Braising brings life, tenderness and delicious flavors to less expensive cuts of beef. While braising, at its heart, only requires a liquid -- even water will do -- a braising liquid is an excellent way to bring new flavors to the party. You can use a number of different flavorful liquids in your braise, but some braising liquids are classics and pair particularly well with beef.
Steaks to Braise
Not all steaks should be braised -- expensive cuts like porterhouse, New York strip, filet mignon and hanger steak do not benefit at all from this method and cooking them in this manner would likely ruin the flavors and textures you pay such a premium for in these cuts. That being said, for inexpensive cuts with tough connective tissue or less marbling, braising can add flavor and tenderize an otherwise tough or less-flavorful steak cut. Steaks that work particularly well for braising include cuts from the chuck, round and sirloin tip.
Red wine is probably the No.1, go-to, base for braising beef in French cookery -- and for good reason. Red wine contributes ripe fruit, brightness, acidity and tannin that all stand up to and complement the rich, nutty, buttery flavors of beef. Red wine also plays especially well with a host of fresh, beef-friendly herbs -- including thyme, rosemary, lavender and savory -- and with beef-friendly vegetables from the allium family -- including garlic, shallots and onions.
Beer features prominently in braises in Belgian cookery -- especially in one of the country’s most notable and famous dishes: carbonade flamande. While this dish is often made as a stew, it can also be made as a steak braise. The typical mixture for carbonade flamande includes beef stock, aromatic vegetables and herbs, beer -- typically a Belgian ale -- and brown sugar. Brown sugar -- or other sugars and syrups like molasses, honey, demerara sugar and maple syrup -- is a common addition to beer braises because it helps offset the bitterness of the beer. Carrots, onions and sweet wines, like Madeira, sherry and port can also help offset bitterness. When braising with a beer, try to avoid beers that are aggressively flavored or have a high degree of bitterness. The strong flavors of these beers will typically overwhelm your dish unless used in small quantities.
Bringing its own strongly beefy flavor, beef stock is a natural braising liquid for beef steaks. While it will not add all that many new flavors to the dish on its own, what it will do is amp up the beefy taste of a braised dish. While beef stock is a common ingredient in beef braises, it typically does not stand alone.
Many braises use more than one liquid. With wine and beer-based braises, beef stock is also typically added to the mix. In Spanish cooking, citrus juices and fortified wines, like sherry and port, are often added to a red wine beef braise. In German cookery, it's typical to use a combination of red or white wine, along with apple cider or wine vinegar. In the end, there is no single "ideal" braising liquid for steaks. It mostly comes down to balancing flavors and your own tastes and preferences.