Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


braise and re-braise
January 19, 2009 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Can I keep re-using the same cooking liquid over and over forever and ever amen?

Say I braise myself a tasty piece of beef. Yum! I have some savory liquid left over that I de-fat and then freeze. a week later, I take out this liquid, bring it to a boil, cut it down to a bare simmer, insert another slab of beef, braise, eat (yum), de-fat, and refreeze. I do this week after week, infinitely, until the world runs out of beef or I die of cholesterol induced heart failure (more likely).

I have heard of a Chinese cooking method similar to this called red cooking. Does this practice of saving the braising liquid for frequent re-use over an extended period of time set off any alarms with anybody cuz all I am hearing is a distinctly tasty dinner bell.
posted by Foam Pants to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't see a problem with it. I usually reduce the braising liquid and make a sauce with it, but I often end up with leftover sauce that gets chucked in the freezer for use another day.
posted by foodgeek at 10:23 PM on January 19, 2009


Between the freezing and the boiling I'm not seeing any real opportunity for bacterial contamination. Braise on!
posted by aubilenon at 10:26 PM on January 19, 2009


I haven't tried this technique, but I would be concerned that the liquid would go rancid. Would be happy to learn otherwise, though.
posted by zippy at 10:28 PM on January 19, 2009


If you're promptly freezing the liquid, it shouldn't be a food safety problem since you're essentially sterilizing it every time you boil it. The liquid would thicken each time you used it, as it would be constantly dissolving gelatin, sugars, and other random components from the meat. Even if you replaced the evaporated water each time, it would eventually turn into a thick syrup that wouldn't be good for braising meat, it might stick to the pan and scorch or impart an off flavor. I'd suggest reusing the liquid a few times, then turning it into a rich stew.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:29 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


The time between when you start heating up the liquid from freezing till the liquid reaches a simmer places the liquid is the time when bacteria can grow in your liquid. Now, you'll probably get away with this for a long while, but those times accumulate. The standard is not to let any food that can grow nasty buggers stay within the "danger zone" of 40F to 140F for more than two hours. Eventually, you'll run past that limit and the risk of getting something nasty (or just being poisoned by bacteria produced toxins) increases and increases. How far you push that is up to you. I wouldn't push it, but I value the integrity of my stomach more than tasty tasty super-beefy stock.
posted by saeculorum at 10:30 PM on January 19, 2009


I think if you're clean about storage and re-boiling, it's okay. A lot of restaurant kitchens do this with stock, replenishing a constantly-simmering pot with vegetables and meat and water from time to time , rarely starting over. And you're right, the lu for red cooking is a living thing, reused over and over, getting deeper in flavor over time (according to Molly Stevens, anyway...I have a prized lu from her recipe that I pull out once in a while, and it's wonderful).

But you should be aware that it eventually braising liquid will turn muddy, especially if you mix flavors once too often. Keep the flavor profiles of the things you braise either simple or similar - one go-round with a strong ingredient like broccoli or turnips or fish will "pollute" the stock and make it hard to use for anything else - and throw it away when it stops tasting good.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:32 PM on January 19, 2009


Here's what I'm talking about - it's not a question of contamination, but one of the oil breaking down due to repeated heat: Go Ask Alice (columbia.edu): Is reusing cooking oil safe?

"Each time the oil is re-used, the smoke point becomes lowered. This is due to:

* foreign matter in the oil (such as batter)
* salt
* the temperature to which the oil was heated
[...]
Combining different types of oils also lowers the smoke point."

The page goes on to explain how to reuse oil without these problems:

" * Strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth to catch any food particles...
* Shake off excess batter from food before frying it.
* Use a good thermometer to fry foods at 190°C
[...]
* Avoid iron or copper pots or pans for frying oil that is to be reused. These metals also accelerate rancidity. "
posted by zippy at 10:34 PM on January 19, 2009


I think the simmering would kill off the small amount of bacterial growth that occurs while the liquid is going through the hospitable temperature. OTOH, I also think that after a while the liquid will accumulate bits of burned meat or random off-smells and you'd do well to make gravy out of it and start over.
posted by hattifattener at 10:36 PM on January 19, 2009



The time between when you start heating up the liquid from freezing till the liquid reaches a simmer places the liquid is the time when bacteria can grow in your liquid. Now, you'll probably get away with this for a long while, but those times accumulate.


This isn't true when you're boiling it, because you're killing the bacteria every boil. If you were just thawing and refreezing something, then the bacterial growth would accumulate.

After thinking about it a bit more, I think your braising liquid would taste less and less like beef every time you used it. The heat breaks flavor compounds down into simpler stuff, that's why it turkey stock starts to smell a little like caramel or butterscotch if you simmer it for too long. Eventually it'll develop a different flavor that might not be altogether pleasant to eat. You can skim the fat each time to try to prevent it from going rancid as zippy says, but you'll never get it all and it'll be a problem in the long run.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:37 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be more clear, the issue isn't with cooking food for a long time. Provided your cooking medium is clearly past 140F, there's no chance of bacterial growth. This is how restaurants can get away with simmering pots all day long. It's the time when the liquid is neither freezing nor simmering that promotes bacterial growth.

I'm about to go to bed, but I have to disagree with TungstenChef here. The fact that you're sterilizing the liquid does not imply food safety. If it did, why do we bother keeping foods cold at all? There are two vehicles for food poisoning - bacterial infection and toxins. The former is (mostly) eliminated with proper heating. The latter, however, isn't. Bacteria produce all sorts of nasty things that mostly turn your food bitter but occasionally hurt you (think botulism toxin). These are not eliminated by heat. All the time bacteria grow, the level of toxin in your food will increase. I'm not going to make any guess as to how long you can get away with that, since if you keep your cookware very clean, there shouldn't be much bacterial growth to start. However, as I previously said, you will get bit eventually.
posted by saeculorum at 10:38 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some of those proteins are going to get real skanky after awhile...I can't imagine it's going to taste the same after a couple of months of putrification. Since the body can't use putrified protein (or rancid fat, or fermented carbohydrates), it's likely you'll end up with more gas, indigestion and heartburn. Good luck though!
posted by aquafortis at 10:39 PM on January 19, 2009


In other words, bacteria is going to be the least of your worries.
posted by aquafortis at 10:39 PM on January 19, 2009


I don't mean to be an ass, but I really want to make sure you don't believe what TungstenChef is arguing. Bacterial food poisoning is very real. Refer to the chart at the bottom and specifically Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum, and Bacillus cereus.

(I don't like people to be poisoned when they don't have to be.)
posted by saeculorum at 10:41 PM on January 19, 2009


I'm about to go to bed, but I have to disagree with TungstenChef here. The fact that you're sterilizing the liquid does not imply food safety. If it did, why do we bother keeping foods cold at all?

Food safety is a large and complex issue, you're lumping a lot of things together here. We keep food cold because it gets reinfected with new bacteria after we cook it. Conversely, we don't refrigerate canned food because it's steralized by cooking, and sealed to prevent new bacteria from contaminating it.

There are two vehicles for food poisoning - bacterial infection and toxins. The former is (mostly) eliminated with proper heating. The latter, however, isn't.

Well, you're right in some cases and wrong in others. Bacterial toxins aren't a monolithic group, some can survive heating but most of them are destroyed. Since most bacteria and toxins are destroyed by boiling, it isn't all that likely that the broth would be infected over and over again with bacteria that produce heat stable toxins. Also, the water in the stock will quickly be taken up by dissolved gelatin, salts, and sugars. Rich stock will keep for much longer because it doesn't have enough water available for bacteria. You can keep stock for a month in you fridge by boiling it until it's reduced to 1/4 its volume, and the French have a preservation technique called rilettes where meat is placed in a very rich broth that congeals to gelatin and stored in a crock under a layer of fat.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:50 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


The link saeculorum provides directly contradicts his dire warnings (i.e., "The botulinum toxin is destroyed by boiling the food for 10 minutes."). So if anything I'd worry about the potential flavor changes, which should be obvious enough.
posted by cali at 11:05 PM on January 19, 2009


I don't mean to be an ass, but I really want to make sure you don't believe what TungstenChef is arguing. Bacterial food poisoning is very real. Refer to the chart at the bottom and specifically Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum, and Bacillus cereus.

Yes, I'm well aware of heat stable spores and toxins. That's why multiple lines of defense, boiling, prompt freezing, and the low water activity of thick broth make it extremely unlikely that enough bacteria will be able to grow to produce enough toxins to make a person sick. But, again, I don't recommend using broth over and over because it will start to taste bad long before food safety becomes an issue.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:08 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


more important than your health NOT REALLY, the taste might be adversely affected. Personally I'd reuse it, but not forever and ever amen. Perhaps a dozen times, maybe 13.
posted by dawson at 11:13 PM on January 19, 2009


Just make sure your liquid is out of the "danger zone" as fast as possible and you should be fine. Mark Bittman had a chicken recipe that is like this. You poach an entire chicken, and then shred it and serve it with condiments. You cook rice in the poaching liquid, but any leftover liquid gets frozen and used for the next chicken.
posted by O9scar at 11:31 PM on January 19, 2009


Funny. I never have leftover braising liquid - probably because I like the sauce just as much as the meat, if not more (so, yes, I reduce the liquid and meddle with wine and cream and such). Also if I braise meat, I include some veggies along the side, and that would result in a bitter mix over time, no matter whether you strain the broth or what else.

For me, your experiment would become something of a philosophical matter: trying to find (and to properly understand) the point where it can't get better. I guess this would be after about three or four times of re-braising (reapbraisal). Then there are about three more times that we fool ourselves that it is getting even better, and then comes the day when one says, nope, not any more. I find it always funny how a little change can turn previous utter taste-bliss into present nah.

If your kitchen hygiene is anything like normal, and you actually freeze the stuff in between, I don't think you'd even be near dangerous at that point. But nothing is wrong with a healthy dose of medieval fear, of course. I mean, one can't see the toxins, so much is true.
posted by Namlit at 12:28 AM on January 20, 2009


Some people reuse cooking liquid many, many times.
posted by caddis at 3:52 AM on January 20, 2009


Yes, I am equally reminded of a recipe from Wolfert's book. In French cooking this can be called "La mere" - a mother sauce, if you will, from which all lesser sauces are born. Of course I'm sure it helps if you poach whole foie in it...
posted by mek at 4:56 AM on January 20, 2009


Freezing and then bringing it to a boil will break down the flavor like mentioned above. However one thing I didn't see is that a friend in nursing school told me that freezing does not completely kill all bacteria. Also freezing fats (face it there will be some left in there) will start to take on funky flavors from everything else in the freezer. Your best bet is to just make new liquid. It's not hard. Get onion, garlic, Worstisure (ya I can't spell that) sauce, and water. Add beef roast, throw in a few potatoes for good measure, cook, tada! Instant tasty sauce that you can turn into a gravy. In fact I got all those at home. Maybe tomorrow I'll crockpot a roast on low all day.... you can't get melt in your mouth goodness like that anywhere else.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:03 AM on January 20, 2009


It's true that some bacterial toxins are not destroyed by heating. However, that does not mean that 24 cycles of being in the "danger zone" for 15 minutes each, with boiling in between, is just as dangerous as 6 continuous hours in the danger zone followed by boiling. The key is that bacteria can grow exponentially (and I use that word in the mathematical sense) over those six hours, resulting in lots and lots of bacteria producing lots and lots of toxin. 24x(15 minutes in danger zone + boiling) kills the bacteria after each cycle, so you never build up huge amounts of bacteria producing huge amounts of toxin. The toxin could still accumulate, but it would do so only linearly, not exponentially.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:04 AM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm from a Scottish background and have heard tales from my parents of the cooking pans that never get washed, the grease stays in there and just gets re-used over and over. Want some fried potatoes? You're going to get some sausage, bacon, etc along with that.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2009


My understanding is that low temperatures _greatly slow_ processes, but do not halt them immutably in time. Thus, I would be hesitant to suggest that you do this for a very long time. It seems likely that you can get away with it for a while, but I have no idea how long that is.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2009


I've been doing this for about 9 years with a continuously going braise base, with no ill effects. Each time, I split out half for a sauce, boil the other half down to almost a glace, and freeze it for next time (mixing it with fresh wine). It tastes the opposite of bad.
posted by Caviar at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2009


I have successfully completed the first re-braise. Despite the fact that the meat was of terrible quality, it tasted incredible. I started the liquid the week before with caramelized onion, some celery, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, Cote de rhone, and chicken stock. I browned and braised. It was good. The second time around, the veggie flavor of the liquid has mellowed and the beefy flavor has been upped considerably. Fortified with more wine, it was amazing. My plan is almost exactly what Caviar describes. So far.... success.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:03 AM on January 20, 2009


If I may suggest, you probably want to refresh the braise liquid with fresh mirepoix from time to time - chopped/diced carrots, onion, and celery. If you stick to using the mushrooms in the sauce and not the primary braising liquid, it should be more versatile, ie. prevent everything from having a strong earthy mushroom flavor.
posted by junesix at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2009


I always start the braise (after browning) with the meat and a handful of fresh herbs, then add carrots, onions, garlic, and sometimes parsnips or potatoes an hour in, to cook with the rest of the meat.

Is that different from what you mean by 'refresh the braise liquid with fresh mirepoix'?

I also go back and forth between different kinds of meat - mostly short ribs and lamb shanks. This gives the braising stock a really round, meaty flavor.
posted by Caviar at 6:41 PM on January 22, 2009


« Older NewMediaArtProjectFilter: Help...   |  Does hair color affect propens... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.