Healthy Eating: In Praise of Braising

Many of my clients hire me as a Personal Chef not only for my culinary skills but because they simply don’t have enough time…no time to shop, no time to cook, precious little time to eat.  Some have told me to delivery only meals that can be heated in the microwave, as they have no time to preheat an oven.

I think we’re spending way too much time hurrying. Instant, fast, quick are the buzz words of the day. And yet, the “slow foods” movement is starting to catch on little by little. Some of us are reclaiming control of our schedules, our lives, by moving away from the microwave, coming back to the classic methods of preparing wholesome, delicious foods. Methods like braising.

To braise properly, you first brown your protein (meat, fowl or seafood) then finish it in the oven in a liquid medium,  enhanced with aromatics, over a long period of time, generally several hours, at a relatively low temperature.

This technique offers many benefits. At a time when we’re all watching our expenses, braising is perfect for less expensive cuts of meat, as the moist heat penetrates tough, connective tissue and breaks it down.  Further, any juices released during the cooking process become part of the braising liquid itself, which then can be easily turned into a sauce for the final dish. This way, virtually all of the flavor and nutrients are retained, something that can’t be said for microwave cooking.

If you have your Mom’s or Grandmother’s recipe file, chances are you’ll find at least one recipe for pot roast. If not, here’s Alton Brown’s take on this classic all-American dish.

Pot Roast
Serves 3-6

2 pounds, blade cut chuck roast
2t kosher salt
2t cumin
vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed
1C tomato juice
1/3C balsamic vinegar
1C cocktail olives, drained and broken
1/2C dark raisins

Preheat the oven to 190-200F. Place a wide, heavy skillet or fry pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, rub both sides of the meat with salt and cumin. When the pan is really hot, brown the meat on both sides and remove from the pan. Add just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan, then add the onion and garlic. Stir constantly until the onion has softened – this won’t take long. Add the tomato juice, vinegar, olives and raisins. Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half.

Create a pouch with wide, heavy aluminum foil. Place half the reduced liquid mixture on the foil, add the meat, and then top with the remaining mixture. Close the pouch, and wrap tightly in another layer of foil. Cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until a fork pushes easily into the meat. Remove from oven and rest (still wrapped) for at least 1/2 hour. Snip off one corner of the foil pouch and drain the liquid into a bowl or measuring cup. Add some of the meat parts that have come loose (or as Alton calls them, “chunkies”) and puree with an immersion blender or food processor, adding a bit of butter to thicken if you wish.

The beef should be fall-off-the-bone tender. Either slice it thinly, or simply pull it apart with a fork. Serve with the sauce on the side.

Set aside the time to enjoy your kitchen and get into braising. Try different combinations of liquids and aromatics. Try it with fish and other seafood.  Soon enough, you too will be praising braising.

Pot roast pic courtesy of http://www.internationalrecipes.com

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

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2 thoughts on “Healthy Eating: In Praise of Braising

  1. I have just recently rediscovered p[ot roast in my house. In today’s economic situation, that $10 chuck roast, along with some carrots & potatoes makes a huge meal for all. I never use the same ‘stuff’ in my braising liquid, but rather like to experiment with different things each time – will definitely try the balsamic next time.

    Thanks again for another inspiring post, Kent!

  2. –Trying new things, new approaches is what joyful cooking is all about. Our folks usually did it because they had to; luckily, we have the choice.
    As my Mom would say “choices like that lead to new traditions. Now go make your own.”

    –Kent

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