In his book, Think Like A Chef, Tom Colicchio describes the taste of braised food as “…achingly rich, mellow flavors and meats so tender they melt in your mouth.” He notes that braising is the integration of flavors, rather than emphasizing individual components. Sounds good to me!
As he notes, braising is basically a combination of two main techniques. First there is dry cooking in order to brown the food, then moist cooking where the food is transferred to a pot, and then cooked gently.
Colicchio also points out that braising expands your cooking repertoire quite a bit. I think I see why. You don’t simply braise in water, though I suppose you could. You need a good flavor component to braise your food in, such as full flavored stock.
The thing that really attracted me to this book was this quote: “I like to teach braising, because I love the idea of a home cook walking the supermarket aisles and seeing each new item as an opportunity. Instead of thinking, Pork shoulder? What could I possibly do with that? You’ll be thinking, “Aha, pork shoulder. I’ll braise it, and maybe add a few parsnips and turnips…” Exactly the type of thing I am trying to learn to do!
The other thing Colicchio likes about braising is how it creates it’s own sauce. He notes that the braising liquid, once it is reduced makes a simple, yet intense sauce. He also points out that braised food is not neat food.
So here is the basic braising technique:
Brown the food. Add enough liquid to surround but not cover the food and transfer the food to an oven, uncovered at somewhere between 250 and 350 degrees. For fish, serve right away, for meats, you can serve right away, but it is better to let it sit in the fridge for a day or two in order to really develop the flavors. (Kind of like the Bolognese dish from Anne Burrell that I make. Really good after I make it, but 100 times better the second day…and third day…. and…you get the idea.) Finally, reheat the braised meat.
Now, having gained a pound in the last couple of weeks, I decided to start with a more calorie friendly dish. It seems that a lot of the braised dishes use high calorie/high fat proteins. Because I can’t find red snapper anywhere, I am starting my braising education with haddock that braises in a rosemary-lemon vinaigrette, corn which I will finish in the braising liquid, and roasted brussel sprouts that I will finish with lemon zest to marry all of the flavors.
We’ll see how I make out!