braising: what am i doing wrong?

I have very mixed (read: mostly bad) results any time I try to braise something. It's worse for vegetables than for meat. Even when I feel like I'm following a recipe pretty closely, it often ends up soggy, dull, and too salty and fatty. With sauteing and roasting I have the confidence to just wing it, but not with braising. Any braising experts out there who can offer some guidance?



beyondcelery May 13, 2011
I can't really speak to all vegetables, but I braise greens (spinach, kale, chard) this way.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in the skillet. Fry a bit of garlic briefly in the oil if desired. Pile on all your greens, do not stir, and cover for about 1-2 minutes, depending on the heartiness of the greens. (You don't want them completely wilted yet.) Fresh squeeze some lemon juice. When the greens have had their 1-2 minutes, uncover and fold them around the skillet 3 or 4 times, just to mix them a little but not to break them up. Douse with lemon juice, more olive oil if needed, salt, pepper, and a dash of white wine vinegar. Cover again and let them fully wilt, about 5min.

The key with this is to have everything prepped so the greens don't get overcooked while you're chopping or squeezing something. They will overcook very easily, so you must stand and watch them.
linzarella May 13, 2011
Guys, this is all so great. Wssmom, I can't wait to try that West Vilage Stew recipe, and the note it included about not cutting meat too small seemed like it was written just for me.

Now that this has generated so much about meat, can anyone weigh in on braising vegetables?
boulangere May 13, 2011
Oh yeah, innoabrd is perfectly correct. If you research true braising recipes, you'll find instructions to prepare, refrigerate, reheat, refrigerate, reheat, over 3 or 4 days to mature flavors.
innoabrd May 13, 2011
One secret is to cook it, then refrigerate overnight in the braising liquid, skim off most of the fat and re-heat it in the liquid. Leaving it overnight allows the meat to re-absorb a lot of the liquid and easier to get rid of the excess fat.

As for the saltiness, um, use less salt from the beginning? You can always add more later...

Good advice above: not too much liquid. You're braising, not poaching or stewing. Cheap meat! Well, at least cheaper cuts...
boulangere May 12, 2011
You can do this!
vvvanessa May 12, 2011
if you're having problems with too much fat, the first problem might be that your meat is, well, too fatty. while you do want a good amount to make the braise work, if the amount seems excessive, go ahead and trim it off. also, when the braise is done, give it a little time to let the fat float up to the top and skim it off. if it's too salty, season conservatively and taste and adjust as you go. the amount given in a recipe isn't always going to fit your palate.

a few key things i've learned about braising: make sure the meat gets nicely browned before you do anything else-- those litte browned bits are really, really tasty. i find i also get more flavor when i toast/sauté the herbs (if they're dried), spices, and aromatics after the meat is browned and before i put the meat back in the pot. you don't need the meat to be completely submerged in the liquid, and i find i get the "boiled meat" effect when i've used too much liquid. my achilles heel with braising tends to be cooking too fast (again adding to the boiled meat issue), so be sure to go low and slow.

good luck!
boulangere May 12, 2011
P.S. Start earlier in the day rather than later. Your house will smell fantastic.
boulangere May 12, 2011
wssmom's advice is wonderful. If you are braising meat, make sure you are using a "lesser" cut - neck bones, shoulder, short ribs, brisket. You need a cut that contains lots of collagen, basically connective tissue, not to put too fine a point on it. If you use a "good" cut (London Broil and up), you'll be disappointed. Brown pieces very well over medium-high heat, deglaze to liberate all the nice dark brown bits, remove the meat, add some mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery and some garlic wouldn't hurt a thing), deglaze with some red wine or a good strong beer, add back the meat and some canned tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Transfer to a 250 degree oven. Braise until meat is quite literally falling apart. Remove from oven. Remove meat from other contents. Allow to cool until you can handle it with your fingers. Literally pull and rub the meaty parts away from the bones and fat. Return to contents of pot. Serve over noodles or in hardy rolls. Rejoice.
wssmom May 12, 2011
You are not doing anything wrong! I am not a braising expert at all, but I have found that often braising turns out to be boiled beef. Here are two recipes that may help you rethink the process:

Recommended by Food52