The braise is a one pan show, a delicious way to get your kids to eat of their least fond food group, and a classic cooking technique praised by chefs for hundreds of years. Best of all, this method benefits from being made a day or two ahead.
These dishes can be served warm on Friday nights, and it is perfectly fine, even preferred in many countries, to serve these mellow and muted creations at room temperature--making braises a perfect Shabbos day side dish.
~ To braise vegetables evenly, cook those of similar density together. Root vegetables are generally more dense and hearty, requiring slow heat to penetrate the fibers and infuse them with flavor, while the flavor of summer vegetables is enhanced by shorter cooking times.
~ Choose a heavy pan for stove top or a Dutch Oven for oven braising. The pot should be only slightly larger than the vegetables and liquid and have a tight fitting lid. This allows the food to absorb the heat and liquid, rather than have the liquid evaporate.
~ The vegetables should be cut in uniform size and shape. They will brown better and absorb less fat if dry vegetables are placed in hot oil.
~ The liquid added should not smother the vegetables. It should only be half the depth of the vegetables in the pan. The liquid should be brought to an immediate simmer, then the pan should be tightly covered and heat lowered.
~ Acid is an important component in braising. It helps break down the fibers and provides a counterpoint to the vegetables’ heavier flavor. Contrast the buttery richness if you like, with the addition of fresh mint or basil, and/or toasted nuts.
Vegetables that braise well include onions, fennel, carrots beets, winter squash, sweet potatoes, leeks, parsnips, cabbage and onions. Even bell peppers, asparagus and green beans, gain a new dimension as they become sweeter with the loss of their crispiness and color.
The rules of the braise are simple and the ingredients adaptable. Just keep these tips in mind and play with the flavors your family enjoy…then prepare for their praise.