If I had to choose my favorite cooking technique—the one I absolutely couldn’t do without—it would be braising. After all, this is the technique that gave us comfort food like pot roast and osso buco. Traditional braises are simple enough—just a slow simmer of meat and a flavorful liquid in a covered pot—but they can take a long time. Lately I’ve been inventing quick versions to satisfy my craving for the savor of a braised dish without the long cooking.
Choose naturally tender cuts and cook them on the stovetop. For these quick braises, I don’t use the large, tough cuts that take hours of simmering to become tender. Instead, I look for smaller, more tender cuts that still have good savor, such as chicken thighs, boneless pork chops, sirloin tips, and thick fish fillets.
Another way that I shortcut the braising process is to avoid the oven and cook over the direct heat of a burner. I choose a pan that holds the ingredients snugly—this helps everything stay moist as the braise cooks and concentrates all the flavors.
In most other ways, these braises are similar to their traditional counterparts. After browning the meat, I sauté fragrant aromatics, such as shallots or onions, to give the dishes a good flavor base. I deglaze the aromatics with an acidic liquid, such as wine, vinegar, or citrus, which helps balance the braise’s rich, browned flavor. I then often add a little chicken broth or some other mild liquid to finish cooking the meat.
As you try your hand at these quick braises, I encourage you to come up with your own flavor combinations based on your tastes and your pantry. Begin with an aromatic ingredient like garlic, onion, or shallot, and then stick with one or two other main flavors. Don't make it too complicated—think of flavors that pair nicely and build on that.
Sear the meat for a dark, browned exterior, which will give the braise a rich, intense flavor.
Deglaze the aromatics with a lively acidic liquid. Scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits.
Simmer the meat and its juices with the braising liquid and the aromatics. Simmer gently, covered, until tender.
Reduce the braising liquid (after removing the meat) to a rich, saucy consistency.
Picking the perfect pan for searing and braising:
Ideally, you want to choose a pan for these recipes that will hold all the pieces of meat, chicken, or fish in a snug but not overlapping layer. A deep 10- or 12-inch skillet (2-1/2 to 4 inches deep) is usually perfect. If it comes with a lid, great; otherwise, use foil. But if the pan is just right for braising, it might be too tight for searing all the meat at once—the pieces need some elbow room while searing or they’ll steam rather than brown. For these recipes, I find that the beef and chicken need to be seared in batches, but I can usually get away with searing the halibut and pork all at once.