We hear braise and we think pot roasts, ragus, and other long-burbled pots of meat that fall to pieces. And, like Pavlov's dogs, we get deeply excited. But too often, we bookmark the idea of braising for some faraway weekend or the day we might finally break down and buy a crock pot.
But that all changes with Molly Stevens' book All About Braising, where she begins the conversation not with the typical well-worked cuts of meat or tough old birds, but with vegetables, then fish. Chicken fricassee and coq au vin don't even start to show up till chapter 4; beef debuts on page 214. The book rightly won both James Beard and IACP awards in 2005.
It is with these earlier chapters that braising is opened up to us even on the weariest weeknight. Short-braising, as Stevens calls it, gives us the same benefits as the longer version -- the ease, the single pot, the self-basting and concentrated flavor --- with much less advance notice required.
The Vegetables chapter is particularly inspiring, as Stevens braises endive with pancetta, leeks with cream, fennel with thyme and black olives -- and whole scallions with water, and very little else.
Scallions are usually just a pretty face. Sliced into dainty coins, they doll up a homely bowl of chili and float like lily pads in murky dipping sauces. But treat them right and they're proud and delicious, all by themselves.
Here's how: Lop off the roots and tops, pile them in a buttered baking dish, and scatter on a bit more butter and either tarragon or parsley, depending on your mood and your herb supply (not to be confused with your Air Supply). Pour in just enough water to get them steaming, then stick them in the oven to brew, tightly covered.
Half an hour later, an oniony-rich perfume will be wafting about and your scallions will have mellowed and collapsed. Crank the heat to boil down the glaze and roast the tips. The final, non-negotiable step is squeezing on some lemon.
What remains is sweet, soft middles, blurred herb-smoked edges, and sparks of lemon, which you can twirl around your fork like linguine. Or, I'm guessing, you could cut them up like a proper vegetable side, especially if you're already slashing through your ribeye or lamb chop with a sharp steak knife.
But I wouldn't know, because every time I've made them, whoever is nearby simply crowds around, plucking whole scallions from the pan and stuffing them into their mouths. They're not the most delicate finger food, but neither are buffalo wings. Lemony juices and roasted bits of tarragon cling to your fingers and the pan is quickly emptied.
So you may want to plan on a backup vegetable side. Preferably something braised.
Note: Molly Wizenberg is also a big fan of Stevens' braised vegetables. Hear an early Spilled Milk podcast on braising and this recipe here (then subscribe the podcast quick, if you haven't already). Per her co-host Matthew Amster-Burton, "We're in for a meal of garnish."
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 pound scallions (about 5 bunches, or 3 dozen) 1/2 cup water 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/2 lemon
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."