Braising is a useful way to break down muscle and build deep flavor at the same time. It’s a very simple method: you brown the meat on all sides, then cook it tightly covered in liquid on low heat for a long time. You can braise in the oven, on the stovetop, or in a slow cooker. When you braise you are relying on the liquid and spices you choose to create the flavor profile of your dish, versus when you choose another method like grilling. Then you might only salt your meat and let the char and smoke lend their flavor.
WHAT TO BRAISE
You can braise pretty much anything. Pig cheeks, bone-in chicken breasts, oxtail, lamb or beef shank, ham hocks, stew meat, a tri tip roast, neck bones, you name it. The thing is that all muscles braise differently, even cuts from the same animal and certainly different cuts from different animals. Braised chicken is going to take vastly less time than a pork chop – like twenty minutes versus two hours. Though a brisket and a pork shoulder might take a similar amount of time, the result won’t be similar as every muscle is distinct.
TIPS FOR BRAISING
You can read recipes for guidance and ideas on what flavors to add, but always consider what you want from the braise. Do you prefer give and take, a little chew? Or do like your braise to fall apart and shred. To get one or the other texture, you just adjust cooking time and temperature. The longer you cook at a lower temperature, the more the muscle falls apart.
Exact cooking times depend on the cut you’re braising and if your oven is calibrated. If you aren’t a big fan of braised or boiled meat but still want to cook a cut low and slow, slow roasting might be more enjoyable for you. You can still get the braising effect of breaking the muscle down, without using liquid. For tips on slow roasting from Josh Applestone, read this edition of Ask the Butcher.