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Feb 26, 2014 09:44 AM

Do you always brown the meat?

I often, more so in winter, make braised dishes. Most recipes call for browning the meat first and when they are done, take them out and then sautee onion and garlic, etc. before putting back the meat and liquids of your choice.
Do all of you do this? or do you simply skip this and put everything into the pot and braise it? I wonder if there will be a huge difference in taste...supposely it does because browning the meat brings out all the flavors but I've recently made chicken stew without browning the meat and thought it was fine.
What do you do?

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  1. I always brown it. Without fail. And for my dime, I think it adds a greater depth to the braise. I've tasted braises where the meat wasn't browned and I always thought they were lighter and not as rich as the browned variety. That's my two cents.

    1. browning, sauté, and deglazing adds depth, dimension and flavor to a braised dish - while I am sure you can make a tasty dish without browning if a recipe calls for it I would not omit for convenience and expect equal results.

      My memory is that traditional Irish lamb stew is done with non browned chunks of lamb (although I often see recipes that call for browning - in my mind the plain lamb is what makes Irish stew Irish stew) but it is an intentionally plain dish IMO.

      17 Replies
      1. re: JTPhilly

        I generally brown but south asian curries can sometimes be an exception.

        I'd also agree that traditional north west European dishes like Irish stew or Lancashire hotpot are often not browned. Mum never browned the meat for hotpot but I've no idea if this was due to tradition or laziness. The mother in law also never browns - but that's because she may be the world's worst cook.

        1. re: Harters

          LOL, with so many mother in laws who are supposely the world's worst cooks here, we should have a cookoff contest to see who is indeed the world's worst cook.

          1. re: Monica

            My mother in law puts knishes in soup...hard to top that.

            1. re: EricMM

              My mother-in-law insisted she roast the christmas turkey. I bought/wet brined it and brought it to her house to roast. She had had my 'low and slow' turkeys before and very begrudgingly agreed they were juicy, tasty and tender. How could she not? All the other family members always raved about my roasted turkey and always wanted me to roast the bird.
              Anyway she agreed to do the 'low and slow' method. Temp no higher than 200 F as I always do. Then crank up the heat to brown the skin at the end.
              No problem.
              While the turkey was in the oven she refused to let me peek at it.
              When it came out of the oven I discovered to my horror that she had put the lip on the roasting pan the whole time. The poor bird was SLOW STEAMED!!!!!!! No color.
              It was an expensive genuine free range heritage breed which meant it was always going to be a little 'firmer' than a Butter Ball.
              Literally no one at the Christmas table could eat the bird. One comment: "This turkey is so tough I can't chew it".
              My mother-in-laws reaction?: "Blame HIM!. He was the one that demanded I cook the turkey HIS way!".

            2. re: Monica


              Your plan has a fatal flaw. - it would be infllicting the MiL's food on perfect strangers. Couldnt do that. Not even to my worst enemy (well, OK, maybe the worst enemy)

              1. re: Monica

                My mother in law would lose - she's a fantastic cook. And besides, she taught me how to make her fantastic Sri Lankan curries. :)

              2. re: Harters

                If a recipe calls for browning, most likely it has been influenced by classical French chefs. That's a style of cooking that focused on developing the flavors of the meats and sauces with a light use of spices. It's also a style of cooking that used lots of pots and burners and manpower.

                Haute cuisine never got it's hands on hotpot.

                The curies and many other Asian dish use a lot of spices and condiments (e.g. soy sauce, fish sauce). Nor is browning a big part of Mexican cooking, unless it is trying to imitate French techniques.

                1. re: paulj

                  "...most likely it has been influenced by classical French chefs."

                  true. and proper Greek cookery employs browning meat. Ancient Greek cookbooks showcase this nicely.

                  1. re: Gastronomos

                    And Italian, Spanish Etc.....
                    Browning meat does not indicate a "French" pedigree

                    1. re: chefj

                      To what extent are those dishes traditional, or ones that have passed through the hands of French trained chefs (in effect 'gentrified')?

                      Peposo is a Tuscan beef shank dish that has been discussed several times (including a recent wine question). Some versions look like a beef version of osso buco, but the most basic ones just cook the cubed meat in wine, garlic and black pepper, without searing. Supposedly it was cooking by tile makers in their cooling kilns overnight.

                      What about classic Spanish stews like olla podrida, escudella, cocido?

                      1. re: paulj

                        They are very traditional.
                        The Cooks from that Catherine de Medici brought from Florence to France in 1523 are thought to have sparked the French Cooking that became World renown. Before that French cooking was not very evolved.
                        Spain's Cuisine was also distinct and well formed before France's. Not to mention very exotic with influences and Ingredients from the Moors and the New World.

                        1. re: chefj

                          I'm wonder whether browning meat prior to braising or stewing was common in Italian, Greek and/or Spanish cooking prior to the rise of Haute cuisine.

                          The Spanish stews that I listed do not brown the meat, at least not in the recipes I found in Culinaria Spain. I'm speculating that if versions of these dishes (or similar ones) do call for browning the meat, it's because of the influence of chefs trained in classic French techniques.

                          I'd be happy to see old recipes (or descriptions of meals) that prove me wrong.

                          medieval meat pie recipe - boil or roast meat till tender, cool, chop, etc.

                          Stwed Beeff - "roast it until nearly done; then put it in a fair pot; add [spices], set a lid on the pot, and let it boil well on a fair charcoal until done;"

                          Roasting will develop flavor, but it's not the same as carefully browning meat cubes on all sides in a skillet. It is probably easier to do when cooking for a manor crowd with only an open hearth heat source.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I'll say that ancient Greek cookbooks and Greek cookbooks from Byzantium describe the browning in detail.

                2. re: Harters

                  Yep, I don't braise curries or tagine's as it's traditional not to.

                  1. re: rasputina

                    I use this terrific tagine recipe where it asks to brown the chicken first...which I do...i will have to try without browning it first to see how it turns out.

              3. Depends on what I'm making. Meat is typically not browned in South Asian curries or North African tajines for example and still turns out flavorful. Perhaps if you are making a simple braise with few ingredients then the flavor from the browned meat might be more noticeable but I find that the aromatics (garlic, ginger, tomatoes, etc), spices, and the natural juices that release from the meat lend plenty of flavor to the end product.

                1. I always sear because it makes a difference. If you don't sear it will be good but searing will make it better.

                  I have tried both with dishes that I was perfectly happy with without searing but when i seared, I liked it better.

                  However, if you just feel lazy that day, I won't tell.

                  1. Less than half the time, and when I do it's most often combined with "sautee the onion" step, with garlic stirred in to cook only briefly at the last, before the other ingredients go in.

                    I agree with you - to my taste, dishes have been fine without the browning. It would be interesting to do a broader blind taste-test on this. Are folks influenced by the color of the dish and prior knowledge of the technique?