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The Truth About Braising

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The Truth About Braising

Lab Assignment #2

Lab assignment #2, to be conducted Tuesday and discussed Tuesday night, involves a comparison of braising liquids. We'll test several different types of braising liquids (stock, wine, water) as well as different amounts (meat partly covered, meat completely submerged) and discuss the pros and cons of each approach.

I've had to retool Lab #2 a little bit, because I was surprised by the results of Lab #1. I was certain that, in an oven chamber with fairly constant heat, all those different types of braising vessels would perform pretty much the same. But that turned out not to be the case. Such is life when you make a commitment to the scientific method.

So, unable to eliminate the vessel variable by proof, we will have to eliminate it some other way. The solution I've come up with is that I happen to have a set of four loaf pans all the same. They're small, but they'll each easily hold a couple of short ribs. They'll also all fit on the same shelf in my oven at the same time, which conveniently eliminates the oven-shelf variable. I'll cover them tight with a double layer of aluminum foil. You'll have to let us know what you come up with to reduce vessel variation. Whatever you have four of the same of, please use it. Or maybe you have two and two. Or maybe you'll have to do this in a couple of shifts.

The instructions for this lab are really simple now that we're all veterans. Here's what goes in the four vessels:

Vessel #1: meat plus 1/2” of stock

Vessel #2: meat plus 1/2” of red wine

Vessel #3: meat plus 1/2” of water with roughly chopped onions, carrots and celery

Vessel #4: meat completely covered with stock

Please take note of weight and temperature readings throughout, as in Lab #1. And note any other observations you may have; no observation is too small.

Start by browning each piece of meat, trying to achieve uniform results. Include the browned bits and pan juices for each piece of meat in the relevant vessel. It's not really important for this lab what temperature you braise at, but I'll probably go with my oven preheated to 300 degrees F and turn it down to 275 after the first hour, then braise until fork tender.

When the meat is finished cooking take each sample out of its pan juices and let it cool on a plate for a few minutes, until it is cool enough to taste comfortably. The idea here is, first, to taste each piece to see if the meat itself comes out any different when braised in these different liquids and ways. By the way, leave the oven on.

Once you have made these observations, make a quick reduction of each type of braising liquid. Strain the vegetables out of the water, and only use as much of the stock from the fully submerged sample as there is liquid in the other vessels. For each liquid at this point, try to skim off as much fat as possible and reduce in a saucepan, skillet or other vessel until you get it to a few tablespoons of rich, almost syrup-like liquid. You may wish to season at this point. Then pour the sauce over the short rib and taste the differences between braised meats when accompanied by their braising liquids. Also note how this set of differences compares to the set of differences from when you tasted without sauce.

Now that we have some braising vessels freed up, we'll also reheat the samples from Lab #1, to see what a night in the refrigerator did for them. Put each sample in a vessel with its liquid, and heat in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the liquid is simmering. Pick one sample to taste, make note of your observations, and let the other two cool back down and re-refrigerate them. We'll heat them again tomorrow, and one of them again on day 4.

If you have questions about these instructions, please ask them on the logistics topic.

See you tomorrow!

Click here for the discussion of Lab #2.

Click here for Lab #3.

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