Rice, sesame seeds, oil, salt. That’s all you need to create some tasty little crispy treats and learn a bit of food science. OK, and a dehydrator. That helps too. But that makes it science-y, right? Right.
I was going to a summer BBQ and thought it would be nice to bring a variety of sauces for people to pick and choose. Nathan Myhrvold has a special passion for BBQ, having won first place in the barbeque world championships in Memphis, Tennessee. There are eight recipes in the book (not to mention a two page regional map of the different varieties throughout the American south). I chose to do half of them: Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina (Eastern Region), and North Carolina (Lexington Style).
I’ve found that once you really get into cooking, your available space gets sucked up quick. With new gadgets, ingredients and serviceware, there’s barely enough room left to actually prepare the food you want to cook. With chamber vacuum sealers, centrifuges and the like, it’s even more so for a cook pursuing Modernist cooking. So what’s a home cook to do? I figured I’d take a look at what the big guys are up to: the Nordic Food Lab, the Noma Food Lab, and The Cooking Lab of Modernist Cuisine.
I threw a big dinner party last weekend. Well, six people total (including our culinary teammate Scott), but seven courses. I totally brought it. But then I was brought down: three of the courses totally sucked. The pea consommé? At the last moment I overdid it with the cinnamon oil – it tasted like a bad scented candle. The Thai beef curry broth was watery and the beef over-tender. The sous vide vegetables were mushy and lifeless. Man, was I embarrassed. But one of the courses did come through: my deep fried chicken feet. Good thing, too – they took the longest to prepare. I don’t know if I was redeemed, but at least I wasn’t damned. In the end, fowl became friend.
You can’t make a reservation, and you can’t pay.
– Nathan Myrvold on having dinner at the Cooking Lab
Last night I had the rare privilege of attending one of the dinners at the Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab. The phrase ‘rare privilege’ can be overused, but in this case, it is completely warranted. The purity and concentration of their flavors is off the charts. Twenty-nine courses of it. Needless to say, but it needs to be said: it was amazing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried my hand at spherification, and I thought it was time to revisit the technique. I’ve done it three times before: the first meeting of Jet City Gastrophysics, my cooking session with Chef Ian Kleinman, and another time when I made some coffee caviar. One of the iconic photos from Modernist Cuisine is their Tomato Basil Spheres, so that seemed like a perfect place to give it another go around. It’s basically an Insalata Caprese that’s been liquified. Welcome to the future.
I was invited to an Easter brunch yesterday and thought I should bring something along, as is custom. Although a bottle of champagne for mimosas would have been good enough, I wanted to bring a dish as well. Of course, there is Easter ham, but I wanted to do something different. As luck would have it, the crew at Modernist Cuisine put up a riff on traditional Chinese tea eggs to create a special Easter dish. Perfect! I went to the store and went at it in the kitchen.
I really wanted to make glow-in-the-dark oysters. More accurately, I wanted to make oysters fluoresce under ultraviolet light (sometimes called “black light”). Why? Because it’s cool, of course. [If you were hoping for a more noble, practical reason, you’re probably reading this blog by mistake.]
I’m reading (and cooking) through that massive tome that is Modernist Cuisine, and am currently at Book Two: Techniques And Equipment, Chapter Eight: Cooking In Modern Ovens, Section One: Cooking With Moist Air. It is here they put their first sentence that is entirely in italics: “Humidity governs the temperature at which food actually cooks“. This is an important point, and helps understand why things are cooking the way they are, down to your particular oven and location. This is covered in Book One on the physics of heat and water. The basic takeaway is that transferring heat from air into food is more even and efficient when water vapor is condensing onto cooler food. For example, onto a roast chicken. Let’s observe.