I have not received any payment for this review. I did receive a free review copy of the book and was asked by the publishers to review this item on this blog. This review represents my considered and honest opinion of the book.
I was pleased to receive a review copy of this book in the post a few weeks ago. As regular readers of this blog will know the Sunday roast dinner is a tradition that we like to uphold in this household. I have picked this book up lots of times in the last couple of weeks – sometimes just for a read whilst I have a cup of tea or eat my breakfast ( I am not one for doing just the one thing at a time); sometimes to get inspiration and twice to follow a recipe. As regular readers will also know I am virtually incapable of following a recipe word for word, so there are no pictures of the recipes that I (sort of) followed. However, I used the recipe for Tandoori-style roasted chicken legs (except I used diced lamb shoulder and didn’t have the pot of yoghurt in the fridge that I thought was there and so marinated the lamb in the spices first and then added the yoghurt later after returning from the shops. This resulted in the paprika having already disappeared into the meat and the finished dish being more white than red) and the resulting dish, with its small changes, was very good indeed. I also sort of followed the porchetta recipe for sunday dinner, with a few short cuts and dabbling with the ingredients (what did I tell you about being incapable of following recipes?) and that was very good too.
The recipes in this book take you from the basics (Straight-up Roast Beef) to the more complex (Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Fig-Cherry Stuffing and Port Wine Sauce). Each recipe has at least three or four pages of text which gives an indication of the technical detail this book goes into. For example for the porchetta there are seven pages dedicated to this one recipe. It begins with a mouth-watering photo of the end result then an introduction of the inspiration behind the recipe (New York’s Porchetta). A description of the number of people the recipe will serve, how long it takes, how to plan ahead, and which wine you should serve with it. Then two pages listing the ingredients and thorough instructions. A page with detailed photographs showing you how to season and tie the porchetta. A page about shopping for the porchetta and finally a page with another photo of the finished roast made into sandwiches. It is the attention to detail for each recipe which makes this book a worthwhile buy. Even if you are, like me, incapable of following a recipe word for word each recipe provides enough detail to make you think about experimenting with the way you cook your roast.
Whilst this book would particularly suit a meat-eater with chapters devoted to beef and lamb; pork; chicken and poultry; fish and shellfish, it does also have 100 pages devoted to the roasting of vegetables and fruit. Roasted brussel sprouts with capers and lemony browned butter and slow roasted grapes are two recipes in particular which are calling out to me.
The main reason to buy this weighty tome is for the technical knowledge contained within it. I admit to have never having heard of Molly Stevens before I received the email from the publishers asking me to review this book but I have been digging around the internet to find out more about her. She is a classically trained chef, cookery writer and teacher based in the US and it is this last skill that shines through in the book. She provides lots of detailed instructions and tips and I like the concept of providing shopping tips with each recipes. However, as this is an American cook book the shopping tips are rarely useful for the UK based reader.
And this is perhaps the one reason I wouldn’t spend £25.00 on this book. It is written for the American market and has not been adapted for the UK market. As a result I now understand even more how some of my own recipes on this site may well be confusing for my American readers. Apart from the measurements (cups and sticks), and this book does provide comprehensive conversion tables in the introduction, Americans also use different terms for cuts of meat, particularly it seems for beef. The terms strip loin, top round, tri-tip roast and flank steak are unfamiliar to the British reader and it is difficult to understand which cut we should be buying. A note about this in the Conversion Tables chapter would be very welcome as a means of decoding the book.
Having said that, for me, the best bit of this book is the introduction in which Stevens covers the principles of roasting and where her technical knowledge and skills really shine. The chapter is very illuminating on the actual techniques of roasting and whether something should be fast roasted in the highest heat or slow roasted at low heat, or indeed roasted at a moderate temperature. It gives detail of what constitutes roasting and how it differs from baking, the history of roasting and the science behind roasting. She also details how to test for doneness and the importance of basting, using fat and resting the meat. But quite the most interesting thing is her use of presalting the meat hours in advance to produce the juiciest of roasts and it is this that will probably have the biggest impact on any future roasting that I will do.
In conclusion then, would I buy this book? Well, it’s an interesting read with some interesting recipes and it is a good technical instruction manual on how to roast food. It is a shame, however, that it has not been adapted for the UK market and so perhaps with its current price at £25.00 I might be more tempted by a homegrown book over this one if I was just looking for a recipe book. However, if you are keen to develop your technical cooking skills and knowledge then this book would be a very good buy.
The book will be available to buy in November and is published by W.W.Norton & Company (ISBN978 0 393 06526 8).