Don't Call Me Chef

Published: Saturday February 7, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday February 17, 2015 MYT 4:14:48 PM

Make cooking easy - braise away!

Braising is a long process, but it requires little hands-on time and attention.

Braising is a cooking technique that uses dry and wet heat – the main ingredient is first seared and then simmered in a small amount of liquid on low heat in a covered pot. It’s a good way to cook tough cuts of meat, and the end result is tender and flavourful.

The process is a long one, but it requires little hands-on time and attention. Dishes cooked this way can be made in advance, and heated up on the stove or in the oven when you are ready to eat. Plus, it’s one-pot cooking, which means less to wash up.

While this method of cooking is great for tough cuts of meet, it also works well with chicken (on the bone), firm-fleshed fish and even vegetables (the hardier varieties). The recipes featured show how three different main ingredients can be cooked with the braising method.

Without getting into technical specifics, braising meat is about breaking down tough connective tissue in meat (muscle) and changing it into collagen by applying moist heat for a period of time depending on what you are cooking. (Some of you may have perked up when you read the word “collagen” – yes, it’s one of the things that keep our skin smooth!) With more time and heat, the collagen breaks down and dissolves into gelatin – which makes the braises gooey and sticky at the end of cooking.

Four simple steps to a great braise

The process shown here is for meat, but it works for vegetables too.

Step 1 Brown the meat

Step 1: Sear the meat

Place a heavy, lidded pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to cover the base of the pot. Add the meat, in batches if you have to so that the pieces don’t crowd each other, and keep the lid off. Brown the meat on all sides until it achieves a deep colour.

Remove the meat and set aside.


Step 2 Saute the aromatics

Step 2: Sauté the aromatics

In the oil left behind in the pot, cook the aromatics like onions, celery and carrots. Stir frequently and cook until brown but not burnt.





Step 3 Add the liquid

Step 3: Add the braising liquid

Deglaze the pot by stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. These bits add a lot of flavour to the final dish.

Step 4 Braise the meat

Step 4: Braise the meat

Return the meat to the pot, with any accumulated juices. The meat should not be submerged – it is being braised, not boiled. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover.


The braising process can continue in three ways: a) Leave the pot over low heat on the stove; b) place the pot in a 160°C oven; or c) transfer the contents of the pot to a slow cooker (crock pot). The cooking time will depend on the method used and the kind of meat braised.

When the meat is done, it should be fork-tender – it will come apart using the pressure of a fork – and fall off the bone. 

If there is still a lot of liquid in the pot after the meat is removed, reduce it further on the stove to make a sauce. Skim off as much fat as possible as you cook down the liquid.

Continue reading for the recipes.

This beef braised in vinegar is tossed with noodles. Photo JANE F. RAGAVAN/The Star

What's your beef

THIS dish is inspired by the Goan vindaloo, a fiery meat dish cooked in vinegar. While it is sour and sweet, it doesn’t have as many spices in it as a traditional vindaloo.

However, it does contain coffee, which may seem unusual, but in fact perfectly complements the sour and sweet tastes in the dish due to its bitterness and acidity. Brew a cup to your taste using grounds or instant coffee – leaving out the cream and sugar, of course.

When I first made this dish, I used onions as an aromatic and to act as a bed for the seared beef so they wouldn’t be immersed in the braising liquid and boil instead. At the end of the braising process, however, it was a happy coincidence to find that they had turned into the best onion jam I have ever made – even if it was by accident! Since the onions were holding up the beef in the pan, they had absorbed all the juices from above.

As a suggested serving, toss the beef with a noodle salad, and don’t forget the onion jam on the side.

Beef Braised In Vinegar With Onion Jam
Serves 4

450g stewing beef
2 large white onions (about 250g), cut in half and finely sliced
80ml brewed coffee
160ml vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
¼ cup firmly packed brown or palm sugar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-2 long green chillies, sliced
large pinch cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
cooking oil (sunflower or canola)

Cut the beef into 3-4 three to four large even chunks. Season the beef with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Place a large, deep, lidded pot over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to just cover the base of the pot. Add the beef and sear the chunks on all sides until deeply coloured but not cooked through (see braising instructions in the table), 4-5 minutes. Remove the beef and set aside.

To the drippings in the pot, add the sliced onions and sauté over medium heat until light brown and translucent, 12-15 minutes.

Stir together the vinegar, brewed coffee, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, chilli and cayenne pepper. When the sugar has dissolved, add the mixture to the onions in the pot. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Return the beef to the pot, laying the chunks on top of the onion. Cover the pot and leave to cook on the stove until the meat is fork-tender, 1½-2 hours.

When the meat is done, transfer it to a plate to rest before slicing. By this time, what’s left in the pot should be sticky like jam. If there is still too much liquid, cook it down further. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Braising vegetables in olive oil adds a dimension that roasting and stir-frying doesnt provide.
Braising vegetables in olive oil adds a dimension that roasting and stir-frying doesn't provide. Photo: S. INDRAMALAR/The Star

What to do with vegetables?

I HAVE never thought of braising vegetables. I like my vegetables crunchy and therefore always stir-fry or roast them. The thought of slow-cooking vegetables for an hour or more was unimaginable. Perhaps it could work with potatoes, yams or carrots but surely anything else would just end up unappetisingly mushy, right?

Needless to say, this month’s task posed a challenge for me. Despite reading numerous articles and recipes for braising vegetables I had many doubts. My curiosity, however, was piqued when I saw a recipe for vegetables braised in olive oil. The oil is flavoured with lemon, garlic, chilli flakes, sun-dried tomatoes (you can do this yourself by roasting halved cherry tomatoes under low heat – 120°C – for about an hour) and anchovies; I replaced the anchovies with Marmite to make the dish vegetarian.

I deviated from the recipe by putting all my favourite vegetables into the braising pot – broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, potatoes and carrots. I expected the broccoli and cauliflower to end up mushy and discoloured but was pleasantly surprised to find them tender but still retaining their structure (and a little crunch too).

Braising, I realise, is radically different from boiling. Braising uses gentle heat to coax out flavour (from the vegetables and the braising liquid). It’s genius!

Will I try it again? Most definitely. Despite the length of time on the heat, the freshness of the vegetables is not compromised. They remain succulent and plump, and the flavours are bright and accented with the lemon and tomatoes that went in to season the oil. To top it all off, the aroma as the vegetables are braising is just intoxicating.

Vegetables Braised In Olive Oil
Serves 4

1 cup olive oil
1 lemon, sliced and de-seeded
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp Marmite
4 sprigs rosemary
6-8 sundried tomatoes, sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
300g broccoli, cut into large florets
300g cauliflower, cut into large florets
6 small potatoes, washed and halved
1 carrot, halved and cut into 2-inch pieces
8-10 brussel sprouts, ends trimmed
8-10 mushrooms, halved or quartered (I used shiitake)
2 tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan to finish

In a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil, chilli flakes, tomatoes, garlic, onion, rosemary, lemon and Marmite. Keep the heat on low to medium and allow the flavours of the ingredients to infuse into the oil.

Once the garlic and lemon slices start to brown, add the potatoes and carrots into the oil and leave to cook, uncovered for about 7 minutes.

Add the rest of the vegetables and stir to make sure they are all coated with the oil. They will only be partially submerged.

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Leave to braise for about 30 minutes without stirring, after which time the vegetables should have softened and browned somewhat.

After 30 minutes, stir the vegetables to make sure those at the top get their chance to braise in the oil too. Keep the pot on low heat for another 15 minutes or so, stirring every now and then to make sure the vegetales are cooked evenly.

Once you are satisfied with the tenderness of your vegetables, season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and remove the pot from the heat.

Dish the vegetables and some of the seasoned braising oil onto a serving platter and shave some Parmesan over the top.

Jamie Olivers Chicken In Milk is braised with garlic, cinnamon and lemon zest.
Jamie Oliver's Chicken In Milk is braised with garlic, cinnamon and lemon zest. Photo: IVY SOON/The Star

What's trending?

I STALK people online, but only food bloggers and writers. I check out what they are cooking and baking, and gawk at their beautiful photographs. I even follow some of their lives; births of children, celebrations, holidays, moves to different countries and cities.

Although I still love my cookbooks, it’s been more fun to try out recipes from blogs, especially when there’s an interesting accompanying story. It’s like learning to cook from family and friends. In the virtual world, it doesn’t matter that we are not actually friends and the intimacy is imagined.

Some of the best recipes that have been keepers include Smitten Kitchen’s Caesar salad dressing and Joy the Baker’s palmiers.

A few months ago, The Kitchn was raving about “the best chicken” dish ever. It was Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk and soon it seemed like everyone online was making this dish that first appeared in Oliver’s Happy Days With The Naked Chef.

Like all braising recipes, this is an easy dish to make. Just brown a chicken and braise with milk, lemon zest, cinnamon and sage in the oven. Use a dutch oven or a heavy, cast-iron pot, or the chicken could overcook.

I wasn’t so sure about the chicken and milk combination, but it turned out aromatic and delicious. It’s like cooking with coconut milk and we love mopping up the gravy with bread. I wouldn’t say this is the best chicken dish I’d ever had, but it’s one of my favourites. For so little effort, you get a crowd pleasing dish. That’s why this is my favourite braising recipe.

For the Chicken and Milk recipe, go to

Tags / Keywords: Don t Call Me Chef, braising, cooking technique, braised beef, braised chicken, braised vegetables, recipes

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