The first time Braising short ribs was a big step in my culinary education. Braising summed up so much of what I loved about cooking: in this case, sear the meat, gently sauté the carrots, onion, shallots and garlic that flavored the kitchen with their aroma, then give it all. a long, touching bath in good red wine.
The ribs I made were Balthazar’s cookbook, and this recipe is a mix of practical time and slow process magic, which has a lot of wiggle room and a high wow factor, leaving you with an incredibly tender and decadent dinner.
Basically, a classic long ember is the OG version of a high-end chef’s goal of making a food taste “more like itself.” With the creative flavor grab, along with a long bubble in a flavorful broth or wine and its own juices, braising does this by default. Your food becomes tender in pieces, the cooking liquid becomes a sauce and a parenthesis is carved in the cold of winter.
In the early 2000s, when Balthazar came out, I missed one of his contemporaries, that of Molly Stevens All about braising, which is a shame, because it would have become one of my favorite reference cookbooks much sooner.
One risk of revisiting any cookbook that pushes 20 is that people might have changed the way they eat and cook since arriving. Many of us, myself included, are now eating less meat for environmental, ethical or health reasons. Again All about braising has aged quite well in that regard. To my surprise, 60 of its first hundred pages are devoted to braising vegetables. Prepare yourself, carnivores, I have spent a lot of time testing in this area.
I started with the first course in the book and immediately started improving my game. This is the kind of five ingredient recipe you think, I know where this leads, when it takes a pleasantly sudden and intelligent turn. I put a pound of small red potatoes in my essential pot with olive oil, brought broth to their equators, put garlic and bay leaf and j closed the lid, letting the little orbs sway in the moist heat for 20 minutes.
When they were tender, I removed the lid, turned the heat up and let the sauce bubble in garlic frosting and – voila!
The next day, I braised escaroles and cannellini beans, something I would never have thought of on my own but which really makes sense when you have a bite to eat. There’s no cooking here, but the escarole is withered in a generous amount of sliced garlic and red pepper flakes, then combined with the beans and a little broth, creating a simple yet sophisticated dish. I immediately thought of two ways to eat it: served with a piece of crusty bread for a good solo lunch or as a dinner for two with a sausage and a glass of wine.
Next came the braised leeks, which I wanted to cook just because the book also had a quiche recipe that used them on the next page, but they turned out to be quite on their own. Stevens calls leeks “the largest and most attractive member of the onion family”, as if describing a favorite nephew, and she explains excellently and thoroughly how to treat them; Pruning and cleaning the leeks are two steps in the recipe, a great help for novices and a good reminder for more experienced cooks.
Without provocation, my wife Elisabeth declared this quiche “my favorite of your recent braising dishes”, a place of choice that he kept for only a few days. My favorite part of this was how Stevens used some leek braising liquid with the eggs and cream for the garnish, the equivalent of a dirty martini to make a quiche.
Even modest celery gets its own braised in the book, cooked with a mixture of shallots, vermouth and finely chopped celery hearts, tops and leaves. Sprinkled at the end with breadcrumbs and Gruyere, it’s like a magic trick, making a pretty side dish out of ingredients in a nearly empty fridge.