Some quick ideas and helpful hints for you and your kitchen
Below you will find an ever expanding list of cooking tips. These can be about different methods, styles, foods or whatever. If you have some tips you would like to add in, please do so in the comments!
Any questions you have, add those to the comments as well. I’ll be sure to get them answered!
Cooking Tips: Methods
There are a lot of questions about braising. Here are some of them and some quick cooking tips!
Q: What can you braise?
A: Braising is for meats, veggies and yes… fruits. Just about any meat can be braised (with adjusted cook times). There are many veggies that take on exceptional flavor through braising. Some fruits can be braised as well, like pairs, apples and bananas.
Q: Can I braise on the stovetop?
A: Absolutely. A stovetop is the perfect place to quickly braise vegetables and quick cooking proteins like fish. For longer braises, such as pork shoulder, ribs or a chuck roast I would use the oven. With long braises, many stovetops tend to put out too much heat even on the low setting which could result in burning or overcooking. In the oven, the heat surrounds the cooking vessel and allows for a more even cooking experience.
Q: Can I braise in any dish?
A: It all depends. I’m a big fan of heavy bottom pans or cast iron. These allow the heat to be dispersed more evenly and have less temperature fluctuations. At our professional kitchen, we braised in braising pans, roasting pans, stock pots and more. At home, I’ll braise in a pyrex baking dish (this is not for searing, just for braising!) or in my pressure cooker. The most important part to selecting the dish is making sure that you can get a good, tight seal with the cover (whether that be an actual cover or aluminum foil).
Q: Should the meat be submerged in the liquid?
A: Most likely not. Submerging the meat would be closer to boiling or stewing rather than braising. The exposed meat in a braise cooks differently than the meat which is submerged. If you are following a recipe which calls for the meat to be completely submerged, I would think twice before following that recipe.
Q: How does the meat stay moist if it is not covered by the liquid?
A: There are a couple different factors to this question. The first area we should look at is the fat content of the meat we are cooking. It is the fat that keeps the meat moist, not the liquid. For low fat braises, such as pork tenderloin, you may experience dryness. It is best to introduce fat into these dishes to keep them moist.
Additionally, heat is the enemy during braising. Most braises need to be taken slow and low. The idea is to ease the meat into cooking, not shock it with high temperatures. Additionally, if the temperatures get too high, your braising liquid will start to boil which will inevitably toughen the meat.
Q: I’m short on time. Is there a way to speed up braising?
A: Again, it depends on what you are braising. Vegetables can most likely be braised in under 20 minutes, with some (like baby bok choy) ready in under 5 minutes. For longer braises, with larger tough cuts, there really is no way to speed up the braising process. The idea here is to cook slow and low, allowing the flavors to develop and the meat to tenderize. Cranking up the temperature on the oven will only result in a tougher outcome.
Q: Is there a way to pause the braise?
A: Yes. You can stop the cooking once the meat has reached an internal temperature of 140 degrees. After this point, you need to do one of two things. The first is to keep the meat at this temperature if possible. This is pretty hard to do without having it dry out. I would only suggest this if you are going to try to continue the cooking later that day. The second way is to cool the meat to 40 degrees and store it in the refrigerator. When you go to reheat, take out of the refrigerator about an hour before you are going to resume cooking so that it comes up to room temperature. Continue to braise until it has reached the desired temperature.
Q: How can I alter the cooking times for smaller cuts of meat?
A: There are many times that I put together recipes with huge cuts. The cook times reflect such big cuts too. My suggestion is to start cooking the braise and then remove it after an hour. Temp the meat and figure out how fast it is cooking. for example, if you need to get to 200 degrees internal temperature and after an hour you are at 50, you most likely need about 3 more hours. Now, this is not an exact science, but if you temp it again in an hour and you’re at 120, you know you need to check again in about an hour until you get to the desired internal temperature.
Q: There is too much braising liquid. How can this be reduced?
A: Whenever there is too much liquid at the end, my suggestion is the following: stir the liquid to incorporate all the goodness. Ladle some out into a fat separator. Pour out the juice that you need to reduce. If you still have a lot of liquid left over, strain that as well and use it as a stock for some soup or add it into some root vegetables to make another delicious braise. The only thing to discard is the fat!
Q: I keep getting flames engulfing my meals on the grill. How can I stop these?
A: Flare ups are annoying at best and impossible to stop unless you are cooking non-fat foods. Ever notice that boneless, skinless chicken breasts never flare up? No fat = no flames. But, no fat is boring. So how can we control the flames? Through good preparation.
The first step is to not overcrowd your grill. I use a natural gas grill and always have room to move foods that are not cooperating. So I’ll keep my left three burners on high and the right two on low. Once a flare up starts, I’ll move the food off the high side onto the low side until things calm down. The fat tends to burn off rather quickly.
You can also use the warming rack on your grill (if you have one). This area allows the fat to melt but keeps the food out of the flames. Warming racks are very versatile and can certainly be used for more than just warming. I’ve also put foil on the warming rack to completely contain the fat when I am cooking really high fat foods (like chicken wings).
Lastly, you need to stay near your grill when cooking. So many people put food on and then wander away to get something else done. The thought is that you’ve got six or eight minutes before it needs to be flipped, so why not multi-task. The problem is that flare ups can happen in an instant, ruining your meal so quickly that it can be discouraging. Stick by the grill to take care of your food!
Q: My grill catches on fire a lot. What can I do?
A: The first thing NOT to do is use water when this happens. Water and grease don’t play well together. They can explode and cause much bigger problems than just a flare up. The suggested method is to use baking soda to put out a grease fire on the grill.
Now, if your grill is catching fire a lot, that also means that it is time to clean your grill. When it is cool, take off the grate and burner covers. Get in there with a wire brush and a shop vac to get all that stuff out of there. A clean grill is a happy grill, with a lot less fires.
Q: My grill has hot spots and cold spots… what can I do?
A: Work around them. Getting to know your grill is important. Most grills have hot and cold spots, which is why it is hard to just jump in on another persons grill. I’ve burnt the heck out of meat by leaving it in an unknown hotspot for too long.