Monday, November 30, 2015

Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill

Title:  Slow Fires:  Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill
Author:  Justin Smillie, Kitty Greenwald
Publication Information:  Clarkson Potter. 2015. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0804186235 / 978-0804186230

Book Source:  I received this book through Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When I'm standing over a cutting board with a stockpot sputtering behind me, a roast in the oven, shallots mellowing in vinegar off to the side, I'm in my element."

Favorite Quote:  "In short, deciding when to devote from the above 'rules' is as important as understanding them."

Slow Fires is a beautiful book. Just the name alone conjures up images of warmth and meals lovingly prepared. The mouth-watering full-color images on the cover and within the book create a cornucopia of food and ingredients to be relished. The handful of personal anecdotes and photographs create a welcome.

This is a technique based cookbook focusing on three techniques:

  • Braising:  "a dish that centers on to basic parts:  a 'meat' (or fish or vegetable) and a cooking liquid" and "how the interactions of ingredients, heat, moisture, and time result in surprisingly diverse, delicious results."
  • Roasting:  "cooking both in the oven and on the stovetop" and "the key to mastering them is understanding how to manipulate temperature and the moisture inherent in your food."
  • Grilling:  "the rusticity of the technique - how effortlessly it adds flavor and lends a smoky, sweet char" and "the primal thrill I get from taming a fire."

The broad base of these technique descriptions indicates the liberal interpretation the chef creates of these techniques. Each section reviews the "rules" of the technique and then presents recipes and discussions on how to push the boundaries.

The recipes included are presented as fifty-two (one per week) meals. The individual recipes stand alone but are balanced into meals to create a complete experience in cooking and in eating.

The recipes in the book are not everyday meals; these meals require planning. The introduction clearly states that many of the meals presented "take more time than average." Each meal and its recipes come with an accompanying calendar. Some can be accomplished in a few hours while some requires planning several days ahead of when the meal will be served. Much of the time involved is not active cooking time; for example, brining a meat does not take long, but you must allow for the meat to sit in the brine for some time. The book asserts that the time is well worth the investment for "though I realize time is a luxury, building big flavor often depends on it." Being an avid cook, I whole-heartedly agree. Taking my time to prepare a meal  and to coax flavor out of ingredients is a luxury I try to make time for in my life.

The book explains the basic techniques for braising, roasting, and grilling each in a few pages. The recipes then build on an understanding of that base. Many of the recipes call for the cook to judge meat by its feel - "dry and tacky" and "tender but bouncy." The recipes use cooking terms such as fond, soffrito, panade, butterflied, and emulsified. Many of the recipes also use ingredients not often found in daily home meals - sardines, cipollini onions, rabbit, garlic confit, black kale, and tuna belly to name a few. As a result, Slow Fires is not a cookbook for the novice or the casual cook. Because of the ingredients the book incorporates, many of the recipes are not ones I will regularly cook.

However, the techniques taught will definitely bring a new dimension to my own dishes. That is how I often use my cookbooks - not for an exact recipe but for inspiration, new combinations of ingredients, and new ways of cooking something. For that, this beautiful cookbook definitely fits the bill.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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