On Food and Cooking

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This is the smartest book in my kitchen. It’s where I go whenever I have a question about what I am eating, or the science behind its preparation. Simply the best source for understanding food and how it works. Now in its updated second edition. Covers ingredients from all over the world and time. Awesome, encyclopedic.

-- KK  

On Food and Cooking
The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
Harold McGee
2004, 884 pages
$27

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Aromas from Altered Carotenoid Pigments.
Both drying and cooking break some of the pigment molecules in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables into small, volatile fragments that contribute to their characteristic aromas. These fragments provide notes reminiscent of black tea, hay, honey, and violets.

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Green Chlorphyll.
One change in the color of green vegetables as they are cooked has nothing to do with the pigment itself. That wonderfully intense, bright green that develops within a few seconds of throwing vegetables into boiling water is a result of the sudden expansion and escape of gases trapped in the spaces between cells. Ordinarily, these microscopic air pockets cloud the color of the chloroplasts. When they collapse, we can see the pigments much more directly.

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Soba: Japanese Buckwheat Noodles.
Buckwheat noodles were made in northern China in the 14th century, and had become a popular food in Japan by around 1600. It’s difficult to make noodles exclusively with buckwheat flour because the buckwheat proteins do not form a cohesive gluten. Japanese soba noodles may be from 10%-90% buckwheat, the remainder wheat. They’re
traditionally made from freshly milled flour, which is mixed very quickly with the water and worked until the water is evenly absorbed and the dough firm and smooth. Salt is omitted because it interferes with the proteins and mucilage that help bind the dough (p. 483). The
dough is rested, then rolled out to about 3 mm thick and rested again, then cut into fine noodles. The noodles are cooked fresh, and when done, are washed and firmed in a container of ice water, drained, and served either in a hot broth or cold, accompanied by a
dipping sauce.

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Maple Sugaring Without Metal or Fire.
In 1755, a young colonist was captured and “adopted” by a small group of natives in the region that is now Ohio. In 1799 he published his story in An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, which includes several descriptions of how the Indians made maple sugar. Here’s the most ingenious method.

“We had no large kettles with us this year, and the squaws made the frost, in some measure, supply the place of fire, in making sugar. Their large bark vessels, for holding the stock-water, they made broad and shallow; and as the weather is very cold here, it
frequently freezes at night in sugar time; and the ice they break and cast out of the vessels. I asked them if they were not throwing away the sugar? they said no; it was water they were casting away, sugar did not freeze and there was scarcely any in that ice…I observed that after several times freezing, the water that remained in the vessel, changed its color and became brown and very sweet.”