Braising combines two cooking techniques. First the meat is sautéed in a little fat to develop its color and flavor, then it is slowly cooked in a small amount of liquid -- just enough to keep it succulent and to later serve as the base for a pan sauce -- in a covered pan, either on top of the stove or in the oven.
Stewing is almost the same as braising, except that the meat may not always be browned first and much more cooking liquid is used. Stew meat is usually cut into smaller pieces than meat for braising.
Although the cooking time is long compared to rapid methods like stir-fries or sautés, braising and stewing make few demands on the cook other than to check the heat occasionally to regulate the temperature or to see if the cooking liquid needs replenishing. In fact, both braises and stews are ideal company fare because they keep well and actually improve in flavor by sitting. To serve, simply reheat.
Another attraction is that braises may be almost complete meals. Most have vegetables cooked along with the meat. All that is needed are accompaniments like noodles, rice, or potatoes to soak up the sauce. A braise also can be a wonderful low-fat choice, as the chicken can be skinned without the risk of it drying out in cooking. To skin chicken prior to braising, see our technique on skinning and boning chicken.
When browning chicken (the first step in braising), don’t crowd the pieces or they won’t develop good color; see our technique on sautéing chicken for more information on proper sautéing technique. Use a heavy pan with a lid. You can brown the chicken in one pan and then simmer it in another, but you will lose all the delicious bits that stick to the bottom of the pan and add so much flavor to any sauce. For braises and stews that finish cooking in the oven, be sure that the pan is safe for both stovetop and oven use. A Dutch oven or other heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid holds in the juices best.
Add oil to the pan and brown the chicken breast halves or other chicken pieces over medium heat. Using tongs, turn the pieces and brown them on the other side. Remove from the pan.
Adding Liquid to the Pan
After any other ingredients have been briefly sautéed, return the chicken to the pan and pour in the cooking liquid so that it is evenly distributed around the food.
Simmering the Ingredients
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Sometimes the final simmering is done in the oven. If so, use a pan with heatproof handles and lid. Or, wrap the lid and handles with heavy-duty foil