Braising and Stewing Chicken

Braising and stewing are very similar methods of cooking. They both use the same process of searing to enhance color and flavor, and slow cooking in liquid to produce tender, moist meat. Once the meat is browned, it is cooked in a covered pan, either on top of the stove or in the oven. It is best to use the same pan that was used to sear the meat so you get all the benefit of the flavored pieces in the bottom of the pan when making a sauce. Select a heavy sauté or frying pan that is both suitable for the stove top and the oven. The pan should also have a fairly tight fitting lid to prevent moisture from escaping.

To begin braising or stewing, be sure the chicken has been thoroughly dried off with a paper towel to ensure even browning. Heat enough oil, or an oil and butter mixture, to sufficiently cover the bottom of a heavy pan, and then place the pieces of chicken in the hot oil. To ensure even browning, do not overcrowd the pieces. Cook over a medium high heat until pieces are nicely browned on all sides. Once browned, remove pieces from the pan using tongs and then quickly sear any other desired ingredients in that same pan. Replace the chicken pieces in the pan and add the required liquid and flavorings. Heat until the liquid is boiling, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking until chicken is done. To prevent the meat from becoming dry and stringy, keep the liquid at a simmer through the remaining cooking time and do not allow it to boil. The covered pan can also be placed in a low temperature oven to finish cooking, rather than on top of the stove.

The meat should be checked occasionally throughout cooking to see if liquids need replenishing. When done, the chicken and all other ingredients should be removed from the pan, so the sauce can be made. After braising, the pan drippings can be thickened with a paste mixture of butter and flour, or a mixture of cornstarch and water to make a sauce. The sauce is then served with the chicken. When stewing, thickening of the liquid may or may not be required, depending on the recipe. The liquid, chicken and other ingredients are served as one dish.

Braising and stewing are almost identical methods except stewing involves the use of more liquid and the ingredients, including the meat, are cut into more bite size pieces. Sometimes the chicken is not seared before stewing, but most often it is.

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