For most people, the idea of reading an entire book devoted to one simple cooking technique, braising, is probably reminiscent of going to detention and being forced to read some lengthy book on world history. Yet I think you will find, as I did, that Molly Stevens' book on braising is a surprisingly excellent read.
Braising tends to be one of the cooking techniques that you just don't hear people talking about all that often. Now a days it seems the more popular techniques such as grilling and sautéing tend to over-shadow the slow method of braising. I suspect that braising is also not as popular in today's world simply because it is a cooking method that does not lend itself well to the busy lifestyle so many of us have. However, spend a few minutes reading through the beginning pages of Steven's book and you will find braising is a wonderful cooking technique and is every bit as exciting as grilling or sautéing. You will also find that it is a cooking method that can actually take less time in that you put everything in the pot, let it simmer and you can help the kids with their homework.
From the beginning of this book, Stevens leaves no stone unturned as she lovingly describes literally every aspect a new cook or experienced cook would need to know(or be reminded of) in regards to braising. In fact, the whole first chapter (all 35 pages) discusses in great detail the process, technique, and tools required for braising. Stevens actually breaks the braising process down into ten detailed stages:
1.) The main ingredient
2.) Choosing the right pot
3.) Browning properly
4.) The role of adding fat to a braise
5.) Adding aromatics (the foundation of a braise)
6.) Choosing the braising liquid
7.) Deglazing and reducing
8.) Choosing between braising on top of the stove and in the oven
9.) Individualizing a braise (adding a final layer of flavor)
10.) Finishing the braise
What I truly like about this first chapter is that it is focuses so much on the technique of braising. So often cookbooks are nothing but a large volume of recipes and little if any time is spent on technique. Recipes are a dime a dozen, but good technique is really what makes a great cook and this book spends a lot of time on technique. I found myself reading and re-reading this section simply because the information was so comprehensive.
After the first chapter, it dives straight into the recipes which are broken down into the following sections vegetables, seafood, poultry & game, beef, veal, pork, and lamb. After testing several of the recipes I found that they were spot on and delivered excellent tasting dishes in each case. I was a bit confused by the length of each recipe some going on for 3-4 pages. This seemed to undermine the tag line of the title a bit "The Art Of Uncomplicated Cooking". However, as you delve into the recipes, you will find that Stevens is really walking the reader through the techniques that you will need to produce the dish exactly as she would. No guess work here-not even when it comes to picking the right piece of meat or wine to serve - she covers it all.
In conclusion, I have to say there are few if any cookbooks I actually read as opposed to leafing through the recipes and reading bits and pieces. "All About Braising" is a book I found myself reading over and over, pouring through the rich wisdom that only comes from an experienced cook. This is a book that I think a cook of any level will enjoy and I give it my highest recommendation.