How to Scale a Recipe

The Mac and Cheese recipe makes five servings, but you’re throwing a dinner party for nine people. You’re in luck: We’ve made it easy to scale our recipes up to greater yields (or down if you have fewer mouths to feed) by using baker’s percentages. Just follow these simple steps.

 

  1. Look in the scaling column of the recipe, and find the ingredient having a scaling value of 100%. Note the weight given. The 100% ingredient is usually the one that has the biggest effect on the yield of the recipe.
    Example: The 100% ingredient in the Mac and Cheese recipe above is white cheddar cheese.
  2. Calculate the scaling factor by dividing the number of servings (or grams) you want to make by the recipe yield.
    Example: This recipe yields five servings. If you are making nine servings, the scaling factor is 9 ÷ 5 = 1.8. (You can use the weight of the yield rather than the servings to calculate the scaling factor: If you want to make 1,100 grams of mac and cheese from a recipe that yields 800 g as written, the scaling factor is 1,100 ÷ 800 = 1.4.)
  3. Calculate the scaled 100% value for the recipe by multiplying the weight of the 100% ingredient by the scaling factor from step 2.
    Example: This five-serving recipe calls for 285 g of white cheddar, which is the 100% ingredient. To make nine servings, you will thus need 285 g x 1.8 = 513.0 g of white cheddar cheese. The scaled 100% value for this recipe is 513.0.
  4. Calculate the scaled weight for every other ingredient in the recipe by multiplying its scaling percentage by the scaled 100% value from above. You can ignore the weights and volumes given in the recipe—just use the scaling percentages.
    Example: The scaling percentage given for dry macaroni is 84%. Multiplying this by the scaled 100% from step 3, you find that 0.84 x 513.0 = 430.9. Similarly, you need 0.93 x 513.0 = 477.1 g of water or milk and 0.04 x 513.0 = 20.5 g of sodium citrate.

Because volume measurements are often rounded to the nearest spoon or cup, you should not multiply or divide volumes when scaling a recipe up or down. Instead, scale the weights as described above, and then weigh the ingredients on a digital scale.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Why Cook Sous Vide?

Cooking sous vide is easier than its fancy name might suggest. You simply seal the ingredients in a plastic bag (you can also use a canning jar) and place them in a water bath, a combi oven, or any other cooker that can set and hold a target temperature to within a degree or two. When the food reaches your target temperature or time, you take it out, give it a quick sear or other finish, and serve it. That’s it.

The sous vide method yields results that are nearly impossible to achieve by traditional means. In the photo above, both of the tenderloins started at the same weight. The steak on the left was cooked in a pan to a core temperature of 52 °C / 126 °F, but more than 40% of the meat was overcooked. The other steak was cooked sous vide to the same temperature and then seared with a blowtorch to yield a juicier steak that is done to perfection from edge to edge.

Similarly, beef short ribs braised at 58 °C / 136 °F for 72 hours are melt-in-your-mouth tender, yet pink and juicy. And the delicate, custard-like texture of an egg poached at precisely 65 °C / 149 °F is amazing.

MCAH_RIBS_Opener_1077

Sous vide is especially useful for cooking meats and seafood, for which the window of proper doneness is often vanishingly small when traditional methods are used. When you fry a piece of fish, the flesh is most succulent and tender within a very narrow temperature range. Because the cooking temperature of the pan is at least 200 °C / 392 °F hotter than the ideal core temperature of the fish, the edges will inevitably be far more cooked than the center when pan-fried.

Chicken breasts and other poultry cuts and poultry products are often held at a target temperature for a different reason: to kill potential pathogens and improve the safety of the food.

The idea of preserving and cooking food in sealed packages is ancient. Throughout culinary history, food has been wrapped in leaves, potted in fat, packed in salt, or sealed inside animal bladders before being cooked. People have long known that isolating food from air, accomplished more completely by vacuum sealing, can arrest the decay of food. Packaging food also prevents it from drying out.

Although sous vide literally means “under vacuum” in French, the defining feature of the sous vide method is not packaging or vacuum sealing; it is accurate temperature control. A computer-controlled heater can warm a water bath to any low temperature you set, and it can keep it there for hours, or even days, if needed.

Such mastery over heat pays off in several important ways, most notably, freeing the cook from the tyranny of the clock. Traditional cooking with a range, oven, or grill uses high and fluctuating temperatures, so you must time the cooking exactly; there is little margin for error. With just a moment’s inattention, conventional cooking can quickly overshoot perfection.

When cooking sous vide, in contrast, most foods will taste just as good even if they spend a few extra minutes at a target temperature, so you can relax and devote your attention to the more interesting and creative aspects of cooking.

Precise temperature control and uniformity of temperature has two other big advantages. First, it allows you to cook food to an even doneness all the way through, no more dry edges and rare centers. Second, you get highly repeatable results. The steak emerges from the bag juicy and pink every time.

A final important benefit is that the closed bag creates a fully humid environment that effectively braises the food, so ingredients cooked this way are often noticeably juicier and more tender. Food cooked sous vide doesn’t brown, but a simple sear adds that traditional flavor where needed so that you can have the best of both worlds.

MCAH_RIBS_Lamb_Step4_MG_0702

We’ve been asked many times about the safety of cooking plastic bags. The bottom line is that bags made expressly for cooking sous vide are perfectly safe, as are oven bags, popular brands of zip-top bags, and stretchy plastic wrap such as Saran Wrap.

The plastic that these products are made of is called polyethylene. It is widely used in containers for biology and chemistry labs, and it has been studied extensively. It is safe. But, do avoid very cheap plastic wraps when cooking. These are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and heating them presents a risk of chemicals leaching into the food.

Cooking sous vide isn’t complicated or expensive. In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we guide you through the various kinds of sous vide equipment and supplies available for home cooks, including how to improvise your own setup. Check back later in the week when we share such methods using equipment you probably already own.

 

— Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home and Modernist Cuisine

How to Calibrate Your Kitchen

We’ve heard of chefs who claim that they can tell temperature by pressing a thermometer to their lips. Setting aside the problem that this technique could lead to a trip to the emergency room, the approach seems highly vulnerable to human error. Leaving temperature control to intuition is a recipe for disaster: dry and rubbery chicken, under-cooked fish, and scalded milk. What’s more, when cooking at low temperatures, being off just a degree or two can make your food not just unpalatable but downright dangerous to eat.

That’s why the most important tool in your kitchen is a quality thermometer, followed closely by a setup that allows you to set the temperature of the cooking environment with precision. With temperature under close control, chefs can relax and devote more of their creative brain power to flavor combinations and new textures.

Cooking food sous vide (sealed, in a low-temperature water bath) is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to achieve such control. Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home include hundreds of our favorite recipes for sous vide dishes. We exploit this technique, for example, to slow-cook chicken to juicy perfection while also pasteurizing it, which requires a minimum holding time at the final temperature to knock any germs down to a safe level. It’s crucial to be able to trust your thermometer, because if it reads 60° C / 140 °F when the temperature is actually several degrees cooler than that, the chicken may not be fully pasteurized when you serve it.

Fortunately, high-quality thermometers are widely available and relatively inexpensive. We prefer digital thermometers because they are easy to read and switch instantly between Celsius and Fahrenheit. Moreover, better models, such as Thermocouple’s Platinum RTD probes, are accurate to about half a degree Celsius (a bit less than one degree Fahrenheit). Even inexpensive digital oven probes are accurate to within 1.5 °C / 2.7 °F, even at low temperature. Analog thermometers, in contrast, are all but useless at low temperatures, and spike-and-dial varieties typically vary up to 2.5 °C / 4.5 °F from the true temperature.

These accuracy numbers all presuppose that your thermometer is properly calibrated, not a safe assumption for many off-the-shelf products. So whenever you buy a new thermometer, calibrate it right away by using the simple, tried-and-true method of verifying that it reads 0 °C / 32 °F in water stirred with crushed ice and 100 °C / 212 °F in water at a full boil (but note that water boils at lower temperatures at elevations above sea level, so you may need to look up the normal boiling temperature at your location). Be sure the thermometer probe doesn’t touch the sides of the container, and give it a few minutes to settle on a final reading. If your thermometer hits these targets on the nose, it is suitable for sous vide and other low-temperature cooking methods. But if your thermometer is off by 2 °C / 4 °F or more, return it for a new one or take it to a professional to adjust it.

Once your thermometer is dialed in, you can move on calibrating other parts of your kitchen. You probably won’t notice a difference in your cooking if your oven is off by a degree or two, but if you can’t set an oven temperature below 200 °F / 95 °C, it isn’t suitable for dehydrating food or slow-cooking a frozen steak to medium rare. Because ovens are notoriously inaccurate at their lower ends, be sure to calibrate your oven at several lower temperatures before relying on it for slow baking or braising.

To calibrate your oven, you need a thermometer with a probe and digital display, tethered together by an oven-safe wire. Preheat your oven fully to its lowest available setting (give it a little extra time to settle), and then clip your probe to the oven rack so that the tip of the probe is near the center of the cavity and points upward and inward. Close the oven door, wait a few minutes for the oven to recover its temperature, and then note the temperature you set as well as the reading on the thermometer. Repeat with the probe placed near a back corner and then near the door. Next, increase the temperature by 30 °C / 50 °F, and repeat. It takes some time to record these measurements for the entire range of your oven, but you only need to do it once, and the resulting picture of your oven’s performance is invaluable. You may learn, for example, why your quirky oven burns cookies on the right side of the sheet even while cookies in the back left corner stay stubbornly raw. Oven walls radiate heat unevenly, so you should expect to see some temperature variations within the cavity. Once you know their magnitude and location, you can compensate for them.

As in an oven, the temperature inside your refrigerator is warmer on some shelves than others; the door compartments are often the warmest. This can pose a safety risk if the temperature in any part of the refrigerator exceeds 5 °C / 40 °F. It is wise to set your refrigerator to a temperature that causes lower shelves to drop below freezing if that is what must be done to keep the top shelves in the door within a safe range.

To test the temperature of your refrigerator, place glasses of water in it at various locations, including the door and the top and bottom shelves. Wait several hours and then measure the temperature of the water (take care not to let the probe touch the sides of the glass). Adjust the refrigerator setting if needed, and then repeat to confirm that all parts are at or below 5 °C / 40 °F.

When cooking or cleaning up after a meal, never put food in the refrigerator or freezer while it’s still hot. We used an infrared camera to visualize how much a bowl of hot leftovers warms the surrounding food in the refrigerator, and the results were shocking. The temperature can rise dramatically and stay above the safety zone for hours, long enough for food to spoil.

Finally, use a thermometer rated for subzero temperatures (many digital ones aren’t) to check the temperature inside your freezer. Generally speaking, the lower the better, because fast freezing produces the smallest ice crystals and the least damage to foods as they solidify. But as long as the temperature is -15 °C / 5 °F or lower, you needn’t worry about microbes multiplying in the frozen food.

No one claims that calibrating your kitchen is fun. But it is important, and once you’ve done it, all your cooking will go more smoothly. You can then focus more of your attention on the creative aspects of cooking without worrying so much about being thwarted (or even made ill) by the vagaries of temperature.

Click here to put your newly calibrated oven to use, cooking steak straight from the freezer!

Top Chef Seattle Visits Modernist Cuisine

When we found out that Top Chef would be filming season 10 in Seattle, we couldn’t let them leave town without stopping by the Modernist Cuisine lab. About midway through the season, we hosted Padma Lakshmi and the remaining contestants for a 22-course tasting to give them firsthand experience of some of the iconic dishes from Modernist Cuisine.

The 22-course meal (menu reprinted below) was prepared by our five full-time development chefs, including our previous head chef, Maxime Bilet, plus three stagiaires. The feast contained hundreds of individual components, so the team began its prep work weeks in advance. The entire dinner service lasted two and a half hours, which may sound lengthy but works out to an average duration of just six minutes and 48 seconds per course. Our original menu boasted more than 30 courses but had to be trimmed to meet time constraints.

The Top Chef production crew outnumbered the contestants by a wide margin, so we weren’t able to feed the entire crew. But, whenever possible, we sneaked samples of each dish to the crew members perched on the mezzanine above our kitchen and around the corner in our conference room, which had been annexed as “video village”, a space for the producers to watch video feeds from each camera.

Hardcore fans of Top Chef may recall that Nathan Myhrvold was a guest judge on last year’s“BBQ Pit Wars” episode. It was a pleasure to host the Top Chef team on our home turf and to give them a taste of our version of Seattle cooking.

 

SNACKS

Salt and Vinegar Pommes Soufflées

pregelatinized starch, spray-dried vinegar

Bread and Butter

centrifuged pea “butter”

Elote

freeze-dried corn, brown butter, cilantro blossoms

Steak Frites

ultrasonic fries, pressure-rendered beef mousseline

Caprese

savory constructed cream, cherries

?????

SHELLFISH

Squid Salad

crispy squid jerky, MAPP flame, Thai flavors

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Taylor’s geoduck, vacuum-molded and centrifuged broth

?????

LIQUID LOVE

Summer Vegetable Broth

centrifuged peas, pickled Meyer lemon, sheep’s milk ricotta

Rare Beef Stew

sous vide rare beef jus, garden vegetables and cured beef marrow

Caramelized Carrot Soup

pressure caramelization, carotene butter, young coconut noodles

Brassicas

Gruyère velouté, flash-pickled grapes, lots of brassicas

JUST IN CASE THE APPETITE BECKONS

Raw Quail Egg

a touch of protein from our rooftop farm

Polenta Marinara

pressure-cooked with corn juice

Mushroom Omelet

constructed egg stripes, combi oven, Porcini

Chinook King, Hazelnut, and Sorrel

aromatic nuts and seeds, lemon butter, wild greens

“Le Ski” Apple Snowball

vacuum-aerated sorbet, frozen fluid-gel powder

Roast Chicken

Mamie France‘s cream sauce, morels, vin jaune

Pastrami

72 h sous vide, Taki’s sweet onion sauerkraut, fresh Oregon wasabi

?????

FRUITS AND CREAMS

Milk Shake

goat milk, vacuum reduction

Summer Minestrone

vacuum-infused fruits and vegetables, candied white beans

Pistachio Gelato

pistachio cream, strawberries, violet and pistachio crumble

?????

SWEETS

Gummy Worms

peanut butter and jelly, fish-lure molds

What Exactly Is Modernist Cuisine?

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.

Your 2013 New Year’s Resolution: Try Modernist Cooking

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:

We hope you’ll take this trek with us. Make sure to register with ModernistCuisine.com and check in with us each week.

Gift Ideas from the Modernist Cuisine Team

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.

Johnny Zhu, Developmental Chef: I got a Thermapen one year and a Vitamix another year. Both were great gifts!

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!

Sam Fahey-Burke, Developmental Chef: Two inexpensive gift ideas are a Japanese mandoline and a Microplane. They are both kitchen essentials. We use them all the time.

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.

Still stumped? Check out our Top 5 Modernist Cuisine at Home Tools, or our gift guide from last year.

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2012 Cookbook Lists; Scott Makes the Forbes “30 Under 30”

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.

 

The Physics of Coffee & Cream

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 you’ll have to wait a few minutes. You want to keep your coffee as hot as possible during your wait so that it’s 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:

  1. 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 colors—absorption 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.
  2. Stefan-Boltzmann says so. The Stefan-Boltzmann law says that hotter surfaces radiate heat faster—specifically, the power of emission is proportional to the temperature (in kelvin) raised to the fourth power. So let’s 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 haven’t added the cream to coffee #2! When you do, it cools even more; cup #1 is now the hotter of the two.
  3. Viscosity versus evaporation. This is the clincher. Adding cream thickens the coffee (adds viscosity), so it evaporates slower. You’d 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 you’re 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.