Stews & Braises

Photos and story by Julie Van Rosendaal

Low and slow has been the way to go this winter. With more time to make some long-simmered stews and braises. Few cooking techniques are so fundamental, useful and versatile as stewing and braising, which require very little effort, not much in the way of technique, and allows liquid and the heat of the oven or stove-top) to do all the work.

Stews and braises are similar — the difference, essentially, is the amount of liquid you utilize both as a heat conduit and to keep things from drying out during their longer-than-usual cooking time. Tougher cuts of beef, pork and lamb — think shanks, shoulder and ribs — are often the focus of braised dishes; a few hours in the oven gives their connective tissues a chance to break down, making it fork-tender and far more flavourful than most lean, quick-cooking cuts. And, of course beans, vegetables and even fruit can be stewed or braised, requiring far less time; you could even braise chicken, swapping the crisp skin of a traditional roast for extra-moist, juicy meat.

The key to a flavourful sauce is browning your meat first — because the Maillard reaction can’t occur in the presence of liquid (it requires a higher temperature than that of boiling water) meat is ideally browned before any wine, beer or stock is added to generate those dark bits traditionally used as a base for gravy.

Adding your liquid will loosen those bits, but also act as a cooking medium — for braising, the liquid usually goes half to three-quarters of the way up the meat; in stews, it completely covers it. There’s no need to precisely measure; eyeballing it will take care of any fluctuations in the size of your roast or pot. Vegetables require far less time, of course, so if you have multiple elements combined in one dish — like a pot roast you want to cook along with carrots and potatoes — let the meat braise for a couple of hours first before adding vegetables for the last half-hour or so to prevent them from getting too soft.

Julie shares three recipes in this series, find the other two here: Braised Chicken in Milk, Carbonnade Flamande

Braised Lamb Shank

Shanks are best when braised, and are ideal for feeding a group — it requires the same amount of time to braise one shank as to braise ten, so you can put as many as you have people to feed into the oven and forget it for a few hours. Plan for mashed potatoes or polenta to catch all the saucy drips.


  • 4-6 lamb shanks
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • olive or canola oil, for cooking
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed or left whole
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 3 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 sprigs rosemary or thyme
  • 1 bay leaf


  • Preheat the oven to 300°F. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat a drizzle of oil in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat and brown the lamb on all sides, working in batches if you need to so you don’t crowd the pan.
  • Transfer to a plate and sauté the onion, carrots and garlic for a few minutes, until softened.
  • Return the lamb shanks to the pan, add the wine, stock, tomato paste, rosemary and bay leaf — the liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the meat.
  • Cover and braise for 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Skim any excess fat from the surface and if you like, remove the shanks and reduce the cooking liquid on the stove-top until it thickens to your liking — you could even purée it with a hand-held blender if you like.
  • Serve the shanks and sauce with mashed potatoes or polenta to catch the sauce.