liquid level when braising
Quick question that I can't find a straight answer to: when braising something, say beef, what is the proper liquid level? Should the meat be totally covered [fully submerged] by liquid?
My rule of thumb has been to add enough liquid to come halfway up the piece of meat, and flip it over halfway through.
1/2 to 2/3 the way up. I found one time when I braised w/ liquid that covered the meat, it didn't cook right.
It's a wet heat semi-steaming thing you have going (w/ steam coming down from top of braising pot) that you want, not a simmer submerged.
jfood is more of the 75-90% submerged. The other rule of thumb is a football game takes less time than a good braise.
One complication is that the liquid level can vary over the cooking time. If, for example, the pot is not well sealed, liquid evaporates, and the level drops (and runs the risk of running dry). But if 'too' well sealed, it can rise as juices come out of the meat and vegetables. This is particularly evident if the meat is wrapped in a foil package (for 'fast braised' in a pressure cooker).
I figure that the immersed part is getting flavor and heat from the liquid. The exposed part is still being cooked by the hot air/steam, but probably not as fast as the immersed part. It tends to brown - developing flavor. But it also tends to dry out. So I'll periodically open the pot, rotate things, check the liquid level, and maybe scrape down some of the brown crust that forms on the sides of the pot.
Sometimes the distinction is made between braising, in which the meat is partly immersed, and stewing where it is fully immersed. I'm not sure the difference is so cut and dried, Or you could distinguish the two by saying one involves large/whole pieces of meat versus cut up ones. Or the braise ends up with less, but more intensely flavored liquid.
Pushing this boundary between stew and braise is the peposo notturno (see a recent thread), beef shanks cooked overnight with a bottle of Chianti, a bulb of garlic, and a handfull of black pepper. The meat is cut into large pieces, and cooks immersed for a long time. And if you use the 'authentic' amount of pepper, it ends up intensely flavored.
Yesterday I posted a report on a lamb shoulder I made for dinner. I browned it all over, then braised it in the oven in a tightly covered casserole with red wine, garlic and rosemary. The thing is, I didn't have as much wine as I thought I needed - I probably had less than a cup of wine. But being lazy, I didn't feel like opening another bottle and so I just slammed the lid on and let it go. Well, two hours later there was at least twice as much liquid as I started with. Some was, of course, fat. But much was liquid that came from the lamb itself. I loved that the liquid was richly flavoured and that the meat really braised in moist heat - it didn't stew. I've had the same thing happen with beef brisket. Don't add a ton of liquid because the meat itself will produce some.