interesting pairings of flavors have all found their way into todays braises. Chefs are limited only by their imagination, the command of their ingredients, and the mastery of this time-honored cooking tradition. Practice makes perfect, so let's braise!!