Over the seasons, our appetites also change. We are looking for comfort food that is slow cooked and full of flavor. It’s the season of one-pot wonders, and I say bring it on. There are a variety of methods one can rely on when it comes to slow cooking, and as a wise cook might say in soliloquy – braise or simmer, that is the question. But what exactly is the difference between braising and simmering?
Chief Brian McDermott (chefbrianmcdermott.com) is an award winning chef from Co Donegal. He was named Ulster’s Local Food Hero at this year’s Irish Restaurant Awards and he is also the chef-owner of the recently restored Foyle Hotel (foylehotel.fr) to Moville – which Georgina Campbell named Newcomer of the Year 2019 – on the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula. In addition to collecting accolades, McDermott is a sincere and passionate advocate of good local cuisine and his approach to cooking is inspired by his mom in Donegal.
“The main difference between braising and simmering,” he explains, “is the cut of meat. Braising is intended for cheaper and larger cuts of meat, such as beef cheeks. The stew would use smaller cuts of meat that are uniform in size and it is essential for the stew that the meat is fully submerged in the liquid. Both processes involve the lid being on the jar, which is also very important. The stew would normally take place on the stovetop and the braising would usually transfer to the oven. In case you were wondering, pot roasting is another name for braising, he explains.
McDermott grew up in a family of 12 in Burt, County Donegal, and to this day simmering and braising has brought him back to his mother’s table. “It’s the kind of cooking that I love,” he says. “It’s slow and low. It is a foolproof cuisine but it takes patience. I love the warm, warm smell it brings to your kitchen. It brings me back to my mom cooking for the 14 of us. We grew up on braising and stews.
McDermott believes his mother relied on stews and embers because, on the one hand, she only had a four-plate pan and had to feed a large family with it. Stewing and braising were effective for her, and cuts of meat were often inexpensive. All of McDermott’s 11 siblings are now over 6 feet tall, he says, so the stews certainly didn’t hurt.
McDermott’s best braising and simmering tip is to always brown meat sufficiently first. “If you can develop the caramelized, brown, and lightly burnt appearance of your meat at first, it will add a deeper flavor during the long, slow cooking process,” he explains. “It also seals the meat, which prevents juices from escaping.”
Stew and braising recipes can be found in Brian McDermott’s latest cookbook. Donegal Table, € 14.99, O’Brien Press