Have you ever run across a recipe that requires you to braise the meat? Does it sound like a foreign word to you? Are you just beginning to find your place in the kitchen, and have no clue about the terms or techniques?While braising sounds like a scary term, it is actually a very simple technique. Once you learn how to do it, it won’t be long before you’re a pro. First, you begin with the meat:
- Choose your meat. You can decide on beef, chicken, fish, lamb, or pork. Of course, I am going to focus on pork—my favorite! You don’t have to start with a high-dollar cut either; the liquid you use in braising will make the meat succulent and tender.
- Brown the meat. Using a little bit of oil in a skillet, sear the meat on all sides, and give it a bit of color. A golden hue is perfect. This will help seal in juices, and the crust will make your dish more visually appealing. Searing the meat also leaves you little bits in the pan which will play a part in a future step—“deglazing.”
- Set the meat aside. It’s time to think about your veggies. If you are including tougher vegetables like carrots or celery or onion, you will now add them to the oil in the pan and “caramelize” them. Sauté them until they are softer and light brown in color, but be careful not to burn them.
- Deglaze the pan. Add just a little bit of liquid to the pan (wine, beer, chicken stock, vinegar, water, cider, or juice), and scrape up any caramelized bits from the skillet with a wooden spoon. But don’t get rid of them. Stir them into your liquid! These tasty bits are going to add immense flavor to the braise.
- Choose your liquid. Most braises are created from stock or wine, but little additions can enhance flavor and add a little flair. Your decision can be based on what you have on hand, or make a selection according to your cooking goals or tastes. For example, you can braise with water, but the result won’t be very flavorful. Some chefs prefer beer, specifically lighter lagers (an acquired taste), to complement pork. Cider, as well as apple or citrus based juices, can be used to sweeten poultry or pork. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous—some cooks have even tried milk or coconut milk!
- Add your meat back in. Put your meat in a coverable pan or Dutch oven, along with your veggies, and pour in your liquid until it sets about one-half the way up the side of your meat. Don’t completely cover the meat; the liquid will seep in and flavor it.
- Add a little spice. It’s customary to use bay leaves, and salt and pepper is usually a given, but don’t limit yourself!
- Cover and cook. The hardest part of your work is over. Slide the meat into the oven and cook on low heat, usually 325° but no more than 350°. The meat should cook for about 2-3 hours depending on the cut, but you will know when it is done because the meat will be tender and literally sliding off the bone, or easily cut with a knife.
- Broth or Sauce. At this point, you can serve the meat as is or you can choose to create a sauce, which will enhance the dish. Take out the meat and the vegetables. Skim off the fat, and simmer the liquid until it thickens enough to coat a spoon. Then add your meat and veggies back in to heat them back through.
- Give it a little zing. If you want to add texture or give the dish your own personal touch, you can top it off with a handful of chopped herbs, grated citrus zest, or crème fraiche.
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During the winter months, we wean our piglets later than we typically would during the summertime. By waiting for 10 weeks rather than the usual 8 weeks, we improve the ease with which the piglets switch from sow’s milk to feed. During the suckling and weaning period, the piglets eat feed along with the sow—a high protein diet necessary for piglet growth and sow weight maintenance. In this way, any shock caused by weaning is lessened. While the 10-week period may be a little harder on the sow, she is fully equipped to recover. A good mother gives everything she has to her piglets, and may be “skin and bones” by weaning time, but we watch over her and give her a month and longer to recover before breeding her again. During the weaning period, we keep a sharp eye on the piglets—especially the ones that may be labeled the “runts” or the “weaklings.” Once they are weaned, the members of the piglet herd rely on each other to stay warm; the smallest and the weakest are often affected by the extreme cold. Because we prefer the natural process, we do not cull the small or the weak from our stock. Some farmers may choose to do so, to save on cost and time related to their care, but we believe in giving all of our stock a fair, fighting chance. We provide extra feed and straw to provide warmth and shelter where needed. We enhance the chance of survival for each and every piglet on our farm—without compromising the all-natural standards we strive to provide and that you have come to expect from Circle B Ranch. [ ... ]