When was the last time you eagerly scooped up a heaping second serving of cooked vegetables? If you can’t recall, you might be in a side dish rut. Put the steamer basket down, return the baking sheet to the cabinet, and whip out your biggest, trustiest lidded sauté pan. These tips will help you braise vegetables that are lightly caramelized on the outside, fork tender all the way through, and napped in a luxurious glaze.
- Slice bulbs and brassicas for maximum brownability. If you’re braising shallots, leeks, or Brussels sprouts, halve them lengthwise to expose a flat, sear-able surface to the pan. Slice fennel and onions into wedges, leaving the root end intact so they don’t come apart.
- Leave ‘em be if they’re long and thin. Slender, sleek vegetables like asparagus and green beans can, and should, be left whole — they’re so much prettier that way, and will cook evenly with minimal fuss. Just trim away the woody ends or stems and you’re good to go.
- Use the biggest covered pan you’ve got. Once you’ve seared the vegetables, you should be able to nudge them into a snug single layer. This will allow all of them to nestle in the braising liquid and cook evenly, rather than steam on top of each other into a mushy mess.
- Add the salt along with the braising liquid, but not earlier. If you’re in the habit of seasoning vegetables right when they go into the pan, resist the urge to add a pinch at the beginning of the braising process. Salt causes vegetables to weep water, which will inhibit browning at the outset. Once you’ve got nice color on the vegetables, add your braising liquid, salt, and any other aromatics.
- Go easy on the braising liquid. It should only come about one third the way up the vegetables. Braising is sort of a hybrid between steaming, simmering, and boiling. You want just enough liquid so that by the time the vegetables are tender, it has reduced into a saucy glaze.
- Remove the vegetables when they’re done. If they’re already fork tender and the liquid hasn’t reduced yet, use a tongs or slotted spoon to transfer your vegetables to a serving plate. Leaving the pan uncovered, reduce the remaining liquid until it tightens up, then pour it over the vegetables and serve.
- Branch out and try something new. Been eyeing the kohlrabi, celery roots, or sunchokes at the grocery store? Braising is the perfect way to introduce your palate to a new vegetable.
- Not only are they cute, they taste good, too. If you spot some baby root vegetables at the peak of freshness, braise ‘em up. Baby fennel, baby carrots, baby turnips . . . all of these farmer’s market darlings are perfect braising candidates.
- To gild the lily, monter au beurre. That’s French for the moment when you decide that what a dish really needs is a big fat knob of butter. Tilt the pan towards you, use a spatula or spoon to scoot the vegetables to the far side of the pan, then whisk a couple cold hunks of butter into the glazing liquid at the end of cooking.
- Will it braise? Maybe not. Some vegetables are not suited to the braising pan. Avoid delicate leafy greens such as spinach and romaine lettuce, and bypass the broccoli and cauliflower, which tend to get overly mushy.
There you go! You are now armed and ready to try your hand at braising. Here are a few of our favorite recipes to get you started:
(Image credits: Faith Durand; Coco Morante)