Braise Cooking School Week 4 – Should You Throw Away Your Cookbooks?

I’ve been struggling with what to write about following last week’s class on meat and seafood. Mostly, I feel I can’t just write out a description of what went down because here’s a newsflash, stewed beef and fish guts aren’t that pretty. I have some pictures I will share with you, but feel like that can’t be the meat (hee hee) of this post. Instead, let me offer up an inference of what I’m learning in class.

You can throw away your cookbooks. You do not need them.

Say what?! Over the last four weeks, we have learned basics – how to butcher, how to make a stock, how to cook particular proteins, and how to make a sauce. Sure, there are seven basic sauces, but for 75% of the time you’re making a sauce to cover meat or vegetables, you’re going to follow the same process and general set of ingredients.

Mirepoix for Sauce
Normal “mirepoix” for sauces and soups – carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf and cracked peppercorns.

Same goes when you’re braising any type of meat – brown meat, make a sauce using the meat’s fat, veggies, aromatics and stock, cook until oblivion, and serve while drinking from the biggest bowled red wine glass you’ve got.

Braised Beef in Braise Cooking School
Or make three pots with friends so you can discover the differences when you put in your own little twists…

Once you are comfortable with a basic format of a dish (I’m trying to steer clear of the word “recipe” here, but that’s pretty much what we are talking about), you are able to modify slightly based on what you already have in your kitchen, what is in season or simply, what sounds tasty at that moment.

My Worst NightmareLet me interrupt this blog post to bring you my worst nightmare. See that? That is one mushroom. Yes, just one mushroom that was about two feet across and a foot tall. Even worse – they said it probably grew in just TWO WEEKS!!! Nothing should grow that fast. So creepy.

Let the record show that I did try some of this Hen of the Woods mushroom when Chef Dave used it in a sauce for the fish. If I’m there for a cooking class, I should sample everything cooked, right? It was not that bad, but that’s just not right.

Gosh, I hope they don’t get an order of oysters in while we are in class…

Anyway, does this non-recipe concept hurt your brain or is it just me? I based a whole kitchen remodel around having shelves for my cookbooks. How can I possibly throw them away?! (I know it’s not just me… I have a feeling if I tried to get Randy to cook this way, he would leave the kitchen in protest. THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE DONE!! WE MUST HAVE DOCUMENTATION!)

Meet George the Fish
Chef Dave suggested we name our fish before our filleting lesson. Please meet George.

Of course, no matter how much I love everything Chef Dave has to say, I’m not yet ready to throw away my cookbook collection. When I prepare buffalo chicken enchiladas tonight, I’m going to follow How Sweet It Is’s instructions. Blogs and books are my crack! If you are like me in that you read cookbooks before bed like normal people read fiction, you don’t need to give it all up.

Braise Students Filleting Fish

Instead, feel the sense of freedom that comes with this revelation. You don’t always have to follow the rules, nor do you need a piece of paper to tell you what to do in the first place. If you find yourself with a piece of fish, a half a bottle of chardonnay, three sprigs of thyme, two carrots, and a lemon, create your meal around that following the basic idea below, no need to go out and buy all new things.

Sorry George!
Sorry George!

To prove this theory, here is a process (i.e. recipe) for sauce. This basic recipe works with braising, pan sauce, gravy, etc. It truly is that easy! (And to prove that I can never give up my cookbooks, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I’ll give you my five favorite cookbooks of all time.)

Bon apetit!

Basic Process for Any Sauce


  • 1/4 cup aromatics & vegetables (mirepoix, shallots, garlic, herbs (chopped))
  • 1 cup wine (liquor or a mix with vinegar (3 parts wine to 1 part vinegar))
  • 1 1/4 cup liquid (stock or cream)
  • 2oz butter


1. Saute vegetables until translucent in olive oil or fat from sauteed meat.
2. Add herbs and spices.
3. Add wine, vinegar or liquor (flame if using liquor) and reduce to "au sec", i.e. half the original quantity.
4. Add stock. Reduce to "nappe", i.e. can coat the back of a spoon. Strain.
5. Optional: Add cream, then garnish.
6. Optional: Add brandy, mustard, lemon juice.
7. Top with butter, salt and pepper to taste.

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