HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Reviving the Lost Art of Braising

I had always though the difference between braising and stewing was mainly the amount of liquid used (basically, in stewing the meat is fully or mostly submerged, in braising, the meat is only partially submerged).

So I was surprised to find when reading through "Modernist Cuisine" (lucky me) that braising once referred to a process that was substantially different than the one we use today. MC claims that what we consider braising is actually just stewing.

No big surprise: old-school braising involved cooking in an enclosed space with small amount of liquid.

The difference: old-school braising consisted of placing glowing coals both on top of and underneath the enclosed braising pot. What's the difference between that and using an oven's heat, you ask? Radiated heat.

In a normal oven braise, all heat comes from convection. You brown the meat before cooking it, because the meat is heated only by the moist air and liquid around it. In an old-school braise, radiated heat from the bottom heats the cooking liquid and moistens the air for the traditional tenderizing effect we associate with braising and stewing. But the radiated heat from the top - that browns the exposed meat and also helps to create maillard and caramelization reactions within the sauce itself.

The end result, supposedly: braised meat with a browned roasty surface and an especially intense sauce left in the pot.

Of course, digging a pit and lighting and maintaining a coal fire can be a lot of work. But MC had a suggestion: you can get a similar effect cooking an enclosed cast iron dutch oven under an electric broiler set to low.

So the first test run: chicken leg quarters on a bed of onion wedges, green peppers, garlic cloves and a lime. I used a cast iron dutch oven (not enameled). I also added a little beer and some chicken stock (in retrospect I used more than I probably needed to, though the chicken was not at all submerged). A bunch of Mexican herbs and spices.

MC warns to make sure that the lid of the pot is very airtight, even going so far as to seal it with clay. I decided to live dangerously and didn't bother - the result was fine, this time at least.

I cooked it on a low rack in my oven with the broiler on low for an hour. The end result was beautifully fork tender chicken and a very complex, tasty liquid from the braise.

One of the most remarkable things though was the skin. Since the cooking environment was so moist, I was not convinced the skin would brown or crisp well. But take a look at the pictures.

I'll remind you that the chicken was NOT browned in any way before or after the braise. That's all from radiated heat.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Obviously, there's still a lot of experimenting to do. I'm not sure if there will be problems with charring if I were to cook a piece of meat for a longer time, though I suspect I could get away with turning the broiler off for some portion of the cook time to fully cook a braising cut without charring.

    I also want to try using even less liquid. I don't know if I'll run into problems not fully sealing the pot before cooking. This time, there was plenty of liquid left in the pot and no obvious loss to evaporation.

    I'll update with further adventures if people are interested.

    1. How very intriguing! One of the only times in my life I wish I had electric instead of gas stove.....did a lot of fat render off, so it was a thin, crisp layer of skin? Or was it browned with a layer of unrendered fat beneath?

      Thanks for sharing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: 4Snisl

        It did not render fat like the idealized roast chicken might. I'd say it was maybe halfway there. Definitely some crispiness, but not that thin, shatters-in-your-mouth effect.

        Incidentally, I used chicken because that's what I had on hand, not because this is supposed to be more suited to chicken than to other meats.

      2. I saw ATK doing pot roast lat week - I think this is the current season, or perhaps last year's.
        They did not sear the meat. The level of liquid in the DO was low, and they put tin foil between lid and pot to create a tighter seal. Midway through oven braising on low heat (300, IIRC), they turned the meat over so both sides browned. They explained that the Maillard reaction will take place as long as the meat is cooked long enough, and not submerged. From all appearances, they got the same result without futzing around with heat from above.

        11 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Never been my experience. I've cooked a lot of braises in my time and never got anything remotely like the lightly charred, deeply browned, slightly crispy skin the above method produced on chicken.

          I'm not doubting some degree of maillard reaction takes place in a 'normal' braise, maybe adding something to the flavoring or a slight brown coloring. But the browning here isn't at all similar to tradition dutch oven, low liquid braises.

          Did you expand the photo? Have you ever gotten results like that with a 'normal' braise?

          1. re: cowboyardee

            Low heat, long time - yes - even when using a (naked) cast iron Dutch oven entirely on top of the stove.

            1. re: greygarious

              Similar effect, really? Walk me through your style of braising, please, cause I've never gotten browning anything like the above while braising in an oven normally. Course, I normally seared before braising.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Film of oil, no liquid, just a lot of chopped onion and your choice of other chopped vegetables, which exude plenty of liquid to combine with meat juices into a flavorful sauce once reduced after the cooked meat is removed. Once the meat is brown, turn it over. I have no idea of time - probably 5-6 hours for 4# of meat but that's a guess. Like Mom, I cook it "till it's ready".

                1. re: greygarious

                  So, no added liquid. Fully covered pot? Oven set to 300? Or is this just cooked on the stovetop (I could certainly see why that would brown - you're basically sauteing the meat as you go)? Meat touching the bottom of the pan, or sitting on a bed of the vegetables?

                  Stupid question, but no pre-sear, right?

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    No pre-sear, stovetop the whole time, covered pot, meat sitting on top of the onions. Searing first is what I do now but when I was first using the Dutch oven - ages ago - I didn't know that and was using a larger piece of meat so it cooked long enough to brown without searing.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      When you heat up a thick, massive piece of metal like the bottom of a CI pot, it generates some radiated heat (this is how a lot of broilers actually work - the gas flames actually radiate very little heat so the radiated heat is actually generated by nearby metal elements heated by the gas flame). I would think that cooking on the stovetop would do this more than cooking in an oven. Still, I'm surprised that most of the radiation isn't absorbed by the vegetables. Also, if the vehicle of browning is actually this radiated heat from the heated cast iron, I'm also a little surprised that the stovetop (presumably on a lowish setting?) generates enough of it.

                      Another stupid question - when you were braising in this manner, where exactly did the meat brown? Top, bottom, all around?

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        Whatever is above the level of the liquid browns - as I said before, this is why you turn it over midway. If you want to know more of the thermodynamics, I'm sure the ATK/CI sites can explain the details.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Interesting. Makes me wonder if I could cook chicken and biscuits in a dutch oven on the stovetop.

            2. re: cowboyardee

              Often braising in an enamel steel pot with white interior I end up with a dark coating on the lid and upper half of the pot, which I believe is spatter from the meat and liquid that has browned. I'm also in the habit of turning the meat so that it does not dry out.

              So even with ordinary oven heat, I get maillard reaction in a covered pot. Still might be interesting to try this top element version of braising. I haven't used the broiler that much, and when I have I've set the temperature control to 'broil' and kept the door a jar - so the broiler is on high the full time. In fact I didn't realize that it could cycle on and off like lower element.

              Harold McGee claims that braising in a closed pot keeps the temperature too close to boiling. He advocates leaving the lid ajar, so evaporation will keep the temperature below 200 (or even 180). Longer lower temperatures are supposed to produce a more tender, moist meat.

              This top heat idea may allow you to have the best of both worlds - the browning plus lower liquid temperatures.

              1. re: paulj

                Most likely, the air/steam temperature in the pot for much of the cooking time is a little above boiling (except obviously for the liquid part). I don't think this method will be ideal for super long, slow, melt-it-to-mush type braises. I love McGee, but low temp, long time is only one way to go IMO. Obviously, starting with cold liquid could stretch out the cook time and keep the temp lower for a while, but you also have to be concerned about scorching. Obviously, a lot of this is conjecture still.

                Turning the meat sounds like it may well be very smart, especially with longer braises using this method.

                Like I said above, I'm not skeptical that 'normal' braising produces a maillard reaction, but in my experience, it has been to nowhere near the same degree.

          2. This is interesting. Do I understand that you left the broiler on the entire cooking time, and that you did not turn the chicken? I hope you will share any other of these experiments. I have a glass-lidded braiser. I think I would not put it under the broiler, though. And another question: did you use convection broil or regular broil?

            3 Replies
            1. re: sueatmo

              You understand correctly. I used regular broil, set to low. I don't have convection. I did heat the pot on the stovetop to a simmer before putting it in the oven, mainly to save a little time.

              I would be very hesitant to try this with anything other than a CI pot, or maybe a ceramic.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                I have an infrared broiler that seems to get wicked hot, would it work for that?

                1. re: escondido123

                  It might. My broiler seems to get pretty hot too, though this is the only time I can think of where I used it on low. One of the things that I feel helped was keeping the food on the bottom rack (the broiler is at the top of the oven). Im not home right now, but I'd guess that the top of the dutch oven was a foot or so from the element.

            2. Thanks for the report. I'd be interested in reading more of your experiments with this method, too. I wonder if you'd get similar results if you braised it at low temp but in the end, removed the lid to broil.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                It might be similar. Obviously, there will be a bit more evaporation that way. Theoretically, the lid-on under-the-broiler braise should create a different flavor in the sauce/braising liquid. But like I said, I probably used more liquid than I need to first time around.

                Shame I don't have multiple ovens and CI pots to try side-by-side comparisons. I'll update though.

              2. A few weeks ago I braised in a Dutch oven a beef round roast over root vegetables, and beef stock. It turned out to be the most moist piece of meat I have ever seen, and to test the breakdown of the fibers, I pulled it apart with chopsticks. Delicious.

                1. You just blew my mind. My broiler doesn't have a low setting, but I'm gonna try it anyway.

                  1. Excuse me if I have not understood your description, but isn't this very similar to Hawaiian imu cooking? Or traditional underground (earth) ovens?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I don't know enough about those methods to say for sure. I'll look into them. But at heart, this IS a traditional method of cooking, albeit one that seems to have fallen out of favor since ovens became popular in the home. I wouldn't be surprised if the exact same principles apply.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        I have an electric stove and it's too hot to check this at present, but my impression is that when the broiler element is on, the bottom element is off. There's a dial that has to be set to bake, broil, or self-clean, which locks the oven and does not allow temp adjustment.
                        In hearth cooking, the pot would stand over or hang above the fired with the hot stones piled atop it. So heat coming from top and bottom. That's not the same as using the broiler element heat alone.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          With my stove, the top and bottom elements are either on or off, no gradations of power. 'Broil' turns on the top, 'bake' the bottom. With the temperature dial set, a thermostat turns off either element when the oven temperature is on target. When the temperature dial is in the 'broil' position, the thermostat does nothing (at least that's the case when using the top element, I haven't tested it with the lower one).

                          If I set the temperature to 300, and let it preheat, the air in the oven is going to be about that hot regardless of which element I used. During the brief period when an element is one to rewarm the air, one side of the pot will get added radiate heat, depending on which element is in use. Using the top element to maintain temperature in the oven might produce a bit more top browning inside the pot, but it's hard to say how much.

                          With camp (dutch) oven cooking, you can adjust the relative amount of top and bottom heat by varying the amount of coals on the lid v. below. Commonly they recommend a 2/3, 1/3 top bottom mix when baking biscuits, largely because the bottom heat is transferred more efficiently into the pot (heat rises). But the optimal balance can even vary with the wind, sun, and life of the coals.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            That is the way my electric oven is set up. Only the top element is heated during broil, and I don't think I can change the temp. I will double check this.

                            As I understand Dutch Oven braising with CI in the old days, hot coals were put on the lid of the Dutch Oven. The lid was flat, and had a rim around it. The Dutch Oven had 3 legs and was placed in the coals of the fire.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              That's exactly what my Dutch oven looks like. I've been dying to get outside in the now, cowboy camp in my new 0 degree sleeing bag, and try some stew or cornbread over a fire. : )

                            2. re: greygarious

                              My oven doesn't allow temp adjustment while the broiler's on either. I don't think many/any ovens do. Worked just fine anyway. The liquid element regulates the temp inside the pot to some extent. Course you could always prop open the oven door at times if you want to lower the temp in the oven. It's not really all that different from regulating the temp if you were to use coals - a little easier, probably. Like I said, I suspect that for really long braises, you might not want the broiler element on for the whole time. But more experimentation will tell.

                              "In hearth cooking, the pot would stand over or hang above the fired with the hot stones piled atop it. So heat coming from top and bottom. That's not the same as using the broiler element heat alone."
                              Not *exactly* the same, no. But supposedly it's a lot closer to cooking in a closed pot under a broiler than it is to cooking in a closed or semi-closed pot in a regular oven environment heated mainly by convection. The principle is that when you add liquid and vegetables to a pot, they absorb most of the radiated heat coming from the bottom, while the radiated heat coming from the top is absorbed by the meat (hence the improved browning). The broiler heats the bottom mostly by convection and conduction to a supposedly simliar result (liquid isn't going to get above ~212 deg anyway, so extra radiated heat isn't accomplishing much on the bottom side), while generating far more radiated heat from the top and to the meat itself.

                        2. Does MC cite some sources describing that old-school braising?

                          A thread on Cookware reminds me that there's a classic French braising pot that does the opposite - it keeps the top cooler with a well for water or even ice. And consider the Moroccan tagine - with a conical top that not only promotes condensation, but directs it to outer edge of food. Or dutch oven tops that try to drip the condensate back onto the middle of the food with bumps.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: paulj

                            MC does not seem to cite any sources, sadly.

                            Interestingly, my dutch oven has those little bumps that drip condensation back onto food.

                          2. Since this original post, I've used this method a couple more times, so I figured I'd update.

                            The first time, I cooked pork country ribs on a bed of root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery root, and turnips, IIRC). Used less liquid this time (I don't remember exactly what I used). They cooked fully in about an hour. Again, really nice browning. I had browned one of the ribs in a pan before cooking just to compare - the end result was surprisingly hard to tell apart from the ribs which were not pre-browned, The liquid was pretty well cooked off and absorbed by the root vegetables which gave them great flavor, but didn't leave me with any sauce. Still, another successful test.

                            But I wanted to cook a thicker piece of meat to see how it worked. So I got myself a hunk of pork shoulder (maybe 4 or 5 pounds) and cooked it along with some vegetables and a little more water. For this, I slathered the shoulder with a slurry of spices moistened with mustard and water. No pre-sear. I cooked it for about 2.5 hours checking at the 1 and 2 hour mark, adding a bit more liquid as needed. The end result was a darkly browned semi-crispy crust - one or two tiny areas of charring, but nothing unpleasant at all. The meat was fully braised and pulled apart very easily. Very delicious. Even better the next day, as can be expected.

                            So far my conclusions:
                            - Develops a much better crust than a traditional braise. Curiously, the liquid in the pot doesn't seem to inhibit the browning, but perhaps does inhibit scorching to some degree.
                            - Can generate a really nice sauce in the bottom of the pot, but you have to get the liquid level right (or manage it during cooking)
                            - What it's most comparable to in my experience is roasting a piece of braising meat in the oven over a pan of drippings and stock (or other flavorful liquid). However, the flavor in the meat's crust and in the sauce seems to get a little more complex than you would get in an oven. It's a subtle difference, but if anyone is curious I recommend they try it out, because it's hard to describe, but sort of nice.

                            Below is a picture of the country ribs. The one I pre-seared in on the left.

                            I also took some pictures of the pork shoulder, but they disappeared from my camera's chip after my wife... did something or other with it. Such is life.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              Those look great. Is your meat in the liquid at all? I wonder if you might get even better browning with a stone as a lid, or with stones on a rack just over the pot. Did you just put all the ingredients in the pot and let it go? That would be so much easier than searing. Thanks for experimenting!

                              1. re: chowser

                                I have a Chinese sand-pot (glazed interior, but not interior of lid), that holds a 2-3 lb chunk of shoulder very nicely. I put some rub on the meat (last time was a mole-style paste), maybe a few vegetables, a cup or so of liquid, and set to cook in a 300 deg oven for 2-3 hrs.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  Generally speaking, I've been cooking meats on a bed of vegetables, and the meats vary from sitting atop the liquid to having the bottom 1/3 submerged. In the case of the country ribs you see in the photo, I was trying to use very little liquid, so they were never submerged. But the picture was taken at the end of cooking, and what liquid there had been was absorbed by the vegetables and/or evaporated.

                                  I did indeed just put the ingredients in the pot and let 'er rip.

                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                  BTW - it wasn't clear from my post, but both the country ribs and the pork shoulder were turned during cooking.

                                  The ribs were turned once and the pork shoulder was turned either two or three times (I don't remember)

                                3. I just got Modernist Cuisine but haven't had a chance to start reading yet (been a crazy 4th quarter).

                                  I'm curious - have you tested your oven temp with this method? I'm curious what temp your oven gets to with the broiler on low and I'm curious what the temp difference is on the top of your CI dutch oven with the broiler on low and the pan on the bottom rack.

                                  It certainly seems to work, I'm just curious how much hotter your dutch oven lid is getting by being that far from the broiler (as opposed to just being hot from being in the oven itself).

                                  I'll have to find that chapter and read up! Looks lovely and with winter coming what better time to experiment!

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: thimes

                                    I have not checked the oven temp. I have however spent a lot of time opening oven doors, and from the blast of heat experienced when i open the door to check the meat and liquid levels, I can VERY roughly guestimate that the temp hovers around 400.

                                    I hope if you (or anyone else) experiment, that you report back here.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      I tried it using 3 lbs of cubed chuck on a bed of onions and a few arbol chiles. I put in just enough beef stock to go maybe 1/2 inch up the onions. Turned on the broiler at the Eco setting (only part of the broiler heats). Sealed the CI DO with dough. Did not sear meat or heat on the stove in any way. Let it go for two hours without touching it. What was remarkable is that it produced none of the smells associated with cooking meat in the oven until near the end when my dough seal developed a pinhole leak. Even then you had to stand near the oven to smell it.

                                      It was one of the most amazing things I've eaten. A thick rich gravy with tender browned meat. More remarkably for me was that some pieces of meat never, ever touched the chiles and were always out of the liquid, yet they were spicy hot.

                                      One thing I learned is to keep the meat fairly level. The ones at the top get more done. Not objectionable, though.

                                      Next up is a try on Swiss steak. And an adobo braise. I will try charcoal this summer.

                                      Cowboyardee, thanks for your original post. I got MC for Xmas, and yours provided some good details about implementing the MC discussion.

                                      1. re: ttochow

                                        Thanks for writing up your results. Interesting that the meat somehow got spicy despite not sitting in the liquid.

                                        One of the most remarkable things to me about this method was the intensity of the sauce - it seemed to have a complexity and depth beyond what you would get just from reducing the liquid in a normal braise. Your experience?

                                        You make me want to try out some beef with this method.

                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          The sauce was easily the best I've achieved in a braise. I found it to be a bit of a Catch-22: The sauce was so good that I wish that I had much more, but of course putting in more liquid would have potentially ruined the sauce and the braise!

                                          If I recall correctly, what generates the heat in a chile is a volatile compound. MC says you want to keep these compounds in the DO and not let them go to the air (the molecules you smell won't be in your food). My theory is that by getting such a good seal on the DO, these compounds were carried to all of the meat by the steam.

                                          My main goal was to keep these compounds in the DO. I largely succeeded, except until the end when my dough leaked a little. I haven't tried it without the dough yet, so I am not sure how much of a difference it makes. But you might try it if you can smell your food while it is in the oven -- it might just make that sauce even better!

                                          Tomorrow I want to try a variation on Swiss steak: 2 lb Chuck cubes (I have a lot of them for some reason), a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, an onion, a green pepper or two, and some herbs. That's it. Seal it up and let it rip for 2 hours or so. Might be eating out for dinner, but that's ok.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I just did my "Swiss steak" described above. It is unbelievable. I probably won't be able to post pics until tonight at the earliest. I am so delighted and want to post a couple of details before I forget.

                                            First, I developed a few leaks about an hour in. There's a reason MC has a thick ring of dough... Not too bad though because I had to be in the kitchen to smell it.

                                            I put the can of fire roasted tomatoes in first plus 1/3rd can of sauce. That is the only liquid I added to the pot. The rest was from the onion, which I put in next, and the bell peppers on top of the onions. I sprinkled the herbs (oregano and thyme) and garlic over that. Then I put the seasoned grass-fed chuck cubes over the top of that. All of the meat was out of the liquid going in the oven, and was in one layer. I put a (too thin) ring of dough around the top of the pot, pushed the lid in, and put the pot on the bottom shelf of an the oven preheated to 350. I then turned on the broiler to Econ mode (which shuts off the conventional oven). Let it go two hours. Then I let it rest sealed on the stove for 1/2 hour.

                                            The meat came out awesomely browned. Somehow it is different than browning on the stove. More tender, yet more flavor. Looking at it, you think it will be tough, but it is so tender and moist.

                                            But, as with the last time, the sauce steals the show. All the water from the bell peppers and onions gets added to the tomato juice and the juice from the meat. Intense. My wife said last time that she'd be willing to throw away the meat just to have the sauce. I think it's true this time too.

                                            Next up, some sort of adobo. Might try chicken.

                                            1. re: ttochow

                                              Looking forward to those pictures. How'd you do the dough, specifically?

                                              I gather you didn't find that the meat had overcooked on the top or anything then?

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                Got to it earlier than I thought. The first picture is right after lifting the lid (sorry about the shoddy camera work). Those pieces that look burned are in fact very tasty and very tender, but VERY flavorful. I thought I had burned them, but I guess the steam or something prevents that. Definitely not overcooked.

                                                Not sure what you mean by "specifically" re the dough. Just mixed a bit of flour (3/4 cup?) with water until it was firm and not sticky. I then rolled them in my palms to make "dough sticks." Put these on top of the rim of the DO all the way around. Then put the lid on top. Pushed the lid into the dough, but left some dough between the rim and the lid. I'd make the dough as thick as MC does, because as I learned today it will otherwise crack and steam escapes from the cracks. I did better with the dough last time.

                                                The second picture shows the "Swiss steak" after stirring everything together. That liquid is very flavorful, and it thickened a little after cooling.

                                              2. re: ttochow

                                                MC vol2 claims that flavor compounds produced when browning meat before hand on the stove dissolve in the cooking liquid, and don't develop any further, while those that are produced in the DO go through various secondary reactions, so will be more complex.

                                      2. Perhaps you could do it with aluminum foil. Foil would seal completely. You could put a small amount of liquid in the package and you could turn the package half way through.

                                        Alton brown did a pot roast something like that a while back.

                                        As far as sealing a dutch oven, America's test kitchen does it with foil and french do it with dough all around the edge.

                                        17 Replies
                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          Anything using foil is not going to be in the same spirit of the discussion in Modernist Cuisine. The braising method of MC uses primarily radiant heat, and the standard shiny aluminum foil would reflect the radiant heat away from the food. MC recommends a dark lid to absorb the radiant heat.

                                          My black dog, for instance, loves laying in the sunshine in the backyard even when the temperature is well below freezing. The radiant heat from the sunshine warms her, and she is even hot to the touch. That is, as I understand, a rough generalization of the effect that the MC method is trying to accomplish.

                                          Wrapping in foil, however, would be like my dog lying in the shade. On a cold day, she would be cold even if the sun is bright. In that case, she would need convective heat to keep her warm. Different methods of cooking, and MC argues different effects on food. I think it's true because I generally don't like food that's been cooked in a foil pouch, whereas the chuck braise I mentioned above was beyond terrific.

                                          1. re: ttochow

                                            A fascinating thread, with equal amount of scientific facts and urban legends. Where is Alton Brown when we need him?

                                            "The braising method of MC uses primarily radiant heat, and the standard shiny aluminum foil would reflect the radiant heat away from the food. MC recommends a dark lid to absorb the radiant heat."

                                            Once covered, the aluminum foil would be in pitch darkness. Without light, its (no longer) shiny surface is no different from the dark lid.

                                            1. re: eatntell

                                              I don't think ttchow was talking about wrapping with foil and then putting the food inside a covered pot, but rather braising food wrapped in foil under a broiler. In addition to the difference in terms of how much radiation foil reflects vs a black pot lid, there is also the issue that foil has little mass of its own. The results would be likely be different, though I'm not honestly sure to what extent.

                                              "Once covered, the aluminum foil would be in pitch darkness. Without light, its (no longer) shiny surface is no different from the dark lid."
                                              Right off the bat, I'm not a physicist or an engineer, so the following is based on my rather amateur understanding of thermodynamics....

                                              But I don't think you're right. When we're talking about radiated heat, we're not talking for the most part about the visible light spectrum, but mainly about light in the infrared wavelengths. For starters, I'm not sure whether the lid of a CI pot would absorb all light in that spectrum (the wavelength is long). But more importantly, the lid of the cast iron pot, once it is very hot, should be emitting quite a bit of heat by radiation itself. That is, it should be generating its own infrared light. Using foil should still have some effect.

                                              At the same time, I don't think that foil reflects 100% of radiated heat, but rather a portion of it, so I don't know what the exact effect of wrapping food in foil and using this method would be.

                                              ETA: credit where credit is due. Alton Brown is a good teacher, but I think most of what he knows about food science, he's learned from Harold McGee. There's probably quite a few of us food science nerds who can say that. Proper credit to the master.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                I was inclined to say that the amount of heat radiating 'through' the foil would not be very different from that 'through' the black steel lid. I put 'through' in quotes, because the radiation does not pass through (whether light or infrared), but instead gets reradiated. However in a short 'diffusivity' thread that I started, I linked to a test comparing the cooling times of a cast iron pot and a shiny stainless steel one. The shiny cooled slow by about a factor two. Part of the explanation was the much lower emisivity of the stainless steel. But with foil there is the added complication that the thermal mass is much less than a cast iron lid.

                                                Biscuits might be a good way of testing this issue. You could bake the same dough recipe in three environments - uncovered dutch oven, dutch oven with its cover, dutch oven with a foil cover - and compare the degree of browning. Since they bake only 10 minutes, it would be a fairly quick and easy test.

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  Ask a scientist:


                                                  As a practical matter, I watched a show on it (can't remember if it was MythBusters or another one) where they showed, in practice, it didn't matter. Whether it's in complete darkness or not is irrelevant. It's heat not light that's cooking the food.

                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    "It's heat not light that's cooking the food."

                                                    That's the point I tried to make. I question, not as a scientist, whether the shiny surface of an aluminum foil in total darkness has anything to do with heat generation.

                                                    Moving on to pragmatic matters. Sealing the lid with flour started long before the existence of aluminum foil. Today, the difference between the two methods may be very slight. How the lid and pot join probably has something to do with which works better. Using foils have the advantage of ease and not cracking. Using flour is more "traditional".

                                                    1. re: eatntell

                                                      Try this:


                                                      FWIW, I didn't seal, just used a cast iron dutch oven and got similar results as cowboyardee's pictures. What I like is that this saves me from having to sear first.

                                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                                  I can say that foil is quite good at reflecting heat. I cook skewers a lot on a grill. I get the grate somewhere north of 700 degrees Fahrenheit. I put a strip of foil on the grate as a safety zone in case something starts getting overcooked or is burning. The temperature of the foil is MUCH lower than the grate. I have also cooked with cast iron, and I have used an infrared thermometer to verify that it is nearly the same temperature as the grate. Nothing would change if I grilled in the dark. Foil is a useful tool for those who like to cook at high temperatures on a grill!

                                            2. re: Hank Hanover

                                              Regulating the radiated heat from the broiler is a crucial part of this technique. I suspect that aluminum foil would not regulate it particularly well.

                                              That said, if you ever find yourself with a piece of braising meat that you don't mind donating to science, a bunch of aluminum foil, an oven-top broiler that can be set to low, and a lazy afternoon, let me know how it works.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                I'm still puzzled about the significance of this broiler method, or, for that matter how it is any more like the old camp dutch oven method than a conventional oven. With a well sealed lid, the method of heating the outside of the pot (and hence the pot itself), is divorced from what goes on inside.

                                                Historically, the dutch oven with rimmed lid is most associated with the American west, and is still associated with chuck wagon competitions and similar gatherings. That grub may be good and hearty, but lacks the refinement of French braising.

                                                Other than sealing the pot with dough, how does this seek to emulate classic French methods (haute cuisine, Parisian home cooking, or farmhouse)?

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  I think I understand it intuitively, but I don't have the background to explain it in technical terms.

                                                  First, I don't think it's true that the method of heating a pot is divorced from what happens inside. It seems that radiant heat, even inside an oven, leaves a temperature gradient. You can feel it, for instance, when standing under the heaters for bellhops at hotels in the winter. Your hat and face get pretty toasty, but anything below your waist stays pretty cold. That's the logic behind the rule of putting twice as many coals on top of a camp DO than below. There is an insulating effect of the oven, but heat, like light, drops in intensity rapidly with distance.

                                                  In a conventional oven, everything is the same temperature.

                                                  I think it is this fact that makes this work. I am quoting liberally from Modernist Cuisine here (but adding my own thoughts; inaccuracies are mine). The top of the meat is closer to the broiler, so it gets more of the radiant heat -- and in fact blocks much of it from the food below. This meat dehydrates and browns, and the juices carry the Maillard compounds into the braising liquid below. The compounds need to stay in the pot -- not go into the air -- so you need a well-sealed pot. The rest of the meat is cooked by convection (steam) and conduction (liquid) as in a conventional oven.

                                                  It is the radiation that I think a conventional oven lacks. If you were cooking yourself under a bellhops radiant heater, you could get your head nicely browned without cooking your feet hardly any at all - even in an insulated room. But if you wanted to similarly brown your head with conventional indoor heat, you'd have to turn up the heat so high that all of your body would brown.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    Also, from what I know about campfire cooking, it seems to involves lots of stewing, where the meat is completely submerged in liquid. That's a completely different method than steaming and browning. I know nothing about classic French cuisine other than it is very good.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      "With a well sealed lid, the method of heating the outside of the pot (and hence the pot itself), is divorced from what goes on inside."
                                                      That's what you're not getting - it's not as divorced as you imagine. The lid of a cast iron pot is a big hunk of metal - when you heat it enough, it radiates heat on its own. This is similar to how a gas broiler or propane grill works - propane and gas burn clean and create very little radiated heat, so manufacturers use the gas to heat (by convection) sheets of metal which in turn actually radiate heat to food.

                                                      In a normal modern braise, the vessel is not heated to the same extent; likewise much of the heat that might be radiated from the vessel is absorbed by the braising liquid.

                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                        So how hot does the lid get when using charcoal or a broiler? Hotter than the same lid in a 350deg oven? If the lid is hotter than the pot, won't heat flow to pot.

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          The lid is most definitely hotter than it would be in a normal 350 degree oven. Significantly. So hot that I have to actually grab real potholders to handle it rather than the dry towel I normally use to pull things out of the oven.

                                                          I'm sure heat does flow to the rest of the pot from the lid, but nowhere near enough to spread the heat evenly through the pot. Cast iron just doesn't conduct that well, and anyway the lid is still being heated from the top.

                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                            Agree. Also, the top of the food inside will cook more than the food just an inch or so from the top. I found this out when I mounded my cubes instead of spreading them evenly. This is the nature of radiant heat. And as cowboyardee says, CI does not conduct well. This is why it takes forever to preheat.

                                                            The top probably gets close to 500 degrees. The bottom is cooled by air and the liquid inside. MC say the liquid inside cannot go above boiling point, so that's a significant heat sink. I dont fully understand all of this, but I've stood next to plenty of radiant heaters and can imagine how the meat feels. Remeber once that it was do cold that the side of me not facing the heater hurt from the cold while the other hurt from the heat. Rotisseried myself just to make it tolerable.

                                                            1. re: ttochow

                                                              Good point about how the distance between the top of the food and the lid affects the rate of browning.

                                                              And that's a vivid analogy to 'rotisserie-ing' yourself with radiant heat in the cold. You'll notice that in my follow up, I turned the meat during cooking both to get even browning but also to get even cooking.

                                                2. I'm glad this thread came up because I've wanted to try it but forgot. I have a chuck roast in the oven on low broil right now so we'll see how it turns out. As I was looking around, with the top heat idea, I came across this page on roasting a chicken, with the same method. It's hard to follow w/ photos over the words but I cut and paste the words into another document.


                                                  I'm unclear how they put the coals over the dutch oven--I was thinking maybe they turned the lid upside down? The chicken looks great.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    The lid on this DO has a raised rim.

                                                    In this example the DO is used to simulate a conventional home oven.

                                                    Biscuits baked in the same way in a DO cook just like they do in home oven - though slower in my experience. It is also easier to burn them. The coals on top brown the top of biscuits and meat in way that would be missing in stove top 'baking'. But in my experience it isn't significantly different than the dry heat of an oven.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      Is it easier to burn the top or the bottom. I've never tried outdoor biscuits, but I understand that the rule of thumb is 3:1 coals on top for baking instead of the usual 2:1 to avoid burnt bottoms.

                                                    2. re: chowser

                                                      This turned out great--what a nice short cut. No more searing and a nice roasted top. I started w/ a base of onions, carrots, mushrooms (not my first choice of vegetables but all we had in the house), poured enough broth to come up to half the level. Topped w/ seasoned chuck roast. Low broil, flipped every 45mins-ish (for no other reason than cowboyardee's suggestion) and both sides browned well. At the midpoint, the liquid came past the bottom of the meat so it was a true braise but by the end, it had reduced to a nice sauce. Bad timing, I left it in longer than I should have but it was still good. Thanks, everyone for an interesting discussion and a new way to make pot roast.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        Thanks for the update on your results, Chowser. I'm thinking one of the additional upsides of turning on a semi-regular basis is you can check doneness and liquid level, and adjust if necessary. That said, I never tried sealing the pot with dough as MC suggests and ttochow did.

                                                        I'm thinking I should definitely try this with beef sometime soon.

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                          I didn't seal the pot with dough. I think it allowed for the evaporation of the liquid which concentrated it to a nice sauce/soup. Flipping the meat was easy and I think it kept the meat moister. Overcooking was my timing fault.

                                                    3. It would be interesting if you cooked the same recipe at 300F or 350F as some braising recipes callout.

                                                      I believe it was on a Good Eats episode where Alton explained that braising in the oven gave the benefit of browning vs cooking on the stove top.

                                                      A hot oven will still radiate heat into the meat with or without the top broiler is on since you can have radiation heat transfer from the lid to the meat.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: dave_c

                                                        I've braised in a CI DO in the oven at 300 and 350. There is probably a bit of browning and the flavor that entails, but it's not really comparable to what I've seen from this method.

                                                        A hotter oven, which I haven't tried, would heat the top more and radiate more heat to the top of meat. But this method seems to really accentuate the difference. In a hotter oven, the whole pot would be hotter, probably cooking the bottom liquid at a rolling boil. In this method, the liquid is kept a little cooler while the radiated heat from the top is increased significantly. The end result is more browning of the meat surface (and possibly more browning and caramelization at the surface level of the liquid as well) in relation to the doneness of the braise.

                                                      2. My new toaster oven has 900w top elements, 600w lower. The top ones are designed to produce a lot of infrared. This is evident by the spillover into the visible (ie bright glow), and the radiation can be felt outside the oven through the glass. In broiler mod, only the top elements are used, and they can be cycled on and off with the thermostat (450 v 300).

                                                        And my 3qt aluminum dutch oven fits in it, with about an inch clearance for the lid.

                                                        So I may try something in it with just the top element, may by a butterflied chicken.

                                                        When I do a search on 'modernist cuisine braising' this is one of the links I find:
                                                        '"Pressure cooking is great for braises," says Modernist Cuisine co-author Maxime Bilet'
                                                        That is a very different style of braising than that discussed here.

                                                        Which volume talks about braising? I see that a nearby library has the set in its reference collection.

                                                        9 Replies
                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            I tried this with a 4 lb chicken. I had to dismember it, and separate the back etc for stock, so the rest would fit in the 3qt DO. I seasoned a cup (or so) of water and poured on, and then heated the pot on the stove while I warmed to toaster-oven. Then I roasted it using the 300deg broiler for about an hour.

                                                            Results - not too different from other braises:
                                                            - the meat was nearly swimming, mostly with juices from the meat. As a result there was little browning
                                                            - thermometer registered 180+F, so the white meat was overcooked and dry. The dark was ok.

                                                            Next time:
                                                            - don't crowd the pot as much
                                                            - even less liquid to start with, especially if the pot is fairly full
                                                            - if using mixed chicken parts, check earlier. Since I don't need a dough seal with this pot, there is no real harm in opening it up
                                                            - even with the broil function, heat might be too even in a small oven like this.
                                                            - revisit the use of a pressure cooker for this purpose. Modernist Cuisine likes the PC even more than the Lodge DO.

                                                            Next up, 5lb 'pork should picnic roast' with lots of skin. In the past I've cooked smaller roasts with a spice rub in a sand pot with next to no added liquid,

                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              I'm thinking a toaster oven might just not generate enough top-down heat intensity for this purpose. Getting the liquid level right is also pretty important - I'm still messing around with it.

                                                              Incidentally, I really enjoy using my pressure cooker, and MC has given me some ideas with it. It won't do the kind of browning that this kind of braise can under normal circumstances. But last week I tried a technique from MC where I made butternut squash soup in the PC - instead of roasting the squash, I raised the pH of the squash pieces (in a little water) by adding a very small amount of baking soda. The higher pH allowed the squash to caramelize at PC temps (~250). But unlike squash browned in the oven, it browned the whole way through the squash pieces, producing a tremendous caramelized flavor in the finished soup. It was a nice result.

                                                              So tonight or tomorrow, I'm making an intuitive leap and trying something MC did not - I'm going to see if I can deeply caramelize onions quickly in a PC without the long cooking time and frequent stirring usually necessary to caramelize onions. I'll write up my results either way. Should be interesting.

                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                Or the box is too small, resulting in the bottom of the pot getting just as hot as the top.

                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                  Interesting! How much baking soda to how much water? Did you completely cover the squash in water?

                                                                2. re: paulj

                                                                  The problem I've had with braising chicken is that the white meat and dark meat finish cooking at different times. I only do dark meat. I agree, less liquid, I think would be better and when I did the chuck roast, when the liquid got higher than the meat, the whole thing softened. I need to try this with chicken thighs next. Cowboyardee's pictures made my mouth water.

                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                    Can you use high heat (or the broiler) for awhile to brown, then put the oven on 250? I'd be inclined to stick a remote thermometer in before I started, and turn down the heat when the chicken got to 100 deg or so.

                                                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                                                      Maybe but I'd flip the meat after the top side browned to let the other side brown and then turn it down.

                                                                  2. re: paulj

                                                                    2nd try, with the the pork shoulder picnic roast - shank end with skin all around one end.

                                                                    I salted it, and placed on top of some slice shallots in a 5qt enameled steel dutch oven (Copco), with some added black pepper and chile pepper on top, and about a cup and half of pork stock in the base. It was good fit in the pot. The lid fits well, but not tight; I did not add anything to improve the seal.

                                                                    I started the oven hot (400 baking), and then switched to 350 'broil'. I checked it several times. Liquid level stayed about equal, the top browned nicely. I took it out after about 2 hrs when the thermometer was reading 190F.

                                                                    Overall I was pleased. The meat was about right in doneness, and not dry. Some of the skin was crisp. It is hard to say whether broil did better than bake at the same temperature setting. It might have produced a bit more browning, and less evaporation of the liquid than bake would have done. I ended up with 2 cups of liquid, a modest increase.

                                                                  1. re: malabargold

                                                                    or Good Eats Chuck's Pot Roast (also foil wrapped)

                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                      I wonder if that sits in too much liquid to get a good browning from above.

                                                                  2. An update with a failed experiment:

                                                                    I attempted to make a boeuf bourguignon with this method. Significantly, this time around I sealed the pot with dough (I used maybe 1/2 cup flour and just enough water to make a dough), AND left it under the broiler (still on low) longer than usual. I wanted to push my luck.

                                                                    Push my luck I did. I cooked it under the broiler for 90 minutes, then turned off the oven, opened the oven door a bit, and let it sit while the oven cooled for another 30 minutes. The meat had been cubed, not left in a single large hunk. The cooking liquid had been reduced prior to starting the braise - there was probably a cup and a half in there (i didn't measure) for the braise itself - enough to cover the onions but not submerge the meat.


                                                                    - After 90 minutes, the top of the braise was charred black.
                                                                    - The dough browned and began to burn a bit after about 45 minutes, This wasn't a problem, but it did make the kitchen smell a little bad while cooking
                                                                    - The dough appeared to completely seal the lid to the pot - I couldn't find any holes or breaks - but the liquid evaporated nonetheless.
                                                                    - Despite being charred black, the meat actually didn't smell or taste as burnt as it looked. It appears that the moisture in the pot moderates burning to an extent, even though it still allows for burning. In fact, it was still strangely edible - the onions looked black but tasted and smelled caramelized; likewise the meat looked black and was clearly overcooked, but tasted ok-ish.

                                                                    Basically, this could have worked just fine. I just left it under the broiler too long. I suspect that 60 minutes would have been fine. I might have even been fine with a longer time under the broiler if I had opened it earlier and added more liquid. Or else I could probably have just turned the temp way down after the first hour without adding more liquid. Or perhaps even just started with more liquid in the first place.

                                                                    Unanswered questions:
                                                                    I'm still not sure whether using a dough to seal the pot helps enough to justify the extra work and my inability to monitor the braise as I go. I don't know whether I did it wrong and didn't seal as well as I thought or if the pressure from steam just entails that said steam is going to escape regardless of how well I seal the pot.

                                                                    That's it for now.

                                                                    16 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                      I might have missed it above but why seal the DO to prevent liquid from escaping? Why not start out w/ more and let it evaporate and concentrate the flavors. Isn't that part of the idea of braising, and the reason crockpots don't work as well--because of the evaporation?

                                                                      FWIW, the best result I've had with this is to flip the meat as you originally suggested, but keep an eye out on the liquid. Without flipping, I ended up w/ one side that browned but was on the dry side, the other didn't have that maillard crustiness. I'm happy enough w/ the results w/ flipping the meat, although obviously easier to do w/ a large chuck roast.

                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                        The idea is that the escaping liquid in the reduction carries with it volatile compounds that would contribute to the taste. If you can instead keep the liquid - and the volatile compounds - the sauce will be richer and more complex. Anything you smell while cooking is something you won't taste while eating!

                                                                        Something wasn't right in the above experiment. There is no place for the liquid to go if it can't escape unless it was absorbed by something in the pot. ????

                                                                        1. re: ttochow

                                                                          While I know the aromatics will dissipate, I thought (but don't know what the boiling point is of the aromatics--maybe someone can weigh in?) water boiled away more quickly than the aromatics so it would leave a higher concentrate, eg. the same reason someone reduces wine for a richer flavor. I think liquid will still evaporate w/ the dough covering but it reduces it, plus, it seems dough would absorb some of it?

                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                            I've done this several times now. First, with the dough, you can barely smell whatever you are cooking. This is with stuff that normally has strong flavors - beef, garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, etc. Nothing like what I would smell with the pot covered but not sealed with dough. In the latter case, the same dish could be smelled throughout the house. The little bit one can smell comes after about an hour of cooking because of small cracks from the dough drying out. I'm doing better at stopping that, but still not perfect.

                                                                            Speaking of which, to cowboyardee: My dough never smells bad. Smells like dough cooking, but not burned or anything.

                                                                            Second, so far every time I've done this, I end up with more liquid than I put in. One of these times I am going to brave no liquid! The extra liquid comes from the food, of course.

                                                                            Modernist Cuisine has a long discussion of the difference of this method and the reduction method. Both are fine ways of cooking, but they are different and the end result is different. The sauce from the sealing method is absolutely incredible. But I've had some incredible reductions too.

                                                                            It's not quite the same method, but something similar: I hate cooked carrots. Can't eat them. That is, unless they are made in a covered saute like described in Modernist Cuisine. Put them over medium low heat with NO liquid and a little bit of butter and salt over the top. Don't lift the lid, but shake the pot once in a while. OMG. Sweet, perfectly carmelized in their own juices. Just an instance of where less (no) liquid produces a better (for me) result.

                                                                            1. re: ttochow

                                                                              One of my criticisms of a crockpot is that it has a tight seal and doesn't allow for as much evaporation. The dough method seems to be reproducing that w/out searing first. I know the aromatics dissipate; the question is does the water do it so much more quickly and leave you with a higher concentrate, which is one reason to do a braise in the oven or stove vs crockpot. As I said, you reduce wine on the stove, both aromatics/alcohol and water dissipate but it still leaves you w/ a higher concentrated wine.

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                BUT the crockpot does not cook with radiant heat from above. Instead, it is convective heat from below and thus requires more liquid to start with. This added liquid is relatively weak unless you reduce it, and it prevents the Maillard reaction. Using radiant heat and a sealed pot, you get the Maillard reaction (which is what you'd want by searing before putting in a crockpot) AND all the smells stay in the food and are enjoyed as flavors.

                                                                                I think the answer to your question is yes - the liquid dissipates more rapidly than the flavorful compounds so that you get a richer liquid. But it's not really an important question for the method discussed here.

                                                                                I'm not trying to say that the sealed pot method is superior. Nothing is superior. But it is different. And if you try it, I am sure you will agree that it is different. It also happens to be one of my favorite methods. I hope that will be the case for you too.

                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                  "I know the aromatics dissipate; the question is does the water do it so much more quickly and leave you with a higher concentrate, which is one reason to do a braise in the oven or stove vs crockpot."
                                                                                  In theory, you have two opposing desires here: you want liquid evaporation because you want a stronger, less watered down flavor to the broth. But you also want volatile flavor compounds that are lost even MORE QUICKLY than water is evaporated (sidenote: this is one of the upsides of cooking sous vide - you often keep these volatile flavors - people often associate these kinds of compounds with 'freshness'; at heart, this is for no other reason than that they are found in fresh foods and quickly lost in cooked foods). To keep much of these compounds in, you have to stop moisture loss from evaporation entirely, because moisture loss caries these compounds out of the braise.

                                                                                  So what you do - what I did - was reduce the liquid before cooking the braise. I then added aromatics, the meat, etc and sealed the vessel. The idea is to achieve the degree of liquid reduction I wanted before adding many of the ingredients that contribute 'fresh' flavor compounds, and then seal those flavors in the pot.

                                                                                  Obviously it didn't work. But the point is that you can theoretically achieve both.

                                                                                2. re: ttochow

                                                                                  "Speaking of which, to cowboyardee: My dough never smells bad. Smells like dough cooking, but not burned or anything."
                                                                                  It's possible that my broiler, set to low, is more powerful than yours. Or else just that you've never left the dough under said broiler for as long as I did in this particular experiment. Or even that you were better at keeping the dough from sticking out the sides of the pot (I didn't bother - I just tried to get a good seal).

                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                    Have you seen this picture? This is what I try to do


                                                                                    My dough has about the same level of brown when done.

                                                                                    1. re: ttochow

                                                                                      That's basically what I did. Mine was darker afterward.

                                                                                      1. re: ttochow

                                                                                        I was just going to mention this book. That cover recipe bakes the chicken at 450 for 1hr. It calls for a 4lb bird, lots of vegetables (esp garlic), and 1 1/2c of liquid.

                                                                                        Her dough seal is substantial enough that she prefers to open it with a screwdriver.

                                                                                        Speaking of French cooking, does anyone have a reference to braising with coals on the lid? The MC example uses an American style camp (dutch) oven. If anything, French cooks have tried to reduce the top heat (with a hollow for water or even ice), reducing vapor loss by promoting condensation.

                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                          "Her dough seal is substantial enough that she prefers to open it with a screwdriver."
                                                                                          Incidentally, that's what I used. Mysterious crack that I couldn't find aside, the dough anchored the lid to the pot pretty well.

                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                            Not sure what kind of reference you want. I assume you don't mean recipes since those are available with a Google search. A brief discussion appears in Harold McGee's 2004 book "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen." Interestingly, he says that the braise should be kept well below boil, about 180* F. Also the meat should be heated so gently and gradually that it has a distinct red color even though it is well done because more of its myoglobin stays intact.

                                                                                            1. re: ttochow

                                                                                              McGee also claims that the braise is best done without a lid, so evaporation helps keep the liquid that cool. Often I'll lift the lid off a pot, and watch the bubbles subside as the liquid cools.

                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                I love McGee but his advice doesn't pertain particularly well to this technique. He's looking at a braise from the standpoint of how one gets meat tender. This technique is more about building flavor in a way that's different from the standard braise - but it's not the ideal way to tenderize meat. It works well with braising cuts that become tender easily (by comparison) - pork shoulder and chicken thighs and such. I suspect this technique would have to be modified for something like oxtail or shanks or pork belly that really benefits from a longer, lower braise.

                                                                                  2. re: ttochow

                                                                                    "Something wasn't right in the above experiment. There is no place for the liquid to go if it can't escape unless it was absorbed by something in the pot. ????"
                                                                                    I think we can safely assume that the water escaped through a crack in the dough, even if I couldn't find said crack. Perhaps that it even forced open said crack.

                                                                                    The real question is whether dough is strong enough to effectively seal a DO for this kind of cooking, regardless of how well you apply it. In a sense, you're creating a top-heated pressure cooker with an extremely weak and poorly designed lid, and no steam vent. It only makes sense that at some point, steam pressure is going to force a crack in the sealing. Now, if I had kept it under the broiler for less time, it's possible that the steam pressure would not have built up enough for moisture to make its way out. Or, its possible that steam immediately weakens the dough and that 'sealing' the DO does nothing more than minimize moisture loss, not prevent it.

                                                                                    But I'm generally thinking that the above experiment showed more or less what should be expected if you 'seal' with dough and leave the DO under the broiler long enough.