Braising is one of the most transformative of all cooking techniques, used throughout the world to take humble ingredients and elevate them to be hearty and satisfying. A heavy pot with a good lid and time are the two main things needed to braise. The term comes from the French verb braiser, meaning “to stew” and the technique became widely used in the 19th century.
Braising is actually two techniques in one. The meat or vegetables to be cooked are first browned in a type of fat or oil over a relatively high heat and then slowly simmered in a covered pot over low heat for a long period of time partially submerged in a cooking liquid.
This combination of methods produces maximum flavor from tougher cuts of meat, older animals, or larger vegetables. The flavorful brown bits produced in the first part combine with a cooking liquid in the second part to form a natural gravy. The long, slow cooking in a moist environment that is usually slightly acidic (using wine, beer, or a broth that has had tomato paste added) breaks down tough fibers and converts the muscle connecting collagen into gelatin, further enriching the gravy. Braised dishes also greatly improve by being reheated, so they can be made on a leisurely Sunday and reheated for Tuesday or Wednesday night’s dinner. And because practically every cuisine around the world uses braising, the flavor combinations are endless. Start with a classic French coq au vin, move to an American pot roast, and finish with a Chinese hot pot.