For September the selected book subject for my online book club, The Kitchen Reader, was Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) by Hervé This.
The subject of molecular gastronomy usually refers to the blending of the craft of cooking, which is so much hands on experience and a bit of an art form, with the science of chemistry and perhaps even engineering and physics in the execution of the food. It’s the combination of art and science, which results in sometimes pretty unique and spectacular concepts in both taste as well as other ways to experience the food such as visually or texturally.
That’s how, for instance, you get things like these from Moto in Chicago (I enjoyed more of the chef’s cooking recently at a Feast State of the Art dinner), with pictured below from a past meal at Moto an edible menu printed on edible, inkjet paper with inks of fruit and vegetables and a “Grapefruit” on a spoon that is designed to be like a gin and tonic-that’s what that liquid ball which bursts in your mouth is, the gin and tonic part, then balanced by the frozen pieces of grapefruit below and the creme fraiche and toasted coconut flake. The last photo is from when I attended the Modernist Cuisine exhibit when it was in Seattle and they were creating cross-sections to understand the heating elements in various cooking apparatus!
This month, reading this book made me feel like again I was back in school. Unlike the other month where I was with an American history professor following Thomas Jefferson’s time in France this time it was mini lectures by a Chemistry Professor. The chapters are short, so the equivalent of maybe a 20 minute lecture, and generally follow a Socratic method where we are first presented with some interesting questions. This may be followed up by some initial answers that are out there from others research or at least assertions. Then professor This starts to talk through his own experiment to find an answer, from setting it up, what happens, and his conclusion about what this means.
He provides enough science in his experiment that you can follow and believe you could even recreate some of these experiments yourself if you wanted, though some which talk about heating various temperatures on the human tongue to see how temperatures affect sense of taste, I will leave to the experts. Others are more simple, such as making a broth by putting meat in when the broth is boiling vs when the broth is unheated to see if it makes a difference. For the normal reader, thankfully, he leaves out the real hard science so you only need to think back to the level of science labs in middle and high school to understand the experiment – no chemical equations on the chalkboard!
Despite a lot of discussion in his chapters via question and experiment, the yield is some useful tips a well from the book, such as
- To make sure your egg yolk in your boiled egg is always in the middle, roll it around in the pot or pan while it is cooked to keep the yolk from rising and so it stays centered
- After cooking meat, consider letting the cooked meat cool in a broth as it will absorb those juices back in – say a juice made from truffles, he suggests!
- Blowing on your coffee is more efficient than stirring hoping to equalize the temperature of your whole cup.
- Teaspoons in the neck of a champagne bottle are not as good as cork stoppers which are not as good as hermetically sealing a bottle of champagne to preserve it – but “never mind… one should not putt off tomorrow what one can do today. One you’ve opened a bottle, finish it off!” he advises.
- Also, champagne bubbles are more stable in glasses that have been cleaned without a dishwashing detergent. So hand clean your glassware /make sure it is rinsed thoroughly. Also, the foam in champagne also reacts with antifoaming agents usually in red lipstick, so those wearing lipstick have less foam in their glasses after the first sip.
- Adding salt to a variety of dishes reduces bitterness even better than sugar and intensifies agreeable tastes, and is why some coffee lovers like to put a pinch of salt in the filter – to reduce the bitterness of caffeine. Hmm, neat idea!
- To prevent chocolate from “whitening” because of crystallized fat, store your chocolates at 14 C / 57 F and then warm it up before eating it.
- It is for reasons of habit not science that red wine glasses are different than white wines. The same well calibrated glass (ISO glass) is really best for both red and white wines.
- A large population of children 2-3 years old were given a choice to serve themselves out of a set menu to see if there were natural inclinations for or against foods. It turns out children will not distinguish much between various meats, but for vegetables they WILL eat spinach if it is napped with a white sauce and avoid foods with a hard and fibrous texture as it takes them longer to chew or bitter. So now you know how to trick anyone to eat vegetables.
Interested in joining us? All you have to do to join our book club is sign up at the online book club Kitchen Reader, read the book (or part of it) and post your thoughts on your blog during the last week of the month. Next month for October, the reading is Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear.
Then, in November, our next book is Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni which is a food critic’s autobiography that is a love/hate relationship with food.