Braising is a “combination” cooking method because it combines sauteing (to brown
a food) and simmering (to finish cooking it to tenderness.) Not surprisingly however,
in leek recipes braising doesn’t have the standard meaning. Instead, the term refers
to a number of processes. While they are all two-step combination methods, the only
other common theme seems to be "simmering in liquid, usually a tasty one."
Following is a steam/bake method you may see in recipes, followed by some variations
you might also come across.
Braised, En Papillote
Braising (a Combination Method)
Step 1: Steam Precook leeks by steaming for just 2-3 minutes, just until they
turn a vivid green. (Don’t worry if they don’t get fully cooked; they will be baked
in Step 2.) Contrast this first step to standard braising procedure where a food
is fully browned. Obviously, things must be scaled back for leeks since they don't
take well to the high heat required for browning.
Step 2: Bake Finish cooking leeks by baking. Remove lightly steamed leeks to a
casserole dish large enough to hold them in a single layer, being sure to press out
excess water to avoid diluting the simmering liquid. Now, continue with the low-heat
baking procedure detailed in the previous section. (Note that Steps 1 and 2 together
accomplish the goals of the Patience Principle: low, slow and moist.)
Step 3: Once braised, leeks can be eaten as is, or gussied up with any of the Quick
Finishing Touches, including a gratin topping as shown below. In this connection,
don’t forget about the simmering liquid. It is full of flavor and can be reduced
for use in a separate sauce or as a sauce itself with just a little added lemon,
butter, wine or grainy mustard for quick flavor.
In some recipes, the steam/bake combination is replaced by a sweat/simmer combo.
In Step 1, the leeks are precooked by sweating in a saute pan for just 5-10 minutes,
the point being to simply flavor them with the oil rather than to completely soften
and sweeten them.
Softening and sweetening are then accomplished by simmering, on the stovetop rather
than in the oven. Unlike the usual simmering (described in an earlier section) when
done as Step 2 in the braising process, the leeks are simmered over low hear for
as long 10 to 20 minutes, until the leeks are tender and almost silky tasting. Stick
a fork in the thickest part of a piece to test for doneness–and taste a piece to
be certain the leeks are sweet and irresistible–but don’t let them go all the way
Different simmering liquids are another braising variation you may see in recipes.
Broth is commonly used because it adds a lot of flavor without a lot of calories.
However, depending upon the finished dish, cream, milk, melted butter, oil, wine,
juice or even just water can be used, or some combination thereof.
Cooking Leeks en Papillote (easy elegance)
Cooking “en papillote” is a fancy name for cooking foods in paper, in this case,
parchment paper. You’ll be amazed at the way a simple sheet of paper is almost a
foolproof route to moist, tender and flavorful food.