Braising is the "magic trick" of cookery. It allows the use of low-cost cuts of meat, which have more flavor than the more naturally tender cuts. Properly done, braising venison and other wild game meats produces very tender meat with deep, rich flavors. Braising also requires very little labor and braised meats can be held for long periods of time before serving. Unlike meat cooked by sautéing or frying, braised meats actually improve when held over a period of time. If you are not including braised venison or wild game meat dishes on your menu, you should seriously consider it.
Doing it Right
Braising is generally defined as a cooking method in which the meat is seared in fat and then simmered in stock or another liquid in a covered vessel.
Braising is NOT boiling. Relatively little liquid is used in relation to the volume of meat. A bed of mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots) is used to raise the meat away from the bottom of the pot and introduce additional moisture and flavor. The moist heat causes tough connective tissue to soften.
The meat is usually first seared in hot fat to develop the flavor and color. After placing the mirepoix, seasonings, and liquid in an appropriate covered pan, braising can be done in the oven or over direct heat on the stovetop. Braising in the oven avoids the danger of scorching.
The liquid should only cover about one-third of the meat. As cooking proceeds, the meat should occasionally be turned on the bed of mirepoix to ensure even cooking. Remove the lid during the final stages of cooking to reduce the liquid so the sauce will have the proper consistency and flavor. If a lid cannot be used, consider using more stock and adding mirepoix to the top of the meat to avoid drying out. The meat should still be turned occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Testing For Tenderness
Properly braised meats are fork-tender. The meat will slide easily from a kitchen fork inserted into the thickest part and a chunk can easily be twisted out of the meat. If the meat feels "rubbery" when the fork is twisted, it is not done - keep cooking.
Long, slow braising will tenderize any meat. The only problem we have observed with braising of venison and wild game meats is that the meat may not be allowed to cook long enough. Cooking temperatures and consistency of meats vary so much that it is difficult to offer specific cooking times. Depending on the cooking temperature and cut of meat, braising until fork-tender can require as much as 4 to 5 hours or more. One customer braises our antelope ribs for 12 hours at 250° F.
The main consideration is to allow sufficient time for the meat to cook before it is served. If cooking is completed before serving time, the flavors continue to improve as the meat rests in the pot. The pot can also be allowed to cool and placed in the cooler overnight with the same effect. The meat is then reheated just before serving.
Braising venison and other wild game meats is a wonderful and convenient way to add succulent, flavorful, and inexpensive cuts of game meat to your menu.