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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.