The History of Braising And An Old-Fashioned Leg of Lamb Recipe
The most well-known braised dish in America is the pot roast, but braised dishes have long been a staple of European families, who often braised mutton and other red meats for family suppers.
“Pot roasting” is actually often used interchangeably with “braising,” although this is sometimes frowned upon in the culinary world. Many pot-roasted dishes don’t add liquid, which can cause confusion.
The cooking term “braising” comes from the French word, “braiser” and refers to a cooking method that uses both moist and dry heats. Typically, it is a method used in roasting meat.
First, the food is first seared at a high temperature. Then the cook will turn down the heat, put a pot lid on and leave the food to simmer in a small amount of liquid such as stock.
Braised meat was first discovered in France, although there is little information I could find about the technique’s origins. It became immensely popular in the 19th century. One of the first regularly-published American cookbooks, The Kitchen Encyclopedia, 12th Edition, published in 1901, describes its origins:
“Braising is a method much used in France, and is a cross between boiling and baking. It is done in a covered pan in the oven. The meat is first browned in a little hot fat and then placed in a pan which is partly filled with stock or water. The pan is covered closely and set in a hot oven. After ten minutes the temperature of the oven is reduced to a very low point, and the meat cooks slowly as the stock in the pan evaporates. This method is the best for inferior pieces which require long, slow cooking. It is an excellent method of cooking veal. Meat which is lacking in flavor can be flavored by adding vegetables or herbs to the stock in the pan.”
Early American cookbooks rely heavily on the revival of flavor of meats and breads, with resourceful, hardworking families determined to make use of what they had and feed family members who often had heavy laborers with high caloric needs in their households.
The 1870 edition of Isabella Mary Beaton’s Meats, How to select, How to Cook, and How to Carve carries an older French Braised Mutton Recipe, which you can make today if you so choose.European households used mostly braised mutton – a cut of lamb meat. If you’re not familiar with it, mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than a year — hopefully at least 3 years of age.
Mutton today (and in early America) was much more common in the Europe than in the United States, and this recipe was likely carried over from Europe. Mutton has an intense bloody-red color and contains a considerable amount of fat. Its flavor is often described as “very strong” and many Americans will say they have to “acquire” the taste before enjoying mutton.
Due to the age of the meat, and our fast-paced modern world, mutton is more scarce and expensive. For this reason, I’m adapting this recipe using boneless leg of lamb, which is much easier to procure. You should try it. I have edited out some of the more archaic language and adapted some of the terms for modern day usage.
Your Paleo friends will be tickled with the results, but if you’re going for Paleo, choose a mutton-aged leg of lamb instead:
Slow Cooked Old-Fashioned Braised Lamb Recipe
- 1 Boneless leg of lamb (recommended: 3 pound lamb roast)
- 4 carrots
- 3 chopped onions
- 1 chopped bunch of fresh herbs (your choice -- chives, cilantro or basil etc.)
- 4 slices of bacon
- 2 cup of stock/broth (vegetable, beef, or bone broth)
- fat trimmings from veal or beef (optional, fattening -- but very authentic!)
Line the braising pan with 2 slices of bacon. Layer the chopped vegetables atop the bacon and then place the leg of lamb on top of the veggie / herb layer. Add another layer of bacon and add fat trimmings.
Turn up to medium-high heat on stovetop until bacon begins to simmer. Reduce heat and pour in 1 1/2 cups of stock. Cover tightly. Cook on medium heat and stir gently across the span of 4 hours.
Keep an eye on liquid levels and liquid levels from the remaining 1/2 cup broth as levels get low.
Remove mutton from heat and serve atop cooked navy beans. Garnish with parsley or onions. The remaining liquid and remaining vegetables should be reduced over heat until the liquid makes a glaze, then poured over the meat and beans as a gravy.
Adapted from the vintage cookbook: Meats, how to select, how to cook, and how to carve by Isabella Mary Beeton, 1870
Looking for a different kind of braised meat recipe? Try: Asian-Braised Short Rib Soft Tacos Recipe.
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My husband loves lamb roast, I can’t wait to try cooking it this way!