When colder winds sweep in and the evening meets us just ahead of 5 o’clock, we can’t think of a better remedy for shaking off a chill than sitting down to a warm and hearty braised dish. A forgiving cooking method in both prep and time, the braise is a favorite among home chefs for its nature to play well with crock pots and stove-top simmerers alike.
The first key to a great braise or stew is taking your time. Slowly let the flavors mingle, the collagen melt, and the liquid reduce to concentrate flavor. The result is a comforting, melt-in-your-mouth meal that’s perfect for winter months, pairing well with heartier seasonal vegetables. The second key to a great braise is using quality ingredients, such as Walden Local Meat’s Pasture-Raised Lamb Shanks, which are raised locally in Maine by farmers with high standards for animal welfare and responsible food production.
Let’s take a look at the three essential steps for cooking any braise well:
1. Sear your meat
Using your Dutch oven, or other large cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid, start with a little oil, butter or other fat—just enough to coat the bottom of the pot—and turn the temperature up to medium high. Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper and then brown your meat of choice on all sides. After your meat is browned to your satisfaction, remove from the pot and set aside to rest.
2. Add your aromatics
After you’ve put a good sear on your protein and removed it from your pot, reduce the heat and start adding onions, garlic, and vegetables. If you don’t want certain vegetables to get mushy, like potatoes, you can add them about an hour or so before you finish. Next, add a little of your liquid. You can braise with stock, wine, beer, soy sauce, water, and even milk. Scrape up the fond—the caramelized meat drippings and browned bits—with a wooden spoon while you slowly add the rest of the liquid. You should add enough to cover, or mostly cover, your protein, which you should now add back to your pot to melt alongside your vegetables & herbs.
3. Boil and simmer
Next, bring your pot of meat, aromatics, vegetables, and liquid to a boil. Soon after, reduce your cooking temperature to low or warm up your oven to 300°F and transfer your pot to simmer. Periodically check your braise as it cooks, and season if necessary. You may also have to skim the fat off the top, depending on your protein. Once the sauce has reduced and the meat has become tender, you can check for doneness after as little as an hour, depending on your cut.
Braising is a cooking method of opposites: High temperature, then low; dry cook, then wet; hearty cuts made tender. The process is simple with room for creativity. You can use just about any meat in a braise, although many opt for cuts such as pork shoulder or beef brisket that melt off the fork after hours of cooking.
Here are four braises that we love, especially when cooked with grass-fed, locally sourced meat from Walden.
This easy recipe comes from our partnership with Cook’s Illustrated, featuring the bright taste of Winter pomegranates. Transforming this brisket into a dinner crowd-pleaser takes 3-4 hours, but you can make ahead and store for up to two days in the fridge for a quick heat to impress this weekend’s dinner guests.
For those craving a little heat to kick up their dish, try this intensely flavorful lamb shank with just the right amount of spice to warm up your weekly menu. A garnish of fresh mint reminds us that warmer months are just around the corner, while complementing the bodied smokiness of the harissa spiked sauce.
Chicken is the exception to the rule. Unlike other proteins, you can braise chicken in less than an hour. This recipe can be made with our Pasture-Raised Chicken Quarters or even with a broken down Pasture-Raised Whole Chicken. The mustard and chestnuts in this recipe lend a different flavor profile to the meal than the typical red-wine-and-dark-meat makeup of most braises. It’s a great weeknight option because it can go from your Dutch oven to your dinner table in about an hour.
This recipe was adapted from Josefina Velázquez de Léon. Substitute Walden’s Grass-Fed Country Style Ribs for the spare ribs and don’t be afraid to add a pound or two. If you are unfamiliar with country-style ribs, the tender end product from this recipe will make you a believer. The best part of making Mexican Braised Country-Style Ribs with Squash and Corn? The leftovers make great tacos!
Remember—a braise is only as good as its ingredients! Join Walden to experiment with a variety of cuts in the kitchen, knowing all come from sustainable, local New England and New York farms you can trust!