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Browning before braising

Standard school of thought amongst most cooks is browning before braising is absolutely essential. Then I read a Jamie Oliver recipe where he states "Even though this goes against all my training, I experimented with two batches of meat – I browned one and put the other straight into the pot. The latter turned out to be the sweeter and cleaner-tasting, so I’ve stopped browning the meat for most of my stews these days." http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipe-pri...

Honestly, I've never done a side by side comparison, so who am I to judge? I would love it if this were true. I could definitely do without the fire alarms going off and the smokiness that gets trapped in my little apartment every time I sear.

Have any of you actually done any experiments with this? I've got a giant batch of stew to cook up for a party and don't want to risk it with this dish since it's not just for me.

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  1. Jamie opened a can of worms. Next time I make 'bb' I'll brown half and I won't brown the other half of the chuck shoulder meat. We'll see.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Puffin3

      That's my plan too. We'll see.
      What cut do you use for your 'BB'?

      1. I have cooked pot roasts in the crock pot without browning first and did not notice a great deal of difference.

        1. I think browning adds depth of flavor. That said, if you don't have time, the "cleaner" taste of non-browned meat is delicious too.
          I just don't believe browning before braising is set in stone. I will definitely do it if I have the time and the energy to clean up the splatter.

          1 Reply
          1. re: monavano

            Agree with monavano.

            If I am putting something in the crock pot, 99% of the time I do not have the extra time to brown the meat.

          2. What does "sweeter and cleaner tasting" mean in relation to a beef stew? I feel like I always regret it when I don't get that caramelized, meaty, crust, even if it is simmered afterwards.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Violatp

              I've been wondering this as well. When I make a stew of beef, potatoes, carrots etc. I want it dark and rich. I don't want it to taste "bright" like a quick cooked tomato sauce for instance.

              Since I have to make such a giant batch of stew this time, I may just brown half of it. At least I'll get a bit of the extra deep flavour but it won't take me ages.

              1. re: ChervilGeorge

                You might consider browning the meat using a broiler. It's often more efficient than using a skillet when browning large quantities or unwieldy shapes.

                1. re: JoanN

                  I will try this! Had never thought to before. It won't alleviate the smoking/fire alarm issue but I can get more in at once. Thanks!!

                  1. re: JoanN

                    I brown mine on the grill outside ;)

                    no nice brown bits in the pan but i'll live with that to keep the house free from the grease and the smell

                    1. re: JoanN

                      Doh! Why didn't I think of that?! Thanks!

                    2. re: ChervilGeorge

                      Although I do enjoy adding a pop of lemon zest/parsley/fresh nutmeg over braises when I have those on hand. The combo of bright/deep flavors is a nice juxtaposition.
                      Of course, different issue than to brown or not to brown, just thought I'd share.

                      1. re: ChervilGeorge

                        Exactly. Dark and rich all the way for a beef stew. I save "sweet & clean" for fresh, quickly cooked foods. Fresh vegetables, fish, etc.

                    3. In her book "All About Braising" Molly Stevens has three-and-a-half pages on why and how to brown food for braising. She acknowledges that not all recipes benefit from browning and discusses what she says some texts call "white braising" or blonde braising." But basically she says that browning the food creates a depth of flavor impossible to achieve otherwise and that not browning may leave you with a finished dish that is more gray in color than rich, mahogany brown.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JoanN

                        I heard her say that the use of soy sauce in Asia gives some of the same color and flavors.

                        I also find that braised dishes darken as they cook, especially in an oven. Flavor compounds spatter on to the sides and top of the pot, and brown. It is easier to keep a dish 'white' if the meat is fully immersed (as in a stew), and cooked on a stove top.

                      2. I think a good bit depends on the flavors in the dish and the meat involved.

                        I'd never consider not browning short ribs, as the 'crust' is essential to their appeal.

                        But I've greatly appreciated learning an alternative technique for lamb tagine and pork stews that are fairly heavily spiced:
                        Combine the cut-up pieces of meat with oil and spices and aromatics in the stew pot and let sit for a bit, while you finely chop onions and heat the broth separately.
                        Then cook the meat on medium-high for a few minutes, add the onion and cook another 5 minutes or so.
                        Add the firm veg's, stir to warm and coat well, add the broth, and put in the oven.

                        With regular beef stew, I'd still brown, and in fact I like to caramelize the veg's a bit, too, before the tomatoes and beef broth are added.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ellabee

                          With regular beef stew, I'd still brown, and in fact I like to caramelize the veg's a bit, too, before the tomatoes and beef broth are added.
                          I love to do this to my veggies when I bake a chicken. I place the gizzards and veg on the bottom, dry, and let them caramelize for 30 min. or so before I deglaze the bottom. The gravy/ stock has been very rich with this method.

                          1. re: monavano

                            Insidious Facebook infiltration - I keep wanting to "like" posts. UGH.

                            That being said, yes to caramelized vegetables in a simmered or roasted dish!

                            I always pan saute my veg first when I do a pot roast.

                            1. re: Violatp

                              With the new "recommend" button, you can do just that! Float the cursor over the button to see the names of other endorsers.

                              1. re: greygarious


                                I just posted a link that you provided last year for those adorable deviled egg chicks!
                                I always brown, even for stew. I love the added color and depth of flavor. Until 10 years ago I still *head hanging* dredged in flower first...having been incorrectly taught that it "sealed in juices."

                        2. According to Michael Ruhlman in The Elements of Cooking, "to braise means to sear meat in hot fat, then submerge it in liquid and cook it slowly and gently." So I don't see the difference. He goes on to write: "Compare with stew, which does not necessarily imply searing, ...."

                          So for a stew, it's merely a matter of preference whether to sear or not.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: GH1618

                            Molly Stevens stresses partially covering the meat (stew is submerged). She decided, while writing her book, that searing, while desirable, is not a necessary part.

                            Hervé This, French food scientist, claims that traditional braising, searing sanitized the exterior of the meat, prior to the 'low and slow' simmer. In early writings about braising, there was a lot of concern about keeping the heat low, without any flair ups. With the good temperature control of modern ovens, we tend to neglect this aspect. Harold McGee goes so far as to claim we should braise with the lid off, or ajar, allowing evaporation to regulate the temperature of the braising liquid.

                            There's also a thread discussing the idea from Modernist Cuisine that braising should be done in a covered dutch oven with top heat only.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I'm going to start saying that I crave a big bowl of braise for dinner.


                          2. There's also something to be said for the appearance of the dish. Jamie Oliver doesn't use the word "braise," but rather the word "stew." There's a difference between braising and stewing. The latter involves more liquid, and often the meat it cut up into small pieces or cubes, as in the picture in your link. One might be able to dispense with browning the meat in Oliver's recipe, especially if there are a lot of colorful vegetables in the dish, but there's no way I would serve a whole braised flank steak or a roast or chicken parts without having seared them at the start of cooking.

                            1. From my experience it greatly depends upon the dish and you have to try both ways to see if browning adds that extra dimension or actually causes the food to taste less clean. For example I found that a beef barley recipe that I used in my restaurants tasted better when the beef was NOT browned first and several Indian stews were better without browning. However browning usually does add an extra flavor dimension and is a good thing.

                              1. Before I knew how to cook I just threw my meat in the pot as well and must say I prefer searing the meat first. Especially with beef or lamb. My jury is out on certain cuts of pork.

                                1. For me, browning meat before braising is a mandatory requirement. Not only does the meat otherwise generally look grey in color, but it tastes "grey," i.e., lacking that depth that is needed.

                                  Not to mention this contributes greatly to building the fonde in the pot, which becomes the basis for the sauce or liquid component of the braise.

                                  1. I think you can get both flavors by only browning part of the meat and leaving the rest unseared. That would give you a fond along with the caramelization flavor, but most of the meat would remain clean if that is the flavor that the dish would be best with. Depth and flavor both.

                                    I always brown all my meat though because I love that smokey brown flavor that you get. Smoking up the house is just something I know I have to deal with when osso bucco or something else comes along in my cooking repertoire.