April Book Review: All About Braising


Books are an important part of my life, on almost all subjects – fiction, history, gardening, among many others, including cookbooks. I usually keep one on my nightstand and read it straight through before bedtime, as if it were fiction. I love everything about books, the way the pages smell when they are new, how their spines hold their heft together neatly in my hand.

Molly Stevens’ book, All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking says it is A Treasury of One-Pot Meals, right there on the cover. To call this book a treasury is certainly an understatement. This book is not simply a collection of 150 recipes, it is a wonderful volume filled with meal after meal of cooking treasures.

The book opens with a section titled The Principles of Braising, which is well worth reading. I read this whole section before digging into the recipes, and I’m so glad I did. In it, Stevens acquaints her reader with the best foods fit for braising, the proper pot shapes and sizes, the importance of browning, the role of aromatics, the braising liquid and so much more. After this opening primer, Stevens lays out the sections by subject, such as Vegetables, Seafood, Poultry & Game, Beef, etc. Each recipe therein includes a narrative and detailed instructions that really help to keep the reader grounded in the process at all times. Many of the recipes offer a suggested wine pairing as well, thanks to Tim Gaiser, which were very welcome as I tend to be a little wine-naïve.

Braising is an activity that takes some preparation as the cooking times are long, and some of the recipes have marinades that require a day or so of advance planning. The old adage of good things coming to those who wait couldn’t be more true for this book. I was delighted to find that as long as I had to wait for some of these dishes – the pay-off in taste was tremendous.

The recipes travel around the world’s palate of braised and slow-cooked dishes, from Italy as in Peperonata or as in the Tuna Steaks Braised with Radicchio, Chickpeas & Rosemary, to Asian treats such as Chicken Do-Piaza, Chicken Goan or Beef Rendang. Braised Pork Chops & Creamy Cabbage satisfy deeply and the Grillades & Grits left me searching my calendar for another occasion to make them.

Some of the recipes serve dual roles: the Braised Leeks with Bacon & Thyme make a reprise as Braised Leeks & Bacon in a Tart. The Pappardelle with Leftover Braised Lamb & Olives is so delicious that I wondered which of the eight recipes for braised lamb I should choose to make for it. The answer for me was the succulent Herb-Stuffed Leg of Lamb Braised in Red Wine.

After the Coq Au Vin, which was the finest chicken dish I have ever eaten, hands down and without question, I had to stop. It won’t be long before I’m back to this book again. It is a cooking treasure in and of itself.

“All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking” by Molly Stevens. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 481 pages, color photos.