I like the concept of braising. It sort of combines a start of browning or sautéing with a liquid finish, which helps keep moisture and can prevent overcooking. Unlike poaching or stewing, the ingredients don’t remain in the liquid for the full cooking time, they just end there. And it’s pretty healthy.
In particular, I think braising is ideal for a lot of vegetables or even combining some veggies with a protein. I’ve tried my hand at braising a few different things. It’s recently become my favorite way to eat cabbage, which most people don’t eat unless it’s in cole slaw or sauerkraut form or disguised in Chinese takeout. This is, I believe, a consequence of poor cooking techniques. Although I knew plenty of people of Irish extraction when I lived in Boston that relished the idea of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty’s Day, the very idea of boiling meat and cabbage together is not very appealing. It smacks of a kind of bland reserved for stereotypes about librarians. And that just doesn’t make for good eats.
The other problem with cabbage is that it can stink. But, as I learned from Chef O., that really only happens if you overcook it. If you cook it properly, no stench, no sulfur, no stinky fart smell. I think this is another reason why braising it is a good idea because it doesn’t really overcook that way.
I first came up with the idea of braising cabbage about a year ago. I’d bought some cabbage for fish tacos. Since the tacos only required about one-third of the package of pre-shredded cabbage I’d bought, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with what I had left and didn’t want it to go bad. I happened to have both some apples and apple cider in the house and it occurred to me that putting them together with the cabbage could make cooked cabbage way more palatable than anything ever made for St. Patrick’s Day.
This year, I decided that fennel would also be a good addition, as well as onion. After coming up with this simple recipe, I actually look forward to buying and cooking cabbage.
Cider Braised Cabbage, Fennel and Apple
1/2 onion, sliced
1 bulb fennel, sliced
2-3 cups cabbage, shredded
1 apple, sliced in 1/8 inch thick strips
1/2-3/4 c. chicken broth or apple cider (or half of each)
1) Saute onion in a bit of oil.
2) Add fennel and sauté. Add pinch of salt and cook both until onion and fennel are beginning to get soft.
3) Add cabbage and sauté until it begins to soften.
4) Add apple, sauté. Add another pinch of salt.
5) Add broth/cider and bring to low simmer.
6) Cover and braise until veggies are cooked to desired softness. To reduce liquid while cooking, uncover. Salt and pepper to taste.
Simple. Who knew cabbage could be so good without pickling or mayonnaise?
Braising seems to lend itself well to fall flavors–much like the above. Fennel and apples are abundant in the fall, as are squash. I also like to braise butternut squash with some chicken broth. I’ve found this recipe works particularly well for frozen squash because the squash already has a lot of water in it and it breaks down pretty easily. If you want to try this with fresh butternut, I suggest dicing into small cubes (1/2-3/4 in. dice) to reduce cooking time. For this one, I like to cook the squash until it begins to break down and get mushy.
Braised Butternut Squash with Caramelized Onions, Breadcrumbs and Parmesan
1 onion, sliced
1 package frozen or 1/2 fresh butternut squash
1-2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs (toast if desired)
2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1) Saute onion in oil with pinch of salt until it begins to brown.
2) Add squash and sauté with onion until squash begins to soften.
3) Add 1 cup of broth. Reduce until squash begins to breakdown. Add more broth as necessary until squash reaches desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.
4) Top with crumbs and parmesan cheese. Serve.
I also think braising is not a bad idea for fish. It’s similar to steaming the fish, but allows for a bit of the liquid’s flavor to get into the fish and you also have a built-in sauce for your fish/veggies. I tried braising fish with some bok choy and shiitakes and Asian flavors for a quick, easy meal.
Braised Fish with Bok Choy and Shiitakes
1/2 – 1 lb. white fish, cut into 2-3 fillets
1 onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 baby bok choy, sliced (both bottoms and leaves)
12-15 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1-2 tbsp. Soy sauce
1-2 tbsp. Rice wine
1-1 1/2 c. veggie broth
1) Saute onion in combo of veggie and sesame oil.
2) Add bok choy bottoms and sauté with onions. Add pinch of salt.
3) Toss in bok choy green tops and shiitakes, saute.
4) Add garlic and ginger, salt again.
5) Add fish skin side up and brown the top flesh.
6) Add soy sauce, rice wine and broth.
7) Cover and cook until veggies are desired doneness and fish is flaky.
8) Thicken sauce with cornstarch slurry.
Now, go forth and braise!
Photos to come at a later date…