1. Choose the perfect cut of meat
Looking at the anatomy of an animal, you’ll want to select the muscles which do plenty of work and develop plenty of muscle. The tender cuts like a fillet of beef which sit on the back of the animal are ideal for quick cooking methods like sauteing, but not for braising. The lack of tough muscle fibres and connective tissue means that after a long period of cooking, the fibres will dry out and there is nothing to add richness or flavour. You’ll end up with just dried out strands of meat.
A lamb shank on the other hand comes from the leg of the animal. The legs carry around the weight of the animal constantly. This amount of work makes for very tough meat, quick cooking would leave it gristly, chewy and inedible. However, given the opportunity to cook gently over a long period of time it will become so tender you can eat it with just a fork and it will be incredibly flavourful.
If you’re in doubt, find a butcher you can trust and ask for his recommendations from what he has available.
My personal favourite cuts for braising are
Beef: bone-in short ribs, oxtail, shanks/shin (osso buco style), beef chuck
Pork: collar/neck, shoulder, ham hocks, belly, ribs
Poultry – bone in thigh, drumsticks, whole legs
Lamb – shank, breast, shoulder, neck
When possible, I’ll opt for a cut of meat that still has a bone inside it. It will take longer to cook but the bone will add flavour and body to your braise.
2. Pick the best cooking vessel
I’m a fan of wide, heavy bottomed pots with plenty of space for me to both brown my meat well and cook my braise. Cast iron or enameled cast iron is my go-to here, but any sturdy pot or dutch oven large enough to hold your braise should do just fine. Avoid using a non-stick pot where possible because we want the meat to colour while leaving behind brown crispy bits on the bottom of the pan.
I’ve got my meat and my pot, now what?
While recipes for braised meats may vary from one to another, the basic technique remains fundamentally the same. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to turn any tender cut of meat that’s thrown at you into melt-in-your-mouth perfection!