All About Braising by Molly Stevens
Welcome to Best Cookbooks, an appreciation of the cookbooks we use the most: The ones with sauce-splattered and dog-eared pages, the ones that can be counted on.
"At its most basic," Molly Stevens writes, "braising refers to tucking a few ingredients into a heavy pot with a bit of liquid, covering the pot tightly, and letting everything simmer peacefully until tender and intensely flavored." And although Stevens never strays from that simple formula, the recipes in her book, All About Braising have complex, delicious payoffs. It's a book of alchemy: bitter vegetables stewed to sweetness, and tough cuts of meat simmered to tenderness.
The subhead of the book is The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, although some recipes take more than one day. All About Braising is for people who love to cook, and revel in a kitchen project -- "uncomplicated" has become one of those shorthands for getting in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible, but Stevens uses the word in a more classic sense. Most of the recipes are peasant cooking: One-pot meals that coax flavor and texture out of tough meat and winter vegetables.
There's the green cabbage combined with chicken stock, a few carrots, and onion, and braised until it's limpid and sweet; zesty red cabbage stewed with maple and ginger; endive gone luscious in butter and cream. Stevens ably walks you through a fish-sauce spiked Vietnamese caramel sauce, which is then used to braise fat sea scallops. Goan-style chicken thighs are simmered in rum and chicken stock; beef rendang reverses the normal order of braising, as the beef chuck is stewed in coconut milk first and then browned before serving. Short ribs are simmered in porter ale, and finished with a maple syrup-horseradish glaze.
The book is an especially good companion in cold weather, when braising will warm up the whole apartment. And Stevens is nothing if not reliable, with a lucid, practical voice. These recipes work, and they have a life to them, too.
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