By Adam Weiner
Says Chef Weiner, using firm-cooked sausage to teach the technique of braising can be accomplished within a short class time and brings the concept home to students.
When you think of braising you think of comfort food. From the wafting of the aroma as it cooks and as the plates are carried to the table to its savory down-home “stick to your ribs” flavor, braising has long been popular with families and customers. Pot roast is perhaps the most famous of all braised dishes. For years, osso buco and coq au vin were the most famous restaurant version of braising. Nowadays short ribs seem to have taken their place.
Chefs love braising. The classic technique produces wonderful food that is not only savory and satisfying, but is quite economical. Braising tends to use lesser-quality cuts of meat, so food costs are lower and it requires little kitchen labor.
In its basic form you season the meat, dredge in flour, shake off excess, sear the meat, deglaze the pan, add in a flavorful liquid covering the meat about half way, add some aromatics, cover tightly and put it in the oven ignoring it for an hour or two, turn over the meat, add more liquid if necessary, cover it again, and return it to the oven. After another hour or two you have a wonderful dish with a flavorful liquid that can be served as is or readily turned into a sauce. Furthermore, if your students know how to braise, then they know how to make a stew. The only key difference is that braises tend to use larger cuts of meat, while stews use smaller.
The question then becomes: How do we teach braising in 50 minutes? For years I tried to teach braising in a limited time period using the 1987 Julia Child video “The Way to Cook Vegetables.” She braises Belgium endive. The results weren’t too successful, and the students—let’s face it—weren’t eager to cook or eat endive.
I struggled with the problem and finally came up with a two-word solution: Polish sausage. Skin-on Polish sausage can be browned and then braised quickly with aromatics, yet won’t fall apart. Of course, kielbasa, garlic sausage, linguisa, andouille or other firm-cooked sausage works, as well. (If possible, you may wish to avoid skinless products; they tend to fall apart more easily.) The advantages to using cooked sausages for teaching braising are:
- Sausages are relatively inexpensive and are easy to portion out.
- Your students aren’t afraid to handle, cook or eat them.
- You are teaching students that either professionally or at home, they don’t have to spend a lot of money on food to make delicious meals.
- Because these sausages are fully cooked, food-safety issues are minimized since raw product might not fully cook in a short class time. (Of course, if you have a block period, you could use chicken drumsticks or uncooked sausages like bratwurst or Italian.)
Finally, the beauty of using something like Polish sausage to teach braising is that you can use them to teach other forms of cooking (steaming, simmering, poaching, broiling, grilling, roasting, sautéing, etc.), which allows your students to compare the different techniques—and the different tastes they yield—all with the same product.
Chef Adam Weiner teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain and the Sequoia Adult School on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Photo Caption: Firm-cooked sausages such as Polish sausage and andouille help teach the technique of braising in a short class period. This andouille gumbo shows application. Photo courtesy of Johnsonville Sausage, LLC.