A braise is a pot roast’s better half… literally! Here’s everything you need to know about these combination cooking methods.
There comes a time when every home cook wonders about the difference between braising and pot roasting. If that time has come for you, as it probably has since you’re here reading this article, the guide below will help you find the answer.
So let’s waste no more time and get to the meat of it!
Braising and pot roasting are two terms for the same cooking method. We refer to the cooked dish as a braise when the meat is cut into cubes or the poultry is fabricated into pieces—and as a pot roast when the cut of meat is whole or the bird is intact.
Braising and pot roasting are so-called combination cooking methods. While most cooking methods use either dry or moist heat, combination cooking gets the best of both worlds by using both.
First, you sear the meat in hot oil in a Dutch oven or sauté pan to give it browning that brings out its natural aromas and flavors. You then add cooking liquid and switch to moist heat by simmering the meat. When the tough collagen inside turns to melt-in-the-mouth gelatin and the proteins are cooked through, it’s done.
“That may be so,” I hear you thinking, “but this doesn’t answer my next question: should I cut up the meat and braise it, or leave it whole and prepare it as a pot roast?”
A good question.
And the answer boils down to what you want to achieve.
Cubed meat or poultry pieces cook faster than whole pieces or intact birds. They are also easier to cook evenly without overcooking or undercooking certain parts.
And then there’s the issue of flavor development. With a larger surface area to sear, the cubes or pieces develop a richer aroma and flavor. Remember, searing triggers browning, and browning is the result of the Maillard reaction, which imparts your food with hundreds of new aroma and flavor compounds.
I’ve come across fellow food writers who recommend cubing the meat after it’s browned. This is counterproductive; you will miss an opportunity to develop the flavor of the meat if you do this. The correct sequence of steps is to cube or fabricate the meat, then sear it until golden brown, then add the cooking liquid, then lower the heat and let simmer until fork-tender and cooked through.
Whole cuts or birds have a certain presentation character. So if you’re entertaining guests, a nice pot roast on the table is a fantastic way to whet their appetite and create an element of sharing and engagement with the food.
Bigger meats and whole birds also cook slower. This allows the aromas and flavors in the sauce to concentrate and meld together, and the pot roast comes out more fragrant and richly flavored than it would have had you cooked it as a braise.
To sum it up, the difference between a braise and a pot roast is the size of the cuts and the length of cooking.
Braise cubed red meat and poultry parts, and the dish will be ready faster. Cook whole pieces or intact birds as a pot roast, and the dish will have a richer, more sophisticated sauce.