The right protein and the right wine turn homey dishes into something spectacular.
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Braising chicken and vegetables with red wine
Credit: Magnus Bengtsson / EyeEm / Getty Images

Braising is one of the easiest cooking techniques to learn, requiring an inexpensive piece of meat or a sturdy vegetable, wine and/or another braising liquid, and time. Once you master this technique, it is a godsend for entertaining and regular weeknight meals alike. Here are our five most important tips for creating fabulous braises every time.

Choose the Right Protein

Braises are long, slow cooks, designed to melt the interior fat and collagen in tougher cuts of meat. Be sure that the cut you choose is one that will have enough of both to withstand the cooking time; lean meat doesn't do well here. When deciding what to braise, pick dark meat for chicken, and cuts like the shank, shoulder or short ribs for beef, lamb, and pork.

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Always Braise in Advance

The key to amazing flavor in your braises is actually resting time. With other cooking techniques, the dishes are at their best when served immediately. But the nature of the slow cooking style and rich sauces of braises mean they actually taste better if you make them ahead of time. If you can, braise your food at least one day in advance of eating — you can braise up to three days in advance. This resting time allows the flavors in your dish to fully develop and meld. Simply reheat them gently when you are ready to eat. This means braises are the perfect thing for both weeknight dinners or big dinner parties, since you can make the braise when you have the time, and then just reheat it when you are ready to eat.

Pick the Right Braising Liquid

A braise differs from a soup or stew with the type and amount of liquid you use. For a braise, you want a mixture of wine and stock. Pick a rich red wine to braise beef and pork, or if you are making classic coq au vin. A lighter white wine works well with other braised chicken dishes or fish stews. Place the protein in the pot, then add the liquid. Add just enough so it fills the pot about three-quarters of the way to the top of your protein. This prevents the proteins from poaching or boiling in the liquid, which can make them tough. And leaving the top of the meat exposed helps encourage browning or crisp skin. 

Use the Right Size Cooking Vessel

A pot that is too deep will require too much liquid to fill to the right depth, and your sauce will be thin. A pot that is too wide will risk faster evaporation of your liquid as it reduces too much during the cooking process. The ideal size is a pot that allows your meat to fit easily inside with about an inch all around between the protein and the sides of the pot. If you are braising multiple pieces, like oxtails or chicken thighs, you want about a half an inch around each piece so they don't touch each other.

Season Throughout the Cooking Process

The sauce for your braise will reduce and intensify in flavor over the hours of cooking, so if you are too aggressive with salt or spices at the beginning, those flavors might become overwhelmingly strong by the time the dish is complete. To avoid that, season your protein well with salt, preferably at least an hour or two before you begin so the seasoning melds into the meat. Then, go easy when seasoning the sauce. You should taste the sauce and add just a little bit of seasoning about once every hour during the cooking process. The trick is to add little amounts as you go, and stop short of the braising liquid being fully seasoned until right before you serve.

Finish With Something Fresh and Bright

Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a flutter of lemon zest, a sprinkle of chopped herbs, a drizzle of bright vinegar, or even a dollop of sour cream or yogurt to your braised dishes when serving. Braises are rich in flavor, so adding some vibrance at the end lifts up the flavors and keeps them interesting.