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Braised meat

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Since it's winter, I've been making a lot of braised hunks of meat (leg of lamb, pork shoulder, etc) and stews. While I consitently get the meat to turn out the way I want to texture-wise and it does have a nice "meaty" taste, I can't seem to get it to absorb the flavor of the aromatics and herbs that I but in the braising pan or slow cooker. Does anyone have any ideas as to how I can make this happen? I do salt the meat before I cook it so it's not underseasoned.

For instance - last night I made a pork shoulder in the slow cooker based on a Mark Bittman recipe from the NY Times. Cubed shoulder, carrots, a whole lot of whole peeled garlic cloves and I even threw in a couple of shallots that he didn't mention in the recipe. Cooking liquid was a 2 to 1 ratio of red wine to chicken stock. After about 3 hours the meat was beautifully tender and porky but didn't absorb any of the flavors of the wine or aromatics. (The garlic cloves however, were great!) It wasn't bad, mind you, but I expected more "bang for the buck" flavor wise given the time invested.

Any ideas?

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More time. (And, possibly, more thyme). Ideally I marinate the meat for at least a day before the braising, and then let it sit overnight after cooking, warming it gently. Seems to improve texture, as well, and gives you time to skim any fat that's congealed overnight, and to reduce the liquid if you want something richer.


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Add the herbs in two stages. The first, when you add your liquids and begin the braise. And the second batch during the last 10 minutes (give or take five minutes) of cooking.


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Are you braising it on the bone?

Raoul


"I drink to make other people interesting".

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Braised meat is always better the next day. As said, better, more intense flavor, better texture.

Jmahl


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Well, the best options are to marinade the meat for about 24 hours, and allow the meat to rest in the liquid, as stated. In truth, it's not really the liquid that flavors the meat, its more like the meat flavors the liquid. You have to remember that when you cook something (esp. a braise) liquid leaves the meat--cooked protein always looses moisture, whether its steamed, boiled, grilled, etc. When the meat rests in the jus, it will absorb a bit of the liquid, but not, like, a TON.

The reason you add all the aromats to the braise is for the jus, not for the meat. Also, keep in mind that it IS possible to overcook a braised dish. You said the texture is correct, so I would think your best bet is to make the jus more flavorful.

The above suggestions for adding herbs in the late stages, cooking on the bone, etc, are good suggestions, but those will only improve the sauce, not the meat itself.

Think about it in practical terms--how is a piece of meat going to "absorb" liquid as it cooks? Really think about it. Probably won't happen.

One thing I always tell people when making stocks and braises is to add the aromatics only in the last hour or so of cooking. The comparison is this--when you make a veg. stock, how long do you simmer the veg? 45 minutes to an hour. And you do this because, any longer, and the stock will take on a muddy, overcooked vegtal aroma and flavour that is very unappealing. So why would you cook aromats in your braises and stocks for any longer? I say add the herbs and veg in the last hour. This won't help with the meat problems, but it will help the jus taste better and be more fragrant.

As stated above, your best two punch combo is a marination for at least 24 hours (make sure to cook off the alcohol of any wine based marinades before submerging the meat), and allowing the meat the cool down in the liquid (which may allow it to retain and/or gain some of the liquid).

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Are you braising it on the bone?

Raoul

The pork that I just made recently no, but other times I have braised meat on the bone.

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Well, the best options are to marinade the meat for about 24 hours, and allow the meat to rest in the liquid, as stated. In truth, it's not really the liquid that flavors the meat, its more like the meat flavors the liquid. You have to remember that when you cook something (esp. a braise) liquid leaves the meat--cooked protein always looses moisture, whether its steamed, boiled, grilled, etc. When the meat rests in the jus, it will absorb a bit of the liquid, but not, like, a TON.

The reason you add all the aromats to the braise is for the jus, not for the meat. Also, keep in mind that it IS possible to overcook a braised dish. You said the texture is correct, so I would think your best bet is to make the jus more flavorful.

The above suggestions for adding herbs in the late stages, cooking on the bone, etc, are good suggestions, but those will only improve the sauce, not the meat itself.

Think about it in practical terms--how is a piece of meat going to "absorb" liquid as it cooks? Really think about it. Probably won't happen.

One thing I always tell people when making stocks and braises is to add the aromatics only in the last hour or so of cooking. The comparison is this--when you make a veg. stock, how long do you simmer the veg? 45 minutes to an hour. And you do this because, any longer, and the stock will take on a muddy, overcooked vegtal aroma and flavour that is very unappealing. So why would you cook aromats in your braises and stocks for any longer? I say add the herbs and veg in the last hour. This won't help with the meat problems, but it will help the jus taste better and be more fragrant.

As stated above, your best two punch combo is a marination for at least 24 hours (make sure to cook off the alcohol of any wine based marinades before submerging the meat), and allowing the meat the cool down in the liquid (which may allow it to retain and/or gain some of the liquid).

Thanks for the thoughtful, detailed response. One question on the marinade - after cooking down and cooling the wine, do I put the raw aromats in the marinade, then take them out for the first hours of the braise and then put them back in? Or do I marinate sans aromats?

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Well, I wouldn't cook down the wine too much, just enough to cook the raw alcohol smell off of it. If you were to add aromats to the wine, I would just discard after marination and use fresh ones for the actual braise. If I were going to add veg. to my marinade, I would sweat them down all the way, add the wine, cook off alcohol, cool, then add the meat and refrigerate for 24 hours. Then I would strain the marinade and use fresh aromats at the end of the braise.

Good luck, let us know if this helps and you notice a difference.

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I marinate with raw aromats, cooked off wine and meat. Then separate the components, sear meat, caramelize vegetables, deglace pan and braise with everything together once again.

(That was the way Keller did his beef cheeks at the French Laundry when the cookbook was written)

I definitely wouldn't throw away the aromats if they were used in the marinade. They will surely contain both a lot of remaining flavour, quite a bit of red wine and maybe some meat juice. But I do see a point of keeping back (at least part of) the aromats and adding them the last hour.


Edited by TheSwede (log)

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I marinate with raw aromats, cooked off wine and meat. Then separate the components, sear meat, caramelize vegetables, deglace pan and braise with everything together once again.

(That was the way Keller did his beef cheeks at the French Laundry when the cookbook was written)

I definitely wouldn't throw away the aromats if they were used in the marinade. They will surely contain both a lot of remaining flavour, quite a bit of red wine and maybe some meat juice. But I do see a point of keeping back (at least part of) the aromats and adding them the last hour.

I find that too really absorb flavor and to enhance the 'meatiness' of a dish it's best to make a marinade first and let it sit for 24hours.

Example - with short ribs I reduce red wine and add aromatics (carrots, onion, celery, herbs_) pour that over the meat (once it's cool) in a small dish and cover for at least 24hours.

Then I usually have a stock that's appropriate for whatever dish I'm making - in the example case I would strain the marinade use the wine leftover with some veal stock as a braising liquid. The liquid will have absorbed all the flavor - just think of a stock. You shouldn't have to reuse the previous aromatics at all.

Remember that braise is NOT a poach and you only want a small amount of liquid in the pan. It's usually appropriate to brown the item before braising. And concentrating the braising liquid is key since you only use a small amount. Of course it will further reduce with the added meat juices while cooking as well. Make sure you have a tight lid to your braising pot - i usually put a piece of wax paper underneath my liquid to further concentrate the space as it's basically a condensation/rain procedure that is going on in the pot. the less space the better.

to finish it's usually great to roast the dish or apply some high heat to further carmelize the outside portions. the sauce is really the bonus of a braise and it's where you will also introduce a lot of flavor to the dish. while your meat is browning, concentrate on perfecting the braising liquid into the sauce with the flavors you desire. add whatever herbs or flavor agents that you want more pronounced here. voila, braising it.

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