Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Molecular magic in the kitchen

The good news is I beat my best time for swimming a mile by over 1½ minutes – a huge improvement. The bad news is I am Samson shorn of his hair. In a word, knackered. So here’s something gentle and speculative: cooking as chemistry.

By which I mean combining flavoured constituents to create a new flavour and, ideally, an end-product in which the constituents are no longer visibly evident. A cake is a perfect example (reflect on how unpleasant it would be to eat the constituents individually) whereas a stew falls short. Application of heat is probably assumed.

But perhaps such fusion becomes more magical when it involves the smallest number of ingredients. Hollandaise sauce consists only of butter and egg yoke plus a dash of lemon juice or vinegar. Just as vital are patience and slow heating. Yet I see this as being closer to the biogenetics lab than the kitchen. Diverge from the rules and the sauce is not spoiled, it becomes something else: a bastard form of scrambled egg.

From my limited experience, making hollandaise is Three Toques (Raymond Blanc’s grading of culinary severity) and I never aspired to that. I have made soup – and blogged about it – and it met the above premises. I also discovered, off my own bat, that an ingredient too far precludes fusion. Add Lea & Perrins and the rest of the soup simply becomes a background for that very opinionated product.

Question: bacon and eggs are made for each other yet – assuming they are eaten together – do they fuse? There’s a new texture but is there a new flavour?
For a fascinating food list click on Relucent Reader's latest


Plutarch said...

One supposes that the nearest instance of the fusion you write of is in the Bacon and Eggs Ice Cream, which is reputed to be served by Heston Blumenthal at his three Michelin star Fat Duck Restaurant in Bray. As I have not yet ventured to try it, I cannot comment on its texture or taste.

One of the things that appeals to me about cooking is the changes to ingredients of the kind which you describe. A home-baked loaf of bread still seems to me a little miraculous wnen it comes out of the oven; as does a litre of almost boiling milk tranformed into the Indian curd cheese, paneer, by the addition of some lemon juice or a dose of yoghurt.

Relucent Reader said...

Chemistry, yes, but commanding overall:physics. The control of heat, etc. The Hollandaise sauce you cited is an excellent example of the combination of chemistry and physics.

I wanted to put on my librarian hat and suggest a title which came out a couple years ago dealing with the science of the kitchen, but too many fats in the cranial arteries are blocking recall of the title.

There is a sub-sub genre of cuisine called 'molecular gastronomy' which approaches food preparation on it's basic level. A lot of foams and 'Jetson' looking food results.A Google search, if your interest is piqued, is worthwhile.

Thank you for the plug.

Speaking of Bray, I read there are 2,count 'em, 2 3-Michelin star restaurants there. How did that happen?

Relucent Reader said...

PS: The title I was referring to is On Food and Cooking:The Science and Lore of Food in the Kitchen, by Harold McGee. Another is: What Einstein Told his Cook:Kitchen Science Explained, by Robert L. Wolke, with recipes by Marlene Parrish.

Barrett Bonden said...

RR: How about Ludlow, just about 20miles north of where I live? Until recently there were three 3-star restaurants there.

As to Bray, the Waterside Inn was founded by the Roux Brothers and has had 3 stars for about 20 years. Classic French cuisine. The more recent Fat Duck was launched by Heston Blumenthal who specialises in the "molecular" approach to cooking, although he doesn't approve of that term. The prix fixe runs at £125. Why Bray? Because that's where chat-show hosts and other luminaries go to live when they've made it. Maidenhead, Goring, etc, where the multi-£££ houses have gardens that terminate - with mooring rights - at the edge of the Thames.

Lucy said...

Congratulations on piscatorial attainment.

Bon appetit!