Braising 101

I’m all about simple cooking. I mean, let’s face it — being college kids, we don’t have dutch ovens or food mills, super high tech food processors or mixers. And the only thing most of us know how to make with a blender is a round of margaritas. Simple cooking doesn’t mean flavorless food, or that it’s really any less “gourmet.”

Which is what inspired my dish for this week; twenty to twenty five minutes is all it takes, just a few ingredients, and you’ve got yourself a meal.

Braising is basically a way of cooking a protein or even vegetables in which you would sear something at a high heat and then add a liquid (beer, wine or chicken stock are all perfect), cover it up and turn down the heat. This creates a sort of seal to keep all those delicious juices in and works perfectly with chicken because it does have a tendency to dry out.

I paired the chicken with sour cream cheddar mashed potatoes, which I’ll admit isn’t exactly the healthiest way to eat your mashed potatoes — but it certainly hits that home cookin’ craving every time. And you can easily switch the chicken out for pork chops or steaks, just change the cooking times appropriately.

* boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one-half to one breast per person, depending on the size)
* some olive oil
* salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes if you got ’em
* chopped onion and green peppers, as much of each as you like
* a little bit of chicken stock, three or four splashes
* potatoes, chopped into half-inch pieces
* shredded cheese
* sour cream

1. Put the chopped potatoes into a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover them and turn the heat up to high.
2. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and give it a minute to heat up while you salt and pepper both sides of the chicken.
3. If you have crushed red pepper flakes, add just a shake or two to the oil, and then add the chicken.
4. Give it about six minutes, then flip the chicken over. This is the braising part of the meal — add the beer, peppers and onions, put a lid on it, and turn the heat down to medium. The chicken, onions, and peppers are going to absorb the beer and of course the alcohol evaporates but the flavor remains. The lid will also keep the heat in so the chicken cooks all the way through. You definitely do not want your chicken rare like you may want your beef.
5. The chicken should take another six or seven minutes. I have not figured a way to tell if chicken is cooked all the way through yet, except for cutting into the middle of it and checking for myself. There are instant thermometers, but really, do any of us have one of those lying around?
6. By this time, the potatoes should be done. Drain them and add a small handful of shredded cheese, salt, pepper, and a little bit of sour cream before you smash them up. You can skip the cheese and sour cream and just add a couple tablespoons of butter and a splash of milk for perfectly smooth and perfectly yummy potatoes.
7. And you’re done! Stay tuned for more on braising; it’s really great for cuts of beef and vegetables in the wintertime and I certainly won’t miss out on sharing it.

Look out for some great tailgating ideas next week in honor of the upcoming football season!


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