My favorite two types of combination cooking methods are braising and stewing. I don’t know why, but some would-be cooks seem to shy away from these two methods of cooking. Maybe it’s because they are referred to as “combination” methods of cooking, and therefore must be more complicated or difficult than “regular” cooking.
But it’s not true! Braising and stewing are actually quite simple and straightforward approaches to cooking, and, in my opinion, both should be part of your basic cooking repertoire.
Braised foods are the first type of combination cooking methods I will explain. It involves both dry and moist heat cooking methods.Foods to be braised are usually large pieces such as meats. Cheaper cuts commonly used for braising usually yield more flavor than the more expensive ones. Some meats types are beef short ribs, chuck or shoulder roast, brisket, oxtail, pork boneless butt or Boston butt, and veal or lamb shanks. Braising enhances and intensifies that flavor via an exchange of flavors in the braising liquid and the steam it creates. The juices of the food being braised combine with the liquid, which is also infused into the meat along with the flavors of the other ingredients added to the pot.
Many cuisines have a traditional mixture of finely chopped aromatics that form a flavor base. In France, mirepoix; in Italy, soffritto or battuto; in Spain and other Hispanic cuisines, sofrito. These can be onions, garlic, shallots, celery, carrots, peppers, spices, and herbs, among other flavorings. Chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms provide another powerful flavor addition to beef or game braises (reserve the soaking liquid to add to the braising liquid).
Procedure for Braising Foods
- Prepare the foods to be braised. Dredge it in flour, if desired.
- Heat a small amount of fat in a heavy pan.
- Sear the food on all sides.
- Add any other ingredients and saute.
- Add flour or roux, if desired.
- Add the cooking liquid. You can use just water, but your braise will have much more depth and complexity if you use stock or broth. A rounder, more balanced flavor can be achieved by adding an acidic liquid, such as red or white wine, beer, cider, orange juice, a little vinegar or a small amount of tomato paste. The liquid should partially cover the food.
- Add seasonings.
- Cover the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer. Baste and turn the food when needed.
- Prepare a sauce from the braising liquid if desired. At the end of cooking, the liquid in the pot may already be thick enough and intensely flavored enough for a luxurious sauce without further steps, but most sauces will benefit from reducing. Transfer the braised food to a warm platter and tent it with foil.
- Taste the sauce, if it seems thinner or paler in flavor than you want, set the pot on a burner and bring the liquid to a brisk simmer. Stir to scrape up any bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and simmer the liquid, tasting periodically, until it reaches the desired consistency. The liquid will thicken as water evaporates from it – it’s called reducing. Don’t season the sauce before it’s reduced; taste it at the end and then add salt or pepper if it’s needed.
Stewing is also made up of a combination of dry and moist heat cooking methods. Stewing usually uses smaller pieces of food, which are first cooked either by browning in fat or oil. Cooking is finished in a liquid or sauce.
Procedure for Stewing Foods
- Cut food into small pieces. Dredge the pieces in flour, if desired.
- Heat a small amount of fat in a pan. Sear the food on all sides developing color.
- Add any other ingredients and saute.
- Add flour or roux.
- Gradually add the cooking liquid, stirring to prevent lumps. The liquid should completely cover the food.
- Cover and simmer until tender.
Now that you’ve seen how simple the combination cooking processes of braising and stewing really are, I hope you’ve already decided to give them both a try, and soon. You’ll be glad you did.