Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cooking is Science

Look at Amazon link to read the captions

At least, it can be: chemistry mostly (chemical reactions, changes of state) but also physics (temperatures, heat flow). [short videos]

There is a movement about that goes by the name "modernist cooking". It seems to be about analyzing the science behind cooking. (What is the reaction that changes my meat from "raw" to "cooked the way I like it" to "overdone" or "burnt".) then measuring it precisely and finding a process that achieves the exact conditions I wanted: nothing more, nothing less.

If you want your steak medium-rare, that means 55 °C. Now, how can we cook this thing so the whole steak is 55 °C, we keep all the juices and achieve any other properties we were looking for? The short answer to that puzzle seems to be found in sous vide cooking techniques. There are other puzzles to be solved.

It started in the 80's, but has flourished recently. The gold standard is called Modernist Cuisine and there is a home version and a simpler version (and tips). It is the pinnacle of a whole series of cooking science books. Finally, here is a feature-length promo from Harvard.

Sous vide cooking can be done with a camping cooler, cooking thermometer and a kettle of water. One site thinks flank and skirt cuts are best.
Put the steak in a Ziploc with butter and thyme or other seasoning. You will squeeze the air out as you immerse it in water, then seal the bag. Pour hot water into the cooler and add boiling water until the temperature is right (~60C?). The temperature will drop by the time the heat makes its way into the meat so it's OK if you really wanted a lower temp. Do NOT let a steak sit in warm water below 54C for long. Keep an eye on the thermometer and add a touch of boiling water if temperature needs a boost. Depending on the cut, leave it for 2 hours to 3 days.
It will look like a pasty, pink lump. For a more appealing look, you need a caramelized brown crust. You need intense high heat. The pitfall is moderately high heat that takes a little longer and cooks the meat through. Avoid moderation by patting all the water off the meat and putting it in a pan of near boiling oil, or better yet, burn it with a blow torch.

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