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Braising Meat Without Drying It Out

†How do you get meat (beef, pork, chicken) to braise slowly in the oven without drying out? Sometimes my meat tastes tender and moist, and sometimes it is tender but dry to the taste. Any suggestions?

†Donít cook it too long. There are two processes at work here, and you want to keep them in balance. Braising, or cooking with a small amount of water or stock in a closed container in the oven or on the stovetop, is a more efficient way of transferring heat to the meat than using dry heat.

You use long, moist cooking on tough cuts of meat because that method breaks down the stringy connective tissue (collagen) in the meat and converts it to gelatin. Harold McGee, author of On Food & Cooking, says scientists analyzed a rump roast that had been roasted well-done in an oven and found that only 14% of the collagen in the meat had been gelatinized. In a similar roast that had been braised for 90 minutes, 52% of the collagen had been transformed.

Even though it seems counterintuitive, braising actually dries meat out faster than roasting because it speeds the cooking process. So you want to remove it from the heat as soon as possible to prevent drying.†

Itís not exactly a braise, but with the extra-special beef stew we make, we find thereís quite a fine line between producing tender chunks of meat that melt in your mouth and beef that is too dry. In this case, when we think the stew has been in the oven about long enough, we try a piece of the beef. If itís not tender yet, we test it again in 10 or 15 minutes. But as soon as the meat falls apart, we take the pot out of the oven, and generally the meat is both tender and moist. Go much beyond that point, and dryness becomes the most noticeable characteristic.

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