I was chatting with my buddy the other day about the beauty of braising. I found myself throwing around the phrases “low and slow” and “falls right off the bone” like any good food blogger would do. But then it hit me. Why the hell do we need to braise or smoke or roast “low and slow”? Years of practice and conversation tells me its true, but that isn’t enough for me these days. So here it is…Learn Something Food Everyday: Low and Slow…
Low and slow cooking is predominantly used for high fat meats that end up juicy and tender as hell. Think about your favorite pulled pork or a plate of delicious short ribs. In both of these cases, the ideal way to prepare the meat is over the course of many hours. It may seem obvious that the goal in these cases is to render the fat which essentially cooks and bastes the meat from the inside out. But here is where it gets interesting. These same meats tend to be high in collagen, which is a tough and fibrous set of proteins making up a large part of the connective tissue. These strands are tightly wrapped around themselves which is exactly why these portions of the meat are so darn chewy. But something fascinating happens at the magic temperature of 140 degrees fahrenheit. Those same chewy “strands” begin to unravel and liquefy providing that “off of the bone” tenderness.
So why the hell can’t we just cook the thing to 140 as quickly as possible and be done with it all? It’s because this “unraveling” process isn’t exactly an immediate reaction. Therefore, the longer that meat stays around 140, the more collagen can liquefy and the more fat can render. Raise the temperature too much, and those same proteins seize up, leaving you with the texture of shoe leather (see: well done filet). I find this detail to really help explain my experiences with short ribs. The first few times I braised these suckers I found myself in a panic. After about 2 hours of low and slow, I could tell the meat was cooked through but the tenderness wasn’t even close to where I thought it would be. The meat still stuck to the bone, and I figured I must have screwed it up. Cutting my losses, I ended up cutting the meat free and still had a pretty tasty result. But what I was cutting away, was in fact the collagen. Now I know, that where I thought I had cooked the meat too long, I actually needed quite a bit more. Another hour in the oven produces the most rich and delicious short ribs, that truly do fall right off of the bone.
So there you have it. It’s low and slow, for a damn good reason! Happy Weekend!