By Marie Rama, Bryan Miller

Both braising and stewing involve long, slow cooking in liquid. The major difference is that in braising, foods lie in a few inches of liquid, not quite submerged, so they stew and steam at the same time. Stewing involves submerging ingredients in a liquid and simmering the mixture for a long time.

Braising involves larger cuts of meat, whereas cut-up meat is stewed. For example, you braise a pot roast but stew cubed beef. Both methods make meat very, very tender.

Browning before braising

Larger cuts of meat — and the very toughest — tend to be braised. The meat is usually browned in hot oil first, to give it a toothsome texture and appealing color. You can braise a beef roast, a pork roast, or any other large piece of meat, including a whole chicken, by browning it on all sides in hot oil to color it and add flavor, and then cooking it in a liquid.

Braising is so easy to do that you may as well jump right in and try it. One of the easiest and most basic things to braise is a good old classic pot roast.

When you’re shopping, keep in mind that the best cut of beef for a pot roast is the first-cut brisket. Sometimes referred to as the flat cut, the first-cut brisket has just the right amount of fat so it’s not too dry after it’s cooked. Ask your butcher for the first cut.

Pot Roast with Vegetables

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cook time: About 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 pounds first-cut beef brisket

2 large yellow onions, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup water

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and black pepper

4 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced crosswise into 2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  1. Heat the oil in a large (preferably cast-iron) Dutch oven over high heat.

    Add the brisket and sear on both sides, about 7 to 8 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the brisket to a large plate.

  2. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté until the onions are lightly browned, stirring frequently. (Don’t let the garlic brown.)

  3. Return the brisket to the pot. Add the wine, water, bay leaf, thyme, and salt and black pepper to taste.

  4. Cover, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2-3/4 to 3 hours, turning the meat several times and adding 1/2 to 1 cup more water if the liquid evaporates.

  5. About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the potatoes and carrots.

  6. When the meat is tender (easily pierced with a fork), remove it to a carving board with a long-handled fork. Cover it with foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

  7. Continue cooking the potatoes and carrots in the covered pot until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes more.

  8. Slice the brisket across the grain and arrange the slices on a serving platter.

  9. Remove the potatoes and carrots from the gravy and spoon them around the meat.

  10. Skim the fat from the surface of the remaining juices, remove the bay leaf and discard, heat the juices through, and spoon over the meat and vegetables. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Serve the extra gravy in a gravy boat.

Per serving: Calories 546 (From Fat 199); Fat 22g (Saturated 7g); Cholesterol 133mg; Sodium 199mg; Carbohydrate 38g (Dietary Fiber 5g); Protein 47g.

Taking time to stew

Dollar for dollar, meat goes a long way when you stew it. For instance, few dishes are more economical than beef stew, yet who would know it from the taste?

More expensive ingredients such as seafood can make a stew seem luxurious, but you don’t need nearly as much shrimp, crab, or fish per person as you would if you were serving these dishes on their own. You can also use cut-up boneless chicken or turkey breasts, cubed pork, or sliced sausage.

Lean, boneless chuck is one of the least expensive cuts of beef. Root vegetables (carrots and turnips) are also economical — and healthful. Other good cuts to ask for when stewing are the neck, brisket, and shank.

Braising greens

Braising is not just for meat. Certain vegetables benefit from this cooking method as well. Keep in mind that not all leafy greens are the same. Spinach and beet greens hold a lot of moisture and cook quickly in little or no liquid (sometimes a little olive oil is a nice touch).

On the other hand, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens are tougher and dryer. They’re best braised in chicken stock or vegetable stock (covered).

Before you can braise thick greens like kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens, you need to remove the tough, thick stems.