How Will I Know if My Braise Is Ready?

In this column, Ask Kenji, the cookbook author Kenji López-Alt answers your questions. This week, he tackles tough questions about yielding tender meat.

Q. I struggle to make good, fall-apart-tender stewed or braised beef. No matter how well I follow the recipe, it ends up tough. So how can you tell when your beef is properly cooked? — Olivia Erliksson, Sweden

A. Olivia, you’re not alone.

Early in my cooking career, with only a few months of restaurant experience under my belt, I thought I’d impress my mother by braising short ribs for Christmas dinner. I’d seen other cooks do it, so I knew the basic process. I spent a day roasting veal bones and mirepoix, reducing wine, and slowly simmering to make a deliciously intense stock as the base. I then seared my short ribs until nicely browned, covered them with the stock and placed them in the oven to braise all day. I, like many cooks, figured there was no such thing as overdoing a braise. If a couple hours of gentle simmering renders them soft and succulent, then surely a day spent in the oven would tenderize them even further.

What emerged from the oven that evening certainly smelled wonderful, and dipping the tip of my spoon into the glossy stock revealed a rich liquid packed with intense flavor and lip-sticking texture. The meat, on the other hand, was cooked to a dry, chalky paste despite being soaked in liquid. (Think: wet cardboard.)

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