315 of 339 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Book on Most Useful Cooking Technique,
This review is from: All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking (Hardcover)Braising is the quintessential French cooking technique, as typical of Western Europe as stir-frying is of the Far East. Molly Stevens has given us an excellent book `All About Braising' which adheres to the very basic cooking principle that if you pay close attention to all the little details of good ingredients, your cooking will invariably improve. So, the book is almost as much about identifying and buying the best ingredients for braising as it is about braising itself.
The name `braising', based on `brazier' and heating on hot coals mislead me for years when I knew more about French than I did about cooking and before I started reading about cooking in earnest. I imagined it was a type of grilling when it's only real connection to hot coals is the very old technique of placing coals on the top of Dutch Ovens cast with rimmed lids to accommodate the coals.
It is also easy to confuse braising with stewing. Braising is a very well-defined method characterized by browning a relatively large cut of protein or vegetable, followed by cooking over a low, all-around heat with liquid extending about 1/3 the way up the height of the primary ingredient. The braising container is tightly lidded so that vapor does not escape the cooking pot and designed to encourage condensation to drip back down on the braised food. Some braising vessels are also designed to leave little very little headroom between the primary ingredient and the lid. Stewing is a much less well defined technique which does not require a lid and is generally done with much more liquid and smaller pieces of food than a braise.
The list of classic `comfort food' braised dishes is long and familiar to Western foodies, headed up by coq au vin, sauerbraten, braised lamb shanks, and osso bucco. And, these are just the headliners. Ms. Stevens gives us chapters on braising vegetables, seafood, poultry, beef, veal, pork, and lamb. I was not surprised to find recipes for braising vegetables as sauerkraut and other cabbage dishes are well-known braise ingredients, but I was surprised to find braises for fish and some veal cuts. Fish is great for all the fast cooking methods such as sautés, grills, broiling, and poaching. Overcooking is the most common danger with fin fish and shellfish cookery. But, the virtue of braising is that it is the premier cooking method for infusing a protein with flavor from the braising liquid and it is typically done at a relatively low temperature. That means that the principles behind poaching fish apply also to braises, in that you can cook fish to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit and keep it there almost indefinitely without its drying out.
As braising is a very clearly characterized cooking method with a long tradition behind it, it is not surprising that their many different cookpots have evolved to accommodate the method. Almost all of us foodies have an adequate arsenal of Dutch ovens made of either naked cast iron or the traditional French enameled cast iron. I am so in love with my Le Cruset enameled ironware, all my cast iron and Calphalon heavy aluminum ware is gathering dust. Most of us also have large lidded skillets, although I never thought of them as braising pots until I read this book. My fondest recent kitchenware discovery is the Le Cruset bistro pan in enameled cast iron. My two sizes acquired about two years ago are my most commonly used pots next to my 8-quart Dutch oven. Other pots commonly used for braises are braiser pans, typically of lined copper, buffet casseroles, gratin dishes (lidded with parchment paper or foil), and a Doufeu, a Dutch oven lookalike with a well in the lid to accommodate ice to help condense the cooking liquid in the braise.
If I were teaching cooking, I believe braising is the first technique I would teach, as it is evident from this book that the technique is very easy and it makes the very best use of less expensive cuts of meat. It is not a fast method, but it should be the method of choice when you need to feed a large family and you can be in the house while the dish is cooking. This does not mean there are no techniques you need to master, and the author explains the how and the why of braising better than anyone I have read to date, including my culinary hero, Alton Brown. The only little detail I have found unmentioned is the paradox braising shares with poaching in that if you overcook protein, even while sitting in liquid, all the fat and collagen will cook out of the meat fibers leaving it dry in the midst of water, stock, and wine. But, once you know the basics, braising strikes me as one of the very easiest techniques with which to improvise. As a long cooking method, the margin for error with the cooking time is very large and the risks are very small. The most common error will probably be nothing more than a somewhat too dry protein.
In spite of the fact that braising is a very easy technique, the author's directions for the recipes in this book are detailed in the extreme. This is another reason this is an excellent text for beginning cooks. Nothing is left to the imagination. Not only are the instructions detailed and clear, they are labeled with the names of all the traditional braising steps, so if you have read the introductory material well, you will be reminded of why you are doing each step. The author clearly states that crock pot methods are basically braises, but the author does not discuss the method in detail, and it is good she does not, as the differences are sufficient to warrant your searching out a good slow cooker book for that subject.
An excellent book I highly recommend for your kitchen cookbook shelf.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 18, 2009 8:21:40 PM PST
Lisa M. Drayton says:
What an astoundingly helpful review. Thank you very much!
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2012 3:28:44 AM PST
M Shep says:
Ditto...most useful customer review I've ever read for cookbook on Amazon.
Posted on Feb 11, 2012 7:58:46 PM PST
R. Simon says:
This helped me decide on both book and choice of size. Thanks.
Posted on Apr 16, 2012 5:46:59 AM PDT
Layla Moon says:
What a great informative review! I will definitely buy this book and am now convinced I will soon thereafter buy the dutch oven I've had my eye on. Thanks for taking the time for this, Bruce!
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