Cooking is practical chemistry, biology and physics.

mcgeeI love this article from Daniel Gritzer on Seriouseats. In many ways it’s the perfect blog topic – it’s personal, interesting and thought-provoking. Daniel noticed that the intensity of the garlic changed depending on how he prepared it. Using a microplane produced a fierce intensity that he hadn’t noticed before.

Experienced chefs will probably look bemused that anyone would find this interesting but for us amateurs there’s food for thought. Firstly, there is solace for those of us who have tried following a recipe to discover that it doesn’t turn out the way we expected. Personally, I’ve noted the distinction between a whole clove and chopped garlic. I’ve not really thought about the difference between minced and chopped. I’ve yet to see a recipe which specifies microplaning it. I use microplaning all the time when I am making a french dressing without necessarily thinking about the consequences. The detail contains the key to making great food. I was interested to learn that the french take the time to remove the green core from the garlic clove because they feel it contains a bitter flavour.

This kind of thinking applies to lots of ingredients – how many people who get out the weighing scales and measures as a matter of course happily substitute dried for fresh herbs, play with full fat vs skimmed dairy, or use oils interchangeably? I ask the question because I would be a “yes” to most of those things and many more besides. Substitution is a standard technique for clearing the fridge but method of preparation adds another variant. The challenge is to take the time to notice the impact and learn from it.

Articles like this one are a great reminder that there is some really solid science behind cooking. I suppose I’ve watched enough of Heston Blumenthal to realise this without Daniel’s help but maybe I’m dazzled by Heston’s glitz. I love the way that a small garlicky experience became a bit of a lab test and that the results were worth sharing. I don’t know how well the science is taught in schools these days. In my day cooking was part of the “Domestic Science” O-level but sadly I didn’t do any of this in the 70s and so what I’ve learnt has been from blindly following recipes and making mistakes.

I realise that every time I go into kitchen I’m using elementary science. It’s about subconscious initiation of chemical reactions, heat transfer, gravity, anatomy, and probably quite a few -ologies if I put my mind to it. For “Bunsen burner” read “hob”, “periodic table of elements” = “larder” and for “test tube” read “saucepan”. I’m encouraged by this to don my lab coat and return to my Harold McGee to do a bit more work on my theory.


About justaukcook

/kʊk/ Not a chef, not an epicure, not a foodie. Just one who likes to prepare food – What really happens in the kitchen and on the high street is what I write about. Follow me on Twitter @Justaukcook and on
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