Often these days, cooking methods come with some sort of fancy, high-end piece of technology. Whether that’s infrared thermometers, sous vide machines, or vacuum sealers, it can feel like the true ‘down and dirty’ methods have fallen by the wayside. Well, we’re here to change that (ok -- that might be a bit ambitious). If nothing else, we can offer a bit of an antidote to the gadget-fueled cookery that feels so pervasive these days.
Braising is one of mankind’s oldest cooking techniques. It’s very likely that cavemen were perfectly happy to braise whatever wooly mammoth they may have caught, and the technique has stuck around ever since. And for good reason! It’s nearly foolproof, and there’s almost infinite room for its application.
The technique behind braising is simple: a protein is cooked with some kind of liquid, in a sealed pot/container. When you pair braising with a good ol’ fashioned campfire, you’ve got some real caveman cookery going. In an age of smartphone-enabled, bluetooth-connected sous-vide machines, perhaps a campfire braise isn’t such a bad idea.
So, at this point, if you’ve decided that you want to get your braise on, the next question is of course -- what do I braise? And how?
Well, you definitely can braise anything. From chicken legs to whole loins, your options are very much unlimited. That being said, braising is inherently more suited to certain cuts of meat. We point towards the tougher cuts, and the pieces of the animal that get more muscular movement. Think lamb shanks and short ribs. These types of cuts generally contain large amounts of collagen, which breaks down over low heat, creating a very smooth, rich sauce. As far as butchery goes -- trim the fat, or don’t! It’s up to you.
For a campfire braise, we’d recommend a heavy-duty, cast-iron pot or dutch oven with relatively high walls and a tight fitting lid. Braising requires a decent amount of liquid, so you’ll want something more ‘pot’ than ‘pan’. Once you’ve got your protein and your pot picked out, all that’s left is to throw it together! Luckily, that’s the easy part.
When braising, it’s good practice to first get a nice sear on your proteins before adding them to the pot. Over a campfire, you can achieve this great, smokey-flavored sear by using a campfire grate or griddle. Or, you can simply sear the protein in the braising pot itself. After the meat is properly browned, add your aromatics. Those are the herbs, vegetables, and spices. Once you’ve cooked that mixture for a few minutes, you'll want to remove the aromatics, add the meat back in, and then go ahead and add your liquid to the meat.
The liquid can be anything! Wine, beer, and broth are all common options. The liquid should not fully immerse your proteins, but instead cover them up to about a 2/3 of the way up. At this point, your campfire can be knocked down to pretty low. We’d aim for somewhere around a mild 275 degrees. Throw the lid on the pot, and wait (Braising is a low and slow method, so you can expect it to take roughly 2-3 hours - But trust us, the results are worth it)!
Check on your braise occasionally -- when the meat is falling apart with ease, it’s time to add the aromatics back in and allow them to cook for 30-45 minutes. After they're done cooking and flavoring your braising liquid, it's time to eat up!
Pro Tip 1: The liquid in your braise is going to be amazing -- don’t let it go to waste. We’d suggest serving your braised meal with buttered bread to mop up some of that flavor! You can even reduce the braising liquid further to serve as a sauce over your meat!
Pro Tip 2: Try putting a small amount of white/gray coals on top of the dutch oven lid (if you're using cast iron) to help heat from the top and bottom.