stovetop vs oven braising
Another braising mystery:
Why do many recipes tell you to cook your braise on the stovetop at the BAREST simmer, OR put in the oven at 300F (sometimes higher)?
Putting braises in the oven at 300F always causes the liquid to boil quite vigorously.
Is this a contradiction or is boiling meat in an oven somehow gentler than boiling meat on a stovetop?
Some observations which may or may not be relevant:
---if I braise chunks of meat on the stovetop in my Creuset Dutch oven, some pieces of meat will become tender sooner than others (I'm guessing it's because some spend more time closer to the burner, and so maybe I should stir more often).
---if I braise in the oven at 225-250, the meat becomes incredibly succulent and tender, but this usually takes over 2x as long as the recipe states.
---if I braise in the oven at 300, the liquid boils like crazy. Meat turns out OK. Not amazing, but still good.
--braising on a stovetop has worked well for me when the recipe calls for a lot of liquid, and a single hunk of meat--eg. brisket, tafelspitz, boiled beef, etc. and I use a tall narrow pot and several flame tamers to keep the liquid well below the boiling point, and I set aside most of the day to let the meat cook until it's tender. I guess that would be more like 'extended poaching' rather than classic braising.
I use neither. The ultra-unfashionable crock pot is a braising monster. Depending on the dish, you may want to brown it in a skilet first, but you can count on a slow cooker for exceptional braising. Here's a favorite recipe I got from the NY Times:
Slow-Cooker Short Ribs With Chinese Flavors
Time: At least 5 hours
8 short ribs, about 3 pounds
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar or honey
3 star anise
6 scallions, trimmed
1 3-inch piece cinnamon
5 nickel-size slices of ginger
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
Cooked white rice for serving
Chopped scallions or fresh cilantro leaves for garnish.
Combine all ingredients, except salt, rice and garnish, in slow cooker. Cover and cook until meat is very tender and falling from bone, 5 hours or more on high, 7 hours or more on low. Taste and add salt if necessary.
If you like, remove meat, strain liquid and refrigerate meat and liquid separately; skim fat from liquid, and reheat with meat. Serve hot over white rice garnished with scallions or cilantro.
Yield: 4 servings.
I consulted McGee on this (just picked up a copy of On Food and Cooking last night).
He claims that in addition to braising at very low temperatures (around 180, ideally), once can achieve superior tenderness and juiciness if the braise is started in a COLD oven and gradually brought up to 180 over the course of several hours.
I have tried this, and it works extremely well, resulting in the most succulent braised meat I've ever had. And the meat, even though it's thoroughly cooked, stays strangely pink. But it takes FOREVER.
He makes many other interesting points about braising, but I don't have the book in front of me.
A combination works best.
If you were to put cold meat and liquid into a 250 oven it would take a LONG time for it to get to even a simmer. Kind of like jump starting the braise.
So, I think it is best to use the stove to get it to a simmer, then put it in a 225-250 oven and let it go from there. It definitely takes longer than it would in a 300 degree, but not nearly as long as it would if you were to simply put a cold pot and ingredients cold into a 225 oven. (in my opinion, 300 is too high, as you implied as well)
That way you benefit from a faster ramp-up from the stove, but also get the even, gentle heating from the oven.
I seem to remember an episode of America's Test Kitchen (the folks from Cook's Illustrated) doing that way as well. If you think about it... you often sear the meat that will be braised, so makes sense to sear it, then add the liquid and get it up to soft simmer, then throw it in the oven for the rest of the cook.
I like to sear in the oven, too. You can sear in the same dutch oven you will use for braising, or in a roasting pan.
High heat - I use 400. This also warms up the oven for the braising.
Another advantage - and the main reason I do it - you don't have to turn the meat. It gets brown all over.
I've seen lots and lots of braising recipes that are just downright wrong. They say to cook too hot and to expect the meat to be cooked too quickly. I braise pot roasts, for example, in the oven at 225 and don't expect them to be done for five hours. Each piece of meat is different, and you do need to check doneness as the process goes along, and don't go too far, as over-braised meat will start to take on a dry and stringy texture.
Jim (amateur baritone)
I've wondered alot about that one lately as well. 300 is too high (which I finally figured out after I peeked midway one time and saw it boiling like mad), and even at 250 it tends to reach a pretty solid boil. I usually have to go fairly low (225-ish). As you said, it takes a long time at that temp. Maybe recipes don't want to scare you off with long, long cook times? But even the usually right-on Cook's Illustrated says to use 300 (for their braised short ribs).
I'm not sure why stovetop braising is *ever* recommened. Isn't a big part of succesful braising to provide even heat (which is why you want a heavy Le Crueset type pot)? Seems like the oven is much better at this (heats from all sides).
Re: temperature - have you put a thermometer into your oven to check the temp? I know ours is inaccurate.
We braise in a Le Creuset in the oven by preference, at 225. The oven actually will not keep it at 225, that's just what's worked best in the past. And we don't go by timing in recipes, they are just guidelines.
Our oven has heating elements above and below. The heat is more even, so no scorching. Braising on the stove top causes scorching.
We have an electric stove, and the pot rests directly on the burner. I wish we had a gas stove top, think that would be less of a problem, but we can't get a gas line here.
It's gas service for folks (like me) who live in rural areas that aren't served by natural gas lines. There are two types - in one, there are typically two tanks installed outside the house, and the tanks are swapped out by the gas company when they become empty. The second type, so called "bulk" service, which is what I have, involves a single tank that stays in place and is refilled much like an oil tank. From the tank(s), a line is run into the house and at that point it's pretty much the same as being on the gas line. In both cases the gas is propane which results in a BTU output at the burners that's about 10% less than natural gas (and the orifices have to be sized properly for propane, a simple conversion that you can just about do yourself), but it's still a ton better than cooking with electric. We use our gas for cooking only, and it gets refilled about every six months.
Since everyone else is guessing...my shot.
It takes a lot longer for the contents to boil in an oven than on a stove. Even though the meat has been browned, it is still cool in the center (whether a pot roast, or individual stew pieces). And all the liquid is room temp or lower. The oven slowly raises the temp from the outside in.
The stove is more efficient as heat rises from the bottom. And the usual tendancy is to bring to a boil then simmer.
So where the 300 comes in is that it speeds up the time to boiling, and thus the cooking time. That is, while the contents may take two hours to boil when oven is 225, it may only take an hour at 300. So in two hours at 225 you have only 45 minutes 'real' cooking time, while you have 1 1/4 hrs 'real' cooking time in the first two hours at 300.
I tried oven once, against better judgement, and have returned to stovetop. Someday I may try again at the 225-250.
I would never try to braise over 275F in the oven; over that point you increase the risk of steaming the collagen (which boiling would represent), depending on the heft of the pot and the density of the flesh being braised -- though you do need to get the temperature of the meat slowly over 200F in order to melt the collagen. Placing foil, slightly concave, over the top of the pot before covering it can also help with proper recycling of condensation to reduce the likelihood of boiling.
I go with the longer time period and the lower heat. It's been my experience that that works best. I've had shin of beef come out tender enough you could almost cut it with a fork. As you say, you can get away with higher heat and a shorter time, but then the meat just comes out okay.
I also like oven braising because it allows me to put together a dish early in the day and ignore it for long periods of time.
Below are the oven braising stewing instructions for my preferred recipe for Boeuf a la Bourguignonne. The meat always comes out beautifully tender.
Cover and cook in a very slow oven: forty minutes at 300ºF, then 40 minutes at 275ºF, and finally 40 minutes at 250ºF. Total time is 2 hours. The secret of a good boeuf bourguignonne is a slow, gentle cooking.
Remove any obvious fat from the sauce. Add the beurre manie to the casserole in small lumps and stir into the casserole. Cover and cook at 250ºF a further 2 hours.
Well, in trying to actually answer your question, I would have to understand the mysteries of the writer's mind. You're right--braising something in the oven at 300F will cause it to boil--generally a no-no.
Because oven heat is not direct, the cooking does tend to be gentler and boiling at 300F with all-round oven heat is not quite the same as boiling on the stovetop with direct heat beneath. Therefore, yes, you can get away with allowing it to come to a low boil in the oven. I do allow that and it's generally fine. Even at 275F, it will eventually come to a low boil.
I have two assumptions I've made about the 300F directive (a directive I usually ignore):
- Because oven braising takes longer, the author jacks up the oven heat a little, knowing most people are too impatient for the time oven braising really takes. They want to give you a time similar to the one you'd get with a stovetop simmer.
- The author has never braised anything in the oven, and thinks 300F sounds like a reasonable temperature.