This time of year it's all about the long and slow cooking. When it comes to cuts of meat that require a little extra coaxing, both stewing and braising can make tougher cuts — like shanks, brisket, chunk, and round — tender enough to slice with your fork. We always knew they had a soft side.
Vegetables, never to be left out of the party, benefit from braising and stewing as well. As with meat, vegetables, including everything from bitter winter greens to green beans, grow tender and enriched with flavor from a braise or stew.
If both braising and stewing require a good deal of time over a low heat, what makes them different?
The Difference Between Braises and Stews: It's All in the Liquid
Both braises and stews are methods of cooking that use moisture and heat to cook the food. The amount of liquid is what distinguishes these two methods.
Whether animal or vegetable, the miracle of braising only happens when the food is partially submerged in the cooking liquid. The minute it's fully covered it becomes a stew. Low heat is another crucial here — the gradual cooking of meat in a hot, moisture-heavy environment gives the connective tissues, gelatin, and collagen the chance to slowly melt into the liquid, enriching the sauce, while the meat absorbs any of the seasoning in the braising liquid. Bring your braise or stew to a boil for too long and you'll find yourself with tough meat.
Recipes for Braises
Similar to braising, stews call for slow cooking and low temps. With braises, where you're adding the least amount of liquid required to cook the meat or vegetables, stews require full submersion, and usually call for the meat or vegetables to be cut into uniform pieces for even cooking. The result is a broth-gravy hybrid that's just as desirable as the meat or vegetable itself.