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Backward Braising

Slow cooking followed by a blast in the oven creates tender meat with an appealing crust, all without searing.

February/March 2017 Issue
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Braised meat is a beautiful thing. Thanks to low, slow cooking in a flavorful liquid, the meat becomes crazy tender and full of flavor. It’s the perfect choice for winter dining, when you’re hankering for a hearty meal and having the oven on for a few hours is most welcome. A braise is practically foolproof and only better if made ahead, so it’s great for both casual family meals and stress-free entertaining. But what if I told you about a technique that makes braising even easier still?

When braising, you typically sear meat to brown it for flavor and color, then add liquid and aromatics before cooking it until tender. With my “backward” method, you braise the meat to tenderness first, then brown it in a hot oven.

There are several rewards for doing this. You skip the messy step of searing the meat on the stovetop and have no chance of burned fat leaving an off taste. You also create a flavorful broth in the pot, which means you don’t need to have stock on hand to braise. How does this work? In my experience, the initial slow cooking preserves more of the meat juices in the pot compared to the high heat of searing, which causes the released meat juices to evaporate.

Porcini-Rubbed Braised Beef

With my technique, you can also cook the meat until tender hours or even a couple of days before serving. Then it’s simply a matter of reheating and browning it right in the same pot in the oven. Finally, during the browning step, the liquid reduces further, creating a robust sauce to serve with the meat.

Though you could adapt this method to just about any cut of meat suitable for braising, my favorite cuts are pork shoulder roast and beef chuck, which are both deeply flavored, especially when bone-in, and are also among the least expensive. Before braising, I like to boost the flavor by seasoning the meat with a dry rub; a day ahead is great, but longer is even better.

The meat from these recipes can be served for dinner as is, in chunks or slices along with its sauce and, say, some potatoes. But you can also shred the meat to use in tacos, as a filling for ravioli, or as a topping for risotto, polenta, or pasta along with some of the sauce. I often do both: Serve half the recipe as is and then shred and freeze the rest of the meat to use in quesadillas or to top baked potatoes another night. With a method this easy, you’ll have plenty of tender, flavorful braised meat on hand all winter long.

Chile-Rubbed Braised Beef in Tacos


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