All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art

In her award-winning cookbook All About Braising, Molly Stevens produced an indispensable, surprisingly informative guide to the possibilities of a single — and supposedly simple — cooking process. Her new book, All About Roasting, looks to repeat the trick, taking the mystery and chance out of what may well be the most laissez-faire, cook-friendly of all culinary procedures. Did you know, for example, why those bags of so-called baby carrots never roast as well as rounds you cut yourself?  Because they’re processed with water — and the first rule of roasting is that foods should be dry. This is because “foods cooked with moist heat can never reach temperatures above 212 degrees” — and temperatures above 220 degrees are required for browning.  Roasting, as it turns out, involves maximizing heat conductivity, which is why it’s important to coat meats and vegetables with olive oil or some other fat — which conducts heat better than air — and cook them in low-sided dishes that don’t deflect heat.

Beyond the dry-versus-wet issue, the main variable cooks face when roasting is speed, and Stevens explains which foods do best with a blast of high heat (whole beef tenderloin, whole chickens, quail, Cornish hens, most fish, and most vegetables); which ones benefit from a slow, gentle oven (tougher cuts of meat, salmon fillets, high-moisture-content veggies like tomatoes and onions); and which ones do best with an initial searing followed by moderate heat or a combination of temperatures (pork tenderloin, chicken parts, duck).  Her book will soothe the most flummoxed cooks, who otherwise might find themselves driven to the wilds of the Internet — or a panicked phone call to Mom — when faced with a holiday lamb.

While All About Roasting isn’t geared toward vegetarians, it features plenty of non-meat options, along with appealing sauces and relishes. Stevens’s best tip on roasting veggies, including the delicious Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash and Apples I made for Thanksgiving: Don’t overcrowd the pan, or you’ll end up with steamy mush instead of lovely browned surfaces.  For those of us who feel there are few meals that roast potatoes can’t improve, Stevens offers multiple variations. Don’t miss her irresistible, crunchy British-style wedges, achieved by parboiling russets and dusting them in semolina prior to roasting them in preheated fat.