December 5, 2021

How to Braise Vegetables. No Recipe Needed.

Learn the concepts you need to braise vegetables, even if you don’t have a recipe!

Oxford Languages defines braising as “frying (food) lightly and then stewing it slowly in a closed container.” So there’s your recipe!

And my work here is done. ✅ 😉

Braising gives you deep flavor and fork-tenderness. It’s one of my favorite cooking techniques. Plus, it’s an easy one to freestyle in the kitchen. No recipe needed!

But here’s what I always forget: braising is not just for meat. You can braise vegetables too!

The beautiful thing is they take less time, and they’re just as versatile.

Conveniently, the steps for braising vegetables are the same as meat:

  1. Sear the vegetable in a heavy pot or pan to develop browning—browning is what will give the braise a depth of flavor.
  2. Remove the vegetables—so they don’t burn and/or overcook during step 3.
  3. Saute aromatics like onion, garlic, ginger, chiles, etc. and add any hardy herbs or whole spices—these flavors will seep into the vegetables as they cook.
  4. Add your browned vegetables back in!
  5. Pour in a liquid until it goes up to about ⅓ of the height of the vegetables—You want enough liquid to keep the environment wet, but you don’t want to add too much. Otherwise, it dilutes the flavors or turns into a soup.
  6. Cover the pot and simmer on the stovetop or in the oven until the vegetables reach your desired doneness.

What kind of vegetables can you braise? Green beans, swiss chard, carrots, cabbage, artichokes, butternut squash, and the list goes on. The world is your oyster. 🦪

Just keep a few things in mind.

How Thick Is Your Vegetable?

Braising actually works great for both thick and thin vegetables. You can braise asparagus or big chunks of parsnips.

The main difference is how long they cook once the lid goes on. ⏲

But that’s not all.

Thinner vegetables don’t absorb as much flavor from the liquid. They won’t have enough time. So braising thin veggies is a way to make them tender while developing a delicious sauce in the braising liquid. They’re a great quick side!

Just remember to use bold, flavorful ingredients like miso, tomato paste, homemade stock, fresh spices, etc. Everything won’t have as much time to develop flavor in the pan.

On the other hand, braising thicker veggies does take longer. But (1) they’ll absorb more of the flavor from the liquid and aromatics you’re cooking them in, and (2) it’s easier to brown those big chunks!

Speaking of that...

Do You Have to Brown Veggies When Braising?

Nope! Think about braised collard greens or kale. You don’t sear those before cooking them for a long time. (Well you actually could sear them. Charred kale is a delicious thing after all.)

But typically it’s a good idea to brown the vegetables when braising because browning develops flavor! 😋

Tips for browning vegetables are the same for meat:

  • Sear them in a hot pan with a high smoke point oil. You don’t want your fat to burn.
  • Brown in batches if need be. Overcrowding increases the amount of steam that builds up. And that’s bad for browning. Keep everything in a single layer as much as possible. #BewareOfSteam
  • Resist the urge to stir! Leave it be once it hits the pan. Food cools down as it moves around. And we want it hot (🔥) to develop browning.

And remember, it’s important to brown your vegetables first and then remove them from the pan before you cook any aromatics (onions, garlic, ginger, etc.). This prevents the vegetables from overcooking and makes it easier to cook the aromatics.

Choosing a Braising Liquid

You can braise vegetables in anything that’s wet! Just know that the liquid obviously brings its own flavors to the dish:

  • Stock: You get more umami and savoriness. Remember you’ll really taste the stock! So use a good one.
  • Wine: Great for fruitiness and a touch of acidity. But keep this in mind: It takes things longer to cook in an acidic environment.
  • Cider: Fruity, crisp, tangy! Sounds like a great pairing for root vegetables, right?
  • Water: You might think using water is pretty bland. And it can be! But if you build a flavorful base of aromatics—including herbs and spices—using water keeps everything clean and bright. I do it all the time.

The Braising Cycle

Once the vegetables are browned and the aromatics are cooked, add the liquid. Then cover with a lid. Turn the heat down to low or throw the pot in a 325°F (160°C) oven. We want a gentle heat to slowly cook the vegetables.

This gentle cooking method creates a cycle where the vegetables—and the aromatics—release their own moisture, which enriches the braising liquid, and is then reabsorbed into the vegetables.

It’s a beautiful cycle! 🔄

How Do You Know They’re Done?

Unlike meat where you need to cook it long enough so the collagen turns jelly-like, braised veggies are done whenever you want them to be done!

You get to choose the final texture you want. Whether that’s melt-in-your-mouth or a little bit of a bite.

And the best way to know they have the texture you want is to grab your fork and check them. Pull at them. Taste them. Do they break apart easily? Do they have too much chew to them? Or are they just right?

Built-in Sauce

Braising veggies means you get a sauce built-in!

But sometimes the veggies are swimming in braising liquid.

Here’s how to handle it. Remove the lid during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking to reduce the braising liquid and create that saucy consistency.

If you’re on the stovetop, you’ll want to turn up the heat to encourage evaporation—just keep this in mind when thinking about the doneness you want.

If you’re braising in the oven, you may need to remove the lid earlier depending on how much liquid you have. Evaporation takes more time in the oven.

What if your veggies are already cooked how you want them? Simply remove the vegetables from the pot, put the pot on a burner, and turn up the heat. The liquid will reduce quickly sans vegetables. And your veggies will stay perfectly done!

Just don't forget to add them back in before serving. 😜

Where I learned this: The Food Lab and braising expert Molly Stevens who wrote All About Braising and this awesome article on braising vegetables.