100 Techniques

Technique #49: Quick-Braise Vegetables for Vibrant Color

This faster take on a notoriously longer cooking method will have you re-thinking your veggie cookery.

Published Sept. 13, 2023.

This is Technique #48 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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The most common cooking methods for vegetables include sautéing, roasting, and steaming—but not braising.

There’s a perception that braising inevitably turns out vegetables that are soft to the point of mushiness and lacking in flavor, but, in fact, braising can turn out perfectly crisp-tender, fresh-tasting vegetables with vibrant colors—if done quickly.

Not All Braises Take Hours

Braising typically involves long, slow cooking where the food is seared first to build flavor (though not always), then partially submerged in liquid, covered, and gently simmered. We often favor the oven for braising, where the even heat and the long, slow cooking time are especially great for tenderizing large or tough cuts of meat. 

Certain very hard vegetables, like beets, are also braised for longer times, as are vegetable dishes that are meant to be stewy, like ratatouille. But with quick-braising, the goal is to infuse the vegetables with bright flavor while retaining a crisp-tender or just barely tender texture.

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Use The Stovetop

Because the strong heat of the oven would turn most vegetables mushy and grayish, we do our quick-braising on the stovetop. And since we want bright, fresh flavor, we don’t brown or caramelize the vegetables first—we skip the sear and put them right into a small amount of cooking liquid in a covered Dutch oven or skillet. This way they cook mostly in their own juices, ensuring they taste most like themselves, with earthy, concentrated sweetness.

This technique works equally well for both delicate spring and summer vegetables like asparagus and zucchini and for sturdier winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

As with other braises, the cooking liquid transforms into the serving sauce, so make sure to create a well-seasoned liquid with plenty of aromatics.

Braise in Batches

When braising an assortment of vegetables at once, we initially tried cutting them into similar-size pieces and adding them to the pot all at once, but they still didn’t cook at the same rate.

Instead, we hit upon the method of adding them in batches, staggering the additions so that none would overcook from lingering in the pot for too long.

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Step By Step: How to Quick Braise Vegetables

If you follow these simple steps, whether you’re braising springtime asparagus or wintery Brussels sprouts, you will finish with crisp tender, vibrant results every time.

Step 1: Cook Your Aromatics

Cook aromatics in oil or butter in Dutch oven or skillet.

Step 2: Add Vegetables and Simmer

Add vegetables along with cooking liquid and other seasonings and bring to simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer vegetables until just tender (test for doneness with paring knife or fork).

Step 3: If Necessary, Add in Batches

If braising a medley of vegetables, add in stages for even cooking.

Step 4: Reduce Liquid, Season, and Serve

If recipe directs, uncover and reduce cooking liquid to thicken slightly. Finish with any final ingredients, herbs, or seasonings.

Watch Cook's Illustrated's Keith Dresser demonstrate how to braise asparagus.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to put your newfound knowledge of quick-braised vegetables to use? Try it with these recipes.


Braised Spring Vegetables

It’s an unlikely scenario—early season vegetables cooked at a low simmer to amplify their fresh flavors—but it works.
Get the Recipe

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tarragon-Mustard Butter

Braising is the preferred way to prepare these "little cabbages," with microwaving a close second.
Get the Recipe

Braised Eggplant with Paprika, Coriander, and Yogurt

For most types of produce, a few basic cooking methods immediately spring to mind. Eggplant? Not so much.
Get the Recipe

Braised Asparagus with Lemon and Chives

This oft-overlooked technique results in silky, sweet-nutty spears.
Get the Recipe

Braised Zucchini

We’ve all been scarred by slimy zucchini. We think it’s time to heal.
Get the Recipe

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