Braising/Stewing Lamb

Braising | Stewing

Braising and stewing involve the slow cooking of meat in a liquid. This technique tenderizes and softens firm or tough cuts and allows for rich and subtle blending of the meat flavors with those of the liquid and seasonings.

The main differences between braising and stewing are:

  • The size of the meat used: braising requires the use of whole, market ready cuts while the stewing process requires that small pieces of meat be used.

  • The quantity of liquid: braising requires that the level of the liquid be halfway up the side of the meat while stewing requires the pieces of meat to be totally immersed in the liquid.

Braising

The technique for braising market ready cuts of lamb is also known as pot roasting. It is the preferred method for cooking tougher cuts of lamb. Dry heat-cooking methods, such as oven roasting, do not allow the internal temperature of the tougher cuts to become high enough to break down the fat and connective tissues. If the meat remains in the oven long enough to break down the tough fibers, then the outer portions of the meat become overcooked, dry, and tough. Braising/pot-roasting is a much more effective means for breaking down the tough fibers than any dry heat cooking method. The internal temperature of the meat reaches a level that is sufficiently high to melt the connective tissues and fat. The moisture in the pan prevents the outer portions of the meat from drying out.


The lamb cuts that benefit the most from braising/pot-roasting are the lamb shanks and the tougher cuts from the shoulder and flank. The leg of lamb is occasionally braised, but it is more often oven roasted. Tender cuts from the loin and rib should always be reserved for dry heat cooking methods.



Braised Lamb

The following steps may be used for braising tougher cuts of lamb:

  1. The pan used for braising should be only slightly larger than the cut of lamb so that only a small quantity of liquid will be required for braising.

  2. Pour a small amount of oil into the heated pan or pot.

  3. Sear the meat on all sides.

  4. After the meat has browned, pour off most of the fat from the pan.

  5. Add liquid to a level of about half way up the meat. Popular choices for braising liquids for lamb dishes include meat stock or broth, water, wine, and fruit juice.

  6. Seasonings are added to the pan according to the recipe. Popular seasonings may include aromatic vegetables, such as onions, carrots, and garlic; fruits, such as dried apricots and prunes; and herbs and spices in seemingly limitless variety.

  7. The lamb can be braised on the stovetop or in the oven. If it is cooked on the stove, the liquid should be brought to a boil and then the heat should be reduced to a simmer before the pan is covered. If the lamb is to be braised in the oven, it should be cooked in a covered ovenproof pan and the oven temperature should be set at 325°F to 350°F. In both cases, the meat is allowed to cook until it is fork tender.

  8. When the lamb is fully cooked, remove it from the pan using a tongs.

  9. The braising liquid and other ingredients can be discarded, served with the lamb as is, or can be strained and reduced into a thick sauce depending on the type of braised lamb recipe that is being prepared.
Lamb cuts that are braised are always cooked until well done because moist heat cooking methods permeate the meat with hot liquid and high temperatures, creating tender and flavorful meat. However, braised lamb dishes can be overcooked in spite of the moist heat cooking method. If the meat is cooked beyond the accepted limits, it will fall apart and begin to lose moisture and tenderness.

Stewing

Lamb stew is a dish that is often prepared with tougher cuts of lamb that have been cut into small pieces. Many of the same cuts that are suitable for braising are ideal as stew meat. Lamb cuts from the shoulder and flank are often used as well as meat from the lamb shanks.

There are many variations of lamb stew including recipes that are basically the same as beef stew except that lamb is used instead of beef. Other types of lamb stew include a variety of dishes native to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and northern Africa that are cooked in a tagine, which is an earthenware pot with a conical lid. Tagine is also the Moroccan word for stew. Some of these recipes include ingredients such as dried prunes, onions, garlic, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, lemon, saffron, cumin, turmeric, and honey. They are often served with couscous or lentils.



Tagine of Lamb
(Lamb Stew)

The following steps may be used to prepare lamb stew:

  1. The lamb meat should trimmed of as much fat as possible and cut into one-inch cubes.

  2. Heat a large pot and add small quantity of oil or a combination of oil and butter.

  3. Add the cubed lamb meat and sear it quickly on high heat.

  4. Add chopped onions, chopped red pepper, garlic, and ginger and continue cooking until barely softened.

  5. Add water or stock to the pot and bring to a boil.

  6. Add dried prunes and seasonings such as saffron, cinnamon, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and honey. Return to a boil.

  7. Reduce the heat and cover the pot. As the ingredients slowly cook, the liquid will become thicker and very flavorful from the combination of the various ingredients. Simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally.

  8. Fat and impurities may be skimmed from the surface periodically during the cooking process to reduce the fat content and to improve the flavor.

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