There is some confusion as to what, exactly, braising involves. In his Oxford Dictionary Of Food, Alan Davidson says that it basically involves cooking meat, fish or vegetables in a small amount of liquid in a sealed pot. A stew or casserole, on the other hand, requires considerably more liquid and the pot is not necessarily covered. That said, for some reason many braising recipes do not call for the pot to be covered, which, to be frank, is not really braising at all.
Braising is traditionally used for leaner and hence more delicately flavoured meats, such as veal and chicken, where the steamy cooking environment provides much-needed moisture. Fish benefit from the treatment, too. The liquid used can be just about anything, from stock to water, vegetable juice to cream. But whatever you use, the natural moisture content of the food being braised will determine the amount of liquid you use. Obviously, then, drier foods require more liquid.
As with all methods of cooking meat and fish, the most important thing of all is to ensure that the end result is not a dried-out lump of protein. Many contemporary recipes advocate cooking temperatures that are way too high, and far too long to boot.
All recipes serve six.
Rognonnade of veal
A rognonnade is a piece of meat rolled around its kidney, and makes for a wonderfully impressive dish. To make your life easier, you will need the help of a friendly butcher - not only will you have to order the kidney and loin from him, but he'll need to prepare them, too.
1 loin of veal, boned and flattened slightly, the bones and trimmings chopped and reserved 1 veal kidney, kept whole 100g unsalted butter 2 carrots, peeled and sliced lengthways into four 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced 2 cloves garlic, peeled 4 tomatoes, quartered 1 bouqet garni comprising thyme, sage, rosemary and parsley 6 juniper berries 2 fresh bayleaves Salt and pepper
Many recipes involving veal kidneys call for ones that are completely enveloped in fat, but these days they're usually only partially covered. If you cook a kidney that is not completely protected by a coat of fat, it will cook unevenly. To get round this, remove and roughly chop all of the fat, place in a pan just big enough to fit the kidney in, then add the kidney and water to cover. (You could also add a bayleaf, a few juniper berries and some peppercorns.) Lightly salt the water, then heat it to 60C, either in the oven or on the stove, and keep at that temperature for 40 minutes, then set aside to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 100C. Flatten out the boned loin, skin side down, and season generously. Place the kidney on the loin, then roll up the loin so that it completely envelops the kidney, making sure that there is an overlap. Then, using string, tie it into as tight a sausage as possible.
Place the rolled loin in a lidded casserole, rub some butter over the meat, then scatter around any trimmings and bones. Place over a high heat and cook, turning regularly, until lightly browned all over and the trimmings are nicely browned, too.
Remove the loin and set aside. Add the rest of the aromatics and cook for five to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly coloured. Place the meat back in the pan, on top of the bones and trimmings, and add 200ml cold water. Cover, and place in the pre-heated oven. Cook for one-and-a-half to two hours. If you have a probe or thermometer, the internal temperature of the meat when cooked is 60C. Once done, remove the meat from the pan and leave to rest for 45 minutes. In the meantime, place the pot over a medium flame and gently simmer for 25 minutes, skimming off the fat. Strain the sauce - if it is still a little thin, reduce again until it is the desired consistency. To serve, remove the string from the loin and carve. Bring to the table with the sauce on the side.
Chicken with vinegar
It may seem a little strange not to deseed the tomatoes, but the centre of the tomato has the best, meatiest flavour.
100g unsalted butter 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, puréed 1 free-range chicken, cut into eight Salt and pepper 1 tbsp plain flour 6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped 250ml tarragon vinegar 1 bouquet garni comprising celery, parsley and thyme 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped fine
In a casserole over medium heat, melt half the butter. Add the onion and garlic, and sweat for 10 minutes. Season the chicken and coat in the flour. Remove the onion and garlic from the pan, add the remaining butter and, when foaming, add the chicken, brushing off any excess flour first. Once lightly browned, return the onion and garlic to the pan, cook for a few minutes more, then add the tomatoes.
After a few minutes, pour in the vinegar - as it boils, scrape the base of the pan with a wooden spatula to dislodge any bits sticking to the surface. Reduce by two-thirds, add the bouquet garni, turn down the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pan. Cook for around half an hour, transferring the breast pieces to a warm place after 10 minutes, as they will become dry and overcooked otherwise.
After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and return the breast to the pan. Cover again, and leave to sit for 20 minutes before serving. To serve, transfer the chicken pieces to a warmed serving dish, then finish off the sauce. If necessary, reduce until thick and slightly syrupy. Whisk in a big knob of butter, then pour over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and season generously.
1.2kg small turnips, peeled Salt and pepper 20g sugar 100g unsalted butter Up to 150ml intense chicken stock 1 bunch parsley, chopped
Mix the turnips with the salt, pepper and sugar. Heat the butter in a casserole until foaming, then add the turnips and brown evenly. With the pan still over a high heat, ladle in some stock (say, about 100ml), bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, checking that the turnips do not stick to the base of the pan (add more stock if they do). Sprinkle with parsley and serve
Heston Blumenthal is chef/proprietor of The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire (www.thefatduck.co.uk).