|Photo by Paul Alhadef at the Pueblo Library|
Molecular Gastronomy – my favorite application of science.
In his introduction to Molecular Gastronomy, editor Albert Sonnenfeld says that “molecular gastronomy deals with culinary transofmrations and the sensory phenomena associated with eating.” Herve This, the author, agrees and states that “whoever understands the reasons for the results he or she obtains in the kitchen can improve on them,” and that becoming a better cook is about understanding the why as well as the how. In the lab, I know that these are not mutually exclusive; I can’t master one without the other.
I am borrowing a copy of MG from a friend, and it has blown the walls off my little culinary knowledge box. Even just starting the book – and I still haven’t finished reading it – my cooking process has changed. I am careful to let cooked meats rest longer, and I have paid attention to where my pans sit in the oven when baking.
I’ve also noticed that the book has explained some of the why to the how that I learned in culinary school. In one of our rotations, we were responsible for the Fry Station, which produced French Fries (frites) and fried fish pieces. Perfectly souffled potatoes are cooked completely inside, fluffy and smooth, and are crisp and golden on the outside. Similar properties are expected of batonnet-cut potatoes that are fried to pefection.
Herve This showed that this perfect texture is achieved by following a two-step cooking method. The first time cooks the interior of the potato, creating a nice pureed center. The second creates a crisp crust for the potato slice. This showed that controlling the oil temperature and the potato slice thickness was the trick to cooking the souffled potatoes. This method was taught in class, but we were too busy to explore the reasoning behind it.
It was interesting to read that the water inside the potato turned to steam, which caused the starch molecules to expand and link together, creating the internal potato puree. The steam also causes the potato to float in the frying oil, because steam is less dense than water and oil. When the potato slices are cooked again, more steam is created by the residual water, causing the frites to float again, and the crust gets golden and crisp.
At work, one of the chefs made a super-fancy fry using the ultrasonic machine. So crisp all the way through! Wow! Here's the link to those.