The aroma of roast chicken or the look of perfectly caramelized beef tenderloin wakens my inner cavewoman and makes my mouth water, but preparing it makes me edgy.
A botched dish is costly (to your wallet, and potentially your belly). And compared to simmering a nice bean soup, there are a lot of questions of faith. Is it seasoned properly? I'm not going to lick a raw chop to see if it has enough salt. Is it done? I can poke it with my finger to test for firmness (how firm again?), stick a thermometer in it (but don't touch a bone!), or commit the cardinal sin of slicing it open (good-bye precious juices!).
All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art ($35, W.W. Norton) by Molly Stevens comes to the rescue. This cookbook is a perfect introduction for a meat neophyte. It focuses exclusively on roasting, which may seem limiting, but it is one of the simplest ways to cook. A minimal amount of prep work yields stunning results -- and the oven does the heavy lifting.
If you are really in it to win it, the book has a long introduction packed full of useful information on the history and science of roasting. It describes different roasting techniques, testing for doneness (yay!), equipment options, carving strategy, and provides dizzying detail on salting, brining, and basting.
Stevens' goal is for the reader to master the foundational principles of roasting in order to take on any cut of meat without a recipe. She begins with the simplest preparation and seasoning (typically salt), and then provides subsequent dishes that build layers of flavor and present advanced methods.
The recipes are clear and detailed and offer an excellent range to suit different moods and occasions. From a basic roast chicken to an ambitious Cuban-style marinated slow-roasted picnic shoulder, this book has you covered no matter your cut of meat. I'm not sure if the boss still comes over for dinner anymore, but if he or she does, I'll be ready with a lacquered Chinese char siu.
Chapters feature beef and lamb, pork, chicken and poultry, fish and shellfish, and vegetables and fruits. Additionally, there are thoughtful features like a table of Stevens' condiments and sauces paired with the most suitable meat (think charmoula and lamb chops, garlic-chile mayonnaise and oven fries, and roasted lemon chutney and fish.) Stevens also offers helpful descriptions regarding different cuts and what to seek out when shopping. I'm also completely intrigued by her from-scratch steak sauce.
Stevens helps the reader match the best roasting technique with their meat. Low heat for tough cuts and moist vegetables, moderate heat for large cuts, like a whole turkey, and sear roasting. This preparation uses high temperature to create flavorful browning (like a nice crisp skin), then switches to a low temperature to eliminate the risk of drying out a dish.
Professional cave men and women probably have roasting all figured out, and vegetarians will only be happy with the recipes on a few pages of this book. But if you are a devoted flexitarian who would like to elevate your meat preparation skills, this book will give you the instruction and confidence to make it happen.
Anna Thomas Bates blogs at Tallgrass Kitchen.