As Nathan is fond of saying, Modernist cuisine doesn’t bring science into the kitchen; science has always been in the kitchen. Modernist cuisine takes the ignorance out of the kitchen. Watch the video above to see the latest episode of MDRN KTCHN, in which our Director of Applied Research, Scott Heimendinger, explains the ins and outs of Modernist cuisine.
Ready to take on Modernist cooking?
Maybe you received Modernist Cuisine or Modernist Cuisine at Home as a holiday gift, or perhaps you’re just curious about what this whole Modernist cooking movement is. We understand that it can be intimidating either way. That’s why we’re here to help. Join us over the next three months to learn about and test-out recipes from our books.
We invite you to make “trying Modernist cuisine” your 2013 New Year’s resolution.
Each week we will publish recipes, slowly gaining in difficulty, along with articles that explain the underlying science. You’ll learn the following:
- How to cook sous vide in your kitchen sink.
- Where Modernist ingredients come from.
- The science behind pressure cookers and whipping siphons.
- How to make eggplant parmesan in your microwave.
- How to calibrate your oven.
- A method to cook pork for carnitas in only 30 minutes.
- And much, much more!
We hope you’ll take this trek with us. Make sure to register with ModernistCuisine.com and check in with us each week.
What do real chefs (and the writers, editors, and scientists who work with them) put on their holiday wish lists? Here are some items that the team behind Modernist Cuisine at Home either want, have been given, or have given for the holidays. We hope you find some inspiration here for your own shopping.
Nathan Myhrvold, Coauthor: I recently received 4-Hour Chef, by Timothy Ferriss. It’s not like any cookbook I have ever seen: not only does it include a bunch of great recipes, it also covers how to make a three-pointer in basketball, and how to kill pigeons in the park and then clean them with your bare hands. I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without that knowledge. Another really different cookbook I received this year is Dirt Candy, by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey. It includes comic-style illustrations and is really funny.
Wayt Gibbs, Editor in Chief: I love my SousVide Supreme. The bundled book is great too! For a smaller item, sodium citrate is great for amazing Mac and Cheese and an awesome cheese sauce for Brussels sprouts and nachos.
Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer: This year I’m asking for a Silpat. I didn’t specify the size, so we’ll see what I get!
Jennifer Sugden, Production Editor: For my smoothies, I want a set of glass straws. I once received a rotary vegetable slicer, which spiralizes fruits and vegetables. I make sweet potato and zucchini noodles, topped with my favorite sauce.
Aaron Verzosa, Developmental Chef: Immersion blenders make great gifts. Both the one I have at home and the ones we use at the lab are KitchenAid.
Melissa Lukach, PR and Marketing Manager: Finishing salts are nice for coworkers, friends, and as stocking stuffers. Black Hawaiian sea salt is interesting on its own, but a simple gray salt can be enhanced by blending it with herbs or spices.
Scott Heimendinger, Director of Applied Research: This year I treated myself to an iSi Gourmet Whipping Siphon. I use it to make scrambled eggs, carbonate fruit, “instant barrel-age” maple syrup, make microwaved sponge cake… and occasionally, to make whipped cream, too!
Larissa Zhou, Food Scientist: This year I want a blowtorch because it is a small investment that can take your dishes from home-delicious to restaurant-fancy. You can make crème brûlée, of course, but you can also smoke wood chips, sear meat, and generally use it whenever you need high temperatures that are rarely attained on home stoves.
As we approach the end of the year, The Cooking Lab team has been thrilled to see that many publications have included Modernist Cuisine at Home in their “Best of 2012” lists and holiday gift guides. There are far too many to include here, but here are some notables:
- Amazon.com: Modernist Cuisine at Home is listed #3 on Amazon’s Best Cookbooks of 2012 list and #9 on their Best Books of 2012 list. It is currently ranked #1 on the best seller list in the gastronomy category.
- Saveur: On their list of best cookbooks, Saveur says “[Nathan Myhrvold is] in pursuit of culinary perfection.”
- Wall Street Journal: Colman Andrews lauds Modernist Cuisine at Home in his list of cookbooks that make great gifts, writing, “Mr. Myhrvold has a real sense for food, and his tips on how to dress a ‘great salad,’ shuck clams and make beef jerky in a microwave will amaze and delight.”
- Ruhlman.com: On his blog, Michael Ruhlman writes, “It is great for the home, giving basics on sous vide cooking, the best way to use your grill, innovative ways to use the microwave and pressure cooker, and other basics. And the drop-jaw-stunning photography remains.”
Thank you so much to everyone who included us in their lists!
While we love that Modernist Cuisine at Home has found a place on these lists, we are particularly proud when members of our very hard-working team receive recognition. Yesterday, Scott Heimendinger, our Director of Applied Research, was awarded a place on Forbes‘s “30 Under 30” list in the Food & Wine category. Scott has worked diligently all year to bring Modernist cooking into people’s homes by talking to crowds about our books and launching MDRN KTCHN, in conjunction with CHOW.com. Thanks, Scott!
Scott is following in the footsteps of coauthor Maxime Bilet, who made the list last year.
Every Seattleite has been in this situation: On a cold, rainy December morning, you get your coffee to go from Vivace, Stumptown, or Starbucks, and then watch out the window for your bus. The bus, you know, might be a minute or two late, and youll have to wait a few minutes. You want to keep your coffee as hot as possible during your wait so that its still piping hot when you step out the door. You grab a lid for your cup, pausing at the cream. Should you add the cream to your coffee now, or will that only cool your drink faster? Maybe you should add your cream at the last minute, before you dash out the door.
The basic physics of heat provides the answer: you should go ahead and add the cream to your coffee now. Coffee with cream cools about 20% slower than black coffee, for three reasons:
- Black coffee is darker. Dark colors absorb heat faster than light colors (just think about wearing a black T-shirt versus a white T-shirt on a hot, sunny day). But dark colors also emit heat faster than light colorsabsorption and emission are essentially two sides of the same coin. So by lightening the color of your coffee, you slow its rate of heat loss slightly.
- Stefan-Boltzmann says so. The Stefan-Boltzmann law says that hotter surfaces radiate heat fasterspecifically, the power of emission is proportional to the temperature (in kelvin) raised to the fourth power. So lets say you have two cups of coffee that start at the same temperature. You pour cream in cup #1 and the coffee drops in temperature immediately. But the rate at which it loses heat also drops. Meanwhile, the hotter black coffee in cup #2 cools so rapidly that within five minutes the two coffees are at about the same temperature. But you still havent added the cream to coffee #2! When you do, it cools even more; cup #1 is now the hotter of the two.
- Viscosity versus evaporation. This is the clincher. Adding cream thickens the coffee (adds viscosity), so it evaporates slower. Youd be surprised just how much heat evaporation carries away. Slow the rate of evaporation and you avoid a lot of that heat loss. (This is also one big reason that coffee stays warm longer with a lid on the cup.)
So, next time youre caught in the rain, put the cream in your coffee right away. Your fingers will thank you.
Watch our high-speed video above of cream being poured into coffee at 2,000 frames per second.
In May 2009, an outbreak of foodborne illness sickened at least 80 people across 30 states; it put 35 people in the hospital. The source of that outbreak was raw, store-bought cookie dough.
To better understand the risk of getting sick from undercooked foods, its important to know a little about the mechanics of foodborne illnesses. They almost always fall into one of three categories:
- The first category is a non-invasive infection. This is when pathogens from the food get into your gut and continue living there, but without penetrating the lining. Tapeworms are typically non-invasive, as are certain kinds of bacteria, which may nevertheless secrete toxins that make you ill.
- The second variety of foodborne illness is an invasive infection. This occurs when pathogens migrate from the gut into the blood or other organs where they can wreak havoc and secrete toxins. Some delightful examples include the parasitic trichinella worm and many strains of bacteria including Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli.
- The third category is food poisoning. People sometimes apply this term broadly to any kind of foodborne illness, but food poisoning actually refers specifically to the poisoning of the body by toxins that bacteria have released inside the food before you eat it. Because these toxins are already present before you start cooking, food poisoning typically sets in quickly following a contaminated meal, whereas foodborne infections take a bit of time for bacteria to reproduce inside your body. Botulism, the biggest fear of home-canners everywhere, is one well-known example of food poisoning.
E. coli, the invasive infection responsible for the May 2009 outbreak, lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Like other bacteria, E. coli are tiny, being about one-thousandth of a millimeter across and only two to three times that in length. It would take 1.5 trillion of these germs to balance a small paperclip. But what E. coli lacks in size, it makes up for in notoriety. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but one in particular, E. coli O157:H7, has become infamous for its role in foodborne outbreaks, including contaminated milk, ground beef, spinach, and alfalfa.
Another common source of invasive infection is salmonella, which, although it wasnt to blame in the 2009 cookie-dough outbreak, really is as dangerous as most people imagine. But here, too, confusion reigns over the true source of contamination. Salmonella bacteria do not live in chicken meat (muscle tissue), the source most commonly fingered as the culprit. Instead, the bacteria normally live in the intestinal tracts and feces of chickens and can contaminate the meat during slaughter and processing (except S. enterica, which can infect hen ovaries and contaminate intact eggs regardless of fecal contact). The poultry industry has made enormous strides in containing contamination, and chickens are far from alone in spreading the disease. In 2008, for instance, U.S. investigators traced a major outbreak of salmonella to tainted peanut butter and other peanut-containing foods.
Certain brands of raw cookie dough, which are labeled for raw consumption, such as cookie dough chunks in store-bought ice creams, are safe to eat raw. But even when safe handling practices are followed, eating homemade raw cookie dough, or store-bought cookie dough that is intended to be baked, will always carry some risk.
If you want to avoid a stomach acheor worsemuster all your willpower and wait for those cookies to emerge from the oven.
For more on the microbiology of food and food-related illness, check out our tips on Food52.com.
The last chapter in Modernist Cuisine at Home is devoted entirely to custards and pies, and is comprised of 55 recipes, including more than 40 variations. Here are some of our best tips for turning out delectable desserts every time this holiday seasons. Follow our advice to not only save but enhance your sweet creations.
- Give Your Eggs the Sous Vide Treatment: Just as we suggest cooking eggs for omelets and scrambles in controlled temperatures in order to achieve the perfect viscosity of this fickle ingredient, we believe that egg-based desserts need the same treatment. We fill ramekins with crème brûlée, seal them, and cook them in a water bath to a core temperature of 80 °C / 176 °F. When making a pastry cream, crème anglaise, lemon curd, or sabayon, we first cook the egg yolks sous vide (using different temperatures, depending on the dish) to fully pasteurize them, avoiding the fuss of double boilers and curdling. In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we propose eight variations of our pastry cream alone, like Amaretto, cheese, and pressure-infused coffee. Trust us, you’ll never face a boring cream pie again.
- Calculate Your Gelatin: Reviving the Jell-O wreath or planning a fancy panna cotta this holiday season? We use Knox gelatin in our panne cotte, firm pastry creams, apple foam, and fruit jellies because you can find it in most grocery stores. Gelatins are measured by what is called their Bloom strength (usually labeled as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum). Knox brand has a bloom strength of 225. If you are making a recipe (not just one of ours, but any recipe), be it a Jell-O wreath or a pâté, you can use a different Bloom strength than what the recipe calls for, but you’ll have to do a little math. You can convert the recipe to use whatever gelatin you have on hand if you know the weight (MA) and Bloom strength (BA). For gelatin A, you can find the equivalent weight of gelatin B (MB) with a Bloom strength of BB by using the formula MB = MA × BA ÷ BB. For example, if a recipe calls for 2.6 g of Knox gelatin, you could use 3.7 g of silver gelatin, which has a Bloom strength of 160 (2.6 × 225 ÷ 160 = 3.7). To make a vegetarian panna cotta, we substitute 0.8 g agar and 0.65 g xanthan for the 4.3 g gelatin the recipe normally calls for.
- Keep Your Pie Crust Flaky: You can’t have a great pie if your crust is soggy, so we tested more than 40 versions before nailing down our Flaky Pie Crust recipe. But even the best crust needs a little extra help when acting as the foundation for a pastry cream. To keep your crust crisp, let it cool and then brush a thin layer of melted cocoa butter on top of it. Let the butter solidify at room temperature before filling the pie with pastry cream. This coating of cocoa butter creates a barrier between the crust and pastry cream, which will prevent the moisture of the cream from draining into the crust, turning it to mush.
- Make Freeze-Dried Raspberry Powder: A great way to finish any dessert is with freeze-dried raspberry powder sprinkled on top. Pulse store-bought, freeze-dried raspberries (or any other freeze-dried fruit) in a food processor, blender, or coffee grinder until a powder forms. This powder has myriad uses. You can blend it into your pie crust, mix it with a little sugar and rim a cocktail glass with it, or sprinkle it over lemon curd, just to name a few ideas.
- Microwave a Cake: If you are stymied by unexpected visitors, skip our Custard and Pie chapter and thumb back to the Microwave chapter. Making individual cakes is a snap with a whipping siphon and a microwave. Siphon the batter into paper cups and microwave them for 50 seconds until thoroughly cooked. To watch Scott demonstrate this technique in a CHOW Tips video, click here.