Celebrating Steven Shaw

The best meals are shared, creating a sense of community. These experiences bring people together to exchange ideas, pose questions, debate passionately, laugh loudly, create memories, and relish in eating good food. Steven Shaw did all of these things as well—his work embodied the spirit of his subject matter.

The culinary world lost an innovative voice on Tuesday. I’m shocked and deeply saddened to lose Steven, who has been a great friend to me and to the entire culinary world.

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Steven genuinely enjoyed good food, whether it was a pizza, a particularly delicious deli sandwich, or a provocative Modernist creation at a high-end restaurant. His voracious appetite for both food and writing drove him to leave a successful legal career to become a food blogger, long before that title existed and certainly before anyone was actually getting paid for it. He was an evocative, intelligent author and critic who had a gift for inspiring people to explore, debate, and eat. His early, enthusiastic newsletters transformed into his blog, which evolved into eGullet; the community he created is a true reflection of his passion. His decisions in how to shape and moderate the disparate voices into a managed conversation made eGullet into a forum where chefs, home cooks, and just about anybody else openly shared their knowledge. He was a trailblazer, centralizing our conversations and democratizing our discourse by moving it to an online agora.

In many ways, the inspiration for Modernist Cuisine was born on those forums. In 2004, I started exploring and explaining sous vide cuisine on eGullet. Almost immediately, I was contacted by FatGuy, and, in addition to the public posts, we started to e-mail each other directly. As a result of the experience, I was determined to write a book on sous vide. Steven was a tremendously positive influence on the development of both Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home. He was a sounding-board throughout the writing process, providing thoughtful feedback on early manuscripts. I and the rest of the Modernist Cuisine team owe a great deal to him for all of his help and guidance.

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I was also incredibly fortunate to be able to call him a friend. He was smart, doggedly rational, and had a famously acerbic sense of humor—he was a genuinely good guy and a truly amazing person to share a meal with. I have many wonderful memories that were made while sitting across the table from him. I was privileged to dine with Steven in the last weeks at elBulli. Our group comprised chefs and hard-core eaters, but six hours and fifty-two courses after the beginning of the night, we reached our limits. Yet, when the last plate finally arrived, Steven turned to me and said in an incredulous voice, “Is that it?” It was all the rest of us could do to contain our laughter.

Steven has left a lasting legacy. He taught thousands of people how to really love food and his work will live on in the community he built. eGullet is a gift that he created for everyone—especially for me. He will be sincerely missed and lovingly remembered as a legend. He gave so much, but it ended far too soon. If I could say one last thing to him, I would say, “Hey Steve, is that it?”

The Science Behind Non-Newtonian Noodles

Modernist cooking isn’t just reserved for state-of-the-art kitchens and labs, for culinary ingenuity is found in many surprising places. Street vendors in particular are among the most innovative and resourceful cooks out there. They often combine humble ingredients with science to create extraordinary dishes, often paired with entertaining finesse to stop hungry locals and travelers in their tracks.

For instance, the vendor in this video is preparing fei chang fen, a tasty specialty of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, China. He uses a marvelously simple, yet clever way of making noodles by grabbing handfuls of batter from a large pot and dropping it into a colander, allowing the batter to drain through the holes. The batter at the bottom of the colander flows freely, but the mixture at the top appears much thicker—thick enough, in fact, for the vendor to forcefully slap the surface without submerging his hand. The process repeats as he casually looks around, until the vendor shears off the batter into individual strands of noodles, which he then drops into boiling broth to cook.

Traditionally, elastic fei chang fen noodles are made of sweet-potato starch reserved in a steaming-hot broth with pig intestines. The resulting noodle soup is then garnished with bean sprouts, scallions, peanuts, chili oil, and vinegar.

It is the unique preparation, however, by which the street vendor creates his noodles that caught our attention. By combining starch and liquid, he creates a non-Newtonian fluid: a liquid that does not flow with constant viscosity but with a viscosity that changes in response to shear forces, which are forces that push in opposite directions along two distinct parallel lines. Simply put, non-Newtonian fluids can behave as both a liquid and solid. When you apply shear forces to non-Newtonian fluids, you’re met with resistance—try punching such mixtures, and you might come away with a bruise or two. In contrast, Newtonian fluids (like water) have a relatively constant viscosity, despite shear forces and flow rates, which allow them to flow in predictable ways.

We encounter non-Newtonian fluids every day, a classic example of which is Ketchup, which stubbornly stays in the bottle and acts solid, even if the bottle is inverted. If you shake the bottle, the flow starts and then picks up speed as shear forces reduce the viscosity. Often the result is that too much ketchup dumps on the plate.

There’s no need to shake a bottle of water when you want to fill a cup. When you pour water, you can easily anticipate the trajectory and flow of the fluid; splashes are just a function of the pourer’s clumsiness.

Despite the ubiquity of non-Newtonian fluids, scientists have only recently begun to understand the mechanisms of how they flow.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have uncovered just how the molecules of non‑Newtonian fluids behave. By using high-speed videography and force sensors on mixtures of cornstarch and water (commonly known as Oobleck with an etymology tracing to the pen of Dr. Seuss), the research team observed the so-called “snowplow” effect: when a mixture is compressed, the molecules pack together to create a solid surface.

The snowplow effect partly explains how the noodles in the video can be picked up like a block one second and then flow freely the next. When the vendor smacks the batter in the video (likely done to distribute the batter or for a bit of dramatic flair), the molecules directly under his hand compress into a hard mass that is unable to exit the colander, momentarily exhibiting properties of a solid, just like the packed snow that builds up in front of a snowplow.

But when the vendor lets the batter rest in the colander, the molecules relax, and the mixture flows again. The vendor then shears off the dough into individual strands of noodles, which fall into the boiling broth below and cook. Although scientists now understand how molecules become “jammed” into a solid, they are still trying to understand how molecules relax to take on characteristics of a liquid.

To observe these unique (and often entertaining) properties of non-Newtonian fluids, try creating your own Oobleck by mixing one cup of cornstarch with one-half cup of water. And the next time you find yourself wandering through a market, take a second look at the cooking techniques of street vendors because you might be witnessing a complex scientific process!

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Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find upcoming posts about street vendor science.

The Delicious Science of Guinness

Guinness isn’t just tasty — the company has a long history of technical and scientific innovation.

Guinness draft beer is famous for both its taste and its velvety, foamy head. The creamy foam of dry stouts is notably different from the bitter, more carbonated foam of other beers because of the addition of nitrogen. In fact, kegs that dispense stouts are pressurized with nitrogen, which has a low solubility in liquids and works to displace carbon dioxide (CO2), imparting a unique head with a pleasant mouthfeel.

The bubbles of other beers, as in lagers, form as dissolved CO2 comes out of solution slowly. But this doesn’t translate well to canned beers. So, in the late 1980s, Guinness developed an answer: a special can pressurized not just with 2 but also nitrogen. Cans — and, more recently, bottles — of Guinness contain a floating plastic container called a widget, which releases additional nitrogen when the container is opened. This sophisticated combination has been very successful in mimicking draft Guinness.

In 2006, Guinness introduced another option: the Surger, an ultrasonic device that sits under a pint glass and sends out a pulse of ultrasound to create cavitation, which drives bubbles out of solution.

We cut open a Guinness Bottle to examine how the widget works its magic.

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– Adapted from Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

A Super Bowl Snackdown

Super Bowl fever is in full swing this week, and here in Seattle we’re feeling extra excited this year. Game day isn’t just a celebration of American football; it’s an ode to the United States’ adoration of snack food. In fact, the only day that precedes Super Bowl Sunday in super snacking is Thanksgiving. Crispy, crunchy, melty, creamy, skewered, fried, baked, pressure-cooked, and even infused—we love them all. To help you celebrate, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes that will bring a Modernist twist to your game-day parties.

First Half:

Pressure-Cooked Carnitas

Pressure-Cooked Chicharrón

Modernist Seven-Layer Dip

Melty Queso Dip

Starch-Infused Fries

Cheese puffs

Half-time Show:

Lamb Skewers with Mint Yogurt

Crispy Chicken Wings, Korean Style

Neapolitan Pizza Dough with Classic Pizza Sauce

Silky Smooth Macaroni and Cheese

Cooking Meat Sous Vide in a Cooler

Smoked Dry Rub Ribs

Second Half:

Frozen Fruit Rolls

Mind-Blowing Microwaved Cake

Pistachio Gelato

P.B. & J. Gelato

 

For precision cooking fire up the… cooler?

BY W. WAYT GIBBS
Associated Press

When you head off to the shore, the woods, or a tailgate party at the stadium, you don’t have to settle for preservative-filled hot dogs or overcooked burgers.

Live a little, and take along a few inch-thick strip steaks, or maybe some fresh salmon or chicken fillets. Rest easy, because cooking the meat to perfection will be a snap. And the best tool for the job is the very container you’ll use to carry the food: a big, insulated ice chest. You’ll also want to pack a digital thermometer — and a blowtorch, if you have one.

When relaxing outdoors, we’re in no hurry. But cooking over the intense heat of a fire or grill is unforgiving; time things wrong by just a minute or two, and the window of opportunity for a perfectly medium-rare steak or a just-done salmon fillet will have closed.

As long as you have plenty of water and a way to heat it, however, you have a better alternative: transform that insulated cooler from an improvised fridge into an improvised hot water bath for cooking your food. Then you can cook your meat the way high-end chefs do, or sous vide, as they say in the restaurant world.

Convert a Cooler into a Water Bath

I realize that this idea strikes some people as funky, but it’s simple. Here’s how it works. You fill the cooler with hot water. You place your meat in a sealed plastic bag. Add the bagged meat to the cooler, then walk away. The hot water slowly, evenly, perfectly cooks the meat to your desired doneness.

First, a few guidelines. The cooler and meat should be warmed to room temperature before you start. To maintain the temperature during cooking, plan on using about 8 quarts of water per steak or fillet, and dump in water that is a good 15° F warmer than the final temperature you want the center of the meat to achieve. The recipe below lists final target temperatures for several good options.

During the entire cooking time, the food stays safely sealed in plastic bags, which lock in the cooking juices and keep out the water and anything that might be living on the walls of the ice chest.

Cook Steak Sous Vide in a Cooler

Though the meat will take longer to cook in the bath than it would on the grill, that gives you time to hang out with friends and family. And as long as you don’t use water that is too hot, it is almost impossible to overcook the food. Just make sure, for safety’s sake, that you use whole cuts (no ground meat, such as hamburger or sausage) and that the food gets eaten within four hours of putting it into the water.

No matter how hot the water is, it won’t sear the meat. That’s where the blowtorch comes in. Torches fueled by MAP or propylene gas burn more cleanly than those that run on butane or propane. Sweep the tip of the flame across the surface of the meat in quick, even strokes until an appetizing brown crust forms. The interior will still be done to perfection, virtually edge to edge. Season with some flaky salt and melted butter, and you’ll completely forget that you’re roughing it.

Sous Steak

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COOKING MEAT SOUS VIDE IN A COOLER

If you have time to brine the salmon in advance, you can refrigerate it for 3 to 5 hours in a mixture of 4 1/4 cups water, 4 1/2 tablespoons salt and 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Start to finish: 1/2 to 1 1/2 hours (varies depending on thickness and variety of meat)

Servings:

Two 1.1-pound (500 grams) beef strip steaks

OR

2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) boneless chicken breast

OR

2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) fillets of salmon, halibut or black cod

1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil

2 tablespoons butter

Flaked sea salt

Drain and wipe down a large, insulated cooler, then let it come to room temperature. Bring the meat to room temperature as well.

Select a target final temperature for the meat.

For beef strip or rib-eye steak — 144 F for medium, 133 F for medium-rare, 129 F for rare

For beef filet — 144 F for medium, 127 F for medium-rare, 122 for rare

For chicken breast — 140 F for medium, and hold at this temperature for at least 20 minutes to pasteurize

Salmon fillet — 113 F for rare, 126 F for firm

Once you select your target final temperature, add 15 F to that. This is the temperature to which you must heat your water. For example, to cook a beef strip steak medium rare (133 F), the water should be heated to 15 F above that, or 148 F. Heat 8 quarts of water per piece of meat to the temperature you calculated, dump it into the cooler, and close the lid tightly.

Wash your hands well with soap. Place each steak, breast or fillet in an individual zip-close plastic bag. Add about 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to each bag.

It is important to remove as much air as possible from each bag so that it does not float and the water can transmit heat to every part of the food. Before sealing the bags, open the cooler. One at a time, hold each bag by its open end and slowly lower it into the water until the water level is just below the seal. The water will push the air out of the bag. Seal the bag tightly. The sealed bag should sink. Repeat with the remaining bags of food. Space the food in the bottom of the cooler so that water can circulate easily around each bag.

Close the cooler lid firmly, and cook until the meat warms to the target temperature. Expect inch-thick steaks to reach medium-rare in 50 to 60 minutes; salmon fillets of that thickness may take only 20 minutes. Chicken breast may reach 140 F in 30 to 40 minutes, but must be held at that temperature or higher for at least 20 minutes more in order to pasteurize them.

Remove the meat from the bags and place it on a rack or baking sheet. If you want to sear the surface of the meat, sweep the flame of a blowtorch over each side in a series of quick, even passes, or place it on a very hot grill until browned.

Season generously with salt and serve immediately.

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Photo credit: Melissa Lehuta/ Modernist Cuisine, LLC

Improve that red wine with just a push of a button

BY W. WAYT GIBBS
Associated Press

Something about fine wine invites mystique, ritual—and more than a little pretension.

If you have ever ordered an old and expensive bottle of red from a master sommelier, you may have seen the ostentatious production that goes into decanting the stuff. The wine steward rolls out a gueridon (a little table) on which the bottle is cradled gently in a cloth-lined basket. A lit candle flickers nearby. The sommelier tips the neck of the bottle over the candle while pouring the wine with the delicacy of a surgeon into a broad-bottomed decanter so as not to disturb the sediment that has fallen out of the wine during years of aging and character development.

Thus aerated, the wine is then allowed to “breathe” for a while before it is served. Oenophiles—even those back in Roman times—have observed that wine of many vintages and varieties improves perceptibly when aerated for as little as a few minutes or for as long as a day. Oenologists have debated the chemistry that might account for this shift in flavor. Do the tannins change in ways that soften their distinctive flavors? Or does aeration simply allow stinky sulfides enough time to evaporate away?

Whatever the science behind it, the traditional ritual makes for a fine show. But when you’re at home pouring wine for yourself or guests, you can save time and generate entertainment of a different kind by taking a shortcut: dump the bottle in a blender, and frappe it into a froth. (Sediment is less common in wines today than it used to be, but if you are concerned about that, pour the wine very slowly into the blender, and stop before you get to the last couple ounces.)

Less than a minute of hyperdecanting, as we at The Cooking Lab have taken to calling this modern method, exposes the wine to as much air as it would see in an hour or more of traditional decanting, and does so far more uniformly. Wine aficionados may recoil in fear that such a violent treatment will “break” the wine, but the proof is in the tasting.

In carefully controlled, double-blind taste tests conducted at our lab, we presented 14 experienced wine tasters—seven sommeliers, three vintners, two oenologists and two wine writers—with unlabeled samples of hyperdecanted wine. The tasters also received samples taken from the same bottles but decanted the old-fashioned way. The order of presentation was varied from one trial to the next.

When we asked them which samples they preferred, only two of the 14 judges were able to distinguish a difference repeatedly, and both of those tasters consistently preferred the wine that had gone through the blender.

So the next time you uncork a well-muscled syrah or even a rambunctious riesling for your connoisseur friends, bring a blender to the table, and have a camera ready. The foam will subside within seconds. But you’ll cherish that memory of the look on their faces for the rest of your days.

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Photo credit: Ryan Matthew Smith/ Modernist Cuisine, LLC

Gift Guide 2013: Gifts for Modernist Cooks

Whether you’re purchasing one of our books for a loved one or buying gifts for someone who has already added one of our volumes to their personal library, this year we devoted our gift guide to items that pair perfectly with Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home. From stocking stuffers to larger gear, we have you covered. We even selected a few ingredients to help you launch your own journey into Modernist cooking.

Modernist Cuisine

Water Bath: This year, give the gift of sous vide. We suggested gifting sous vide setups in previous years with good reason: a water bath is an essential tool for many of the recipes we created for Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home. While there are ways to improvise, this is the best tool for regularly cooking sous vide or for any cooking task requiring precise temperature control. Water baths are also the perfect way to heat up holiday leftovers. The SousVide Supreme ($329 and up) is sufficient for most home uses, but the PolyScience Sous Vide Professional immersion circulator (Creative series, $399), paired with a polycarbonate tank ($33 for a 10 L tank), provides more uniform heat distribution.

 

Cook the lamb sous vide for 3 hours.

Blowtorch: From caramelizing crème brûlée to searing sous vide meat, there are many practical (and impractical) reasons to keep a blowtorch handy in the kitchen. A blowtorch is an inexpensive gift (we like the Bernzomatic TS4000 Trigger Start Torch, $34) that’s great for recipes that call for high temperatures unattainable in conventional ovens. It’s also an impressive tool to pull out during holiday gatherings and dinner parties.

Modernist Cuisine™ Gel Noodle and Spherification Kits: 130 pages of Modernist Cuisine are devoted to the science of gels because creating gels is a fundamental technique of Modernist (and even conventional) cooking. The Gel Noodle and Spherification kit ($40 and $50) are a fantastic introduction to the art of creating these magical treats in your kitchen. Each kit comes with some essential tools to get you started as well as enough ingredients to create 20 batches of gelled noodles or spheres. And the kits just happen to be stocking size.

Spherification-WT-2

Borosilicate Flasks and Beakers: Flasks and beakers aren’t necessarily a Modernist must, but these lab tools are incredibly handy to have in the kitchen. If you need to measure volume, beakers and flasks are highly accurate and have greater heat resistance than conventional Pyrex. Plus they double as a very nerd-chic container for cocktails. This SEOH 5-pack of beakers ($14) is a great starter set, but there are many, many options available online.

Modernist Cuisine at Home

Digital Scale: Begin applying more precision to your measurements with a reliable, digital gram scale. These scales are easy to find at cooking stores, and basic models are inexpensive. You should really own two: a general-purpose scale that accurately measures weights from one to 1,000 grams and an even more precise scale accurate to a tenth or hundredth of a gram. A 0.1 g scale is a must-have for measuring hydrocolloid thickening and gelling agents. We recommend the Digital Bench Scale ($49) for extra-large batches and the Extreme‑Precision Digital Ingredient Scale ($27) for its compact portability.

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Thermometer: The pockets of chef jackets have one thing in common: thermometers—and for good reason. Thermometers are indispensable kitchen tools. Small changes in temperature can make all the difference in cooking, so thermometers are essential. A good digital thermometer can even take the place of a fancy sous vide cooker. Our favorite is the Taylor Professional Thermocouple Thermometer ($78), which is extremely accurate and allows you to measure food temperatures in both water baths and ovens. Even an inexpensive instant-read thermometer will give you excellent range and speed, and it’s useful for almost any application.

The Modernist Cuisine™ Special Edition Baking Steel: Andris Lagsdin, a pizza enthusiast who works at a family-owned steel company, was inspired to produce Baking Steels after reading Modernist Cuisine. We worked with Andris to develop the Modernist Cuisine edition, a preseasoned, shatterproof ⅜ in thick steel plate. Based on our own research, we designed it to be an optimal combination of performance and usability. It’s the perfect tool to help create any of the pizzas from Chapter 18 of Modernist Cuisine at Home, and it’s easy to use: simply slide it into a conventional oven for perfect pizzas or place it on top of a burner to use as a griddle. You can even use it as an anti-griddle to make ice cream.

steel 20 degree on white with pizza

Sodium Citrate: If your loved one is a cheese lover, a packet of sodium citrate ($7 for 50 g, $15 for 400 g) is an inexpensive, world-changing gift. Essentially the combination of salt and citric acid from citrus fruits, a tiny bit yields silky smooth Mac and Cheese or wonderfully melty cheese for dips and sandwiches. Appearing in over 20 cheese-based recipes in Modernist Cuisine at Home, sodium citrate is a staple ingredient.

Mac and cheese variations

Cooking Under Pressure: Pressure Caramelized Sweet Potato Soup

Just in time for winter, we decided to develop a new seasonal variation of one of our Modernist Cuisine traditions: Pressure Caramelized Sweet Potato Soup. The recipe for this magical soup incorporates black peppercorns to give it a nice zip, and hints of sweet onion and Makrud leaves complement the caramelized sweet potato stock.

 

Sweet Potato Soup_X8A1261

 

The charm of this soup is twofold: the elevated temperature of pressure-cooking coupled with an alkaline environment ensure that caramelization reactions will flourish.

Vegetables are made up of cells with strong walls that soften at higher temperatures than the cells in meat do. Vegetables are composed mostly of water, however, and their temperature normally won’t exceed the boiling point of water (100˚C/212˚F) until they are dried out. Vegetables in a fully pressurized cooker don’t dry out as they quickly become tender under higher temperatures (120˚C/250˚F). And because the air is sealed in, you don’t need to add much water, so juices are extracted without becoming diluted.

Add to this a pinch of baking soda to bring the soup to a more alkaline pH of about 7.5 and you have ideal conditions for Maillard reactions to commence. The result is a gorgeously colored soup that is the concentrated essence of caramelized sweet potato.

 

Sweet Potato Soup_134639_M=C

 

We like to finish our soup with purple sweet potato confit, roasted chestnuts, and toasted marshmallows. The purple sweet potatoes add a brilliant dash of color, and toasted marshmallows add a touch of tradition and whimsy. This soup is the perfect way to begin special dinners this holiday season.

Pressure-Caramelized Sweet Potato Soup

Gift Guide 2013: Gifts for Food Photographers

Searching for the perfect gift for the photographer in your life? Look no further than the pages of The Photography of Modernist Cuisine for inspiration. Taking cues from some of our favorite photos in the book, we’ve put together a list of must-have gifts for the holiday season. Whether your loved one is new to the world of photography or a seasoned vet, we hope this gift guide will be an invaluable resource for you.

 

PR_Nathan shooting Blender IMG_5186_Enlarged_Blur 40 px The Basics

Canon 1DX_X8A3463Our favorite cameras are professional DSLRs from Canon. These cameras are indispensable tools, even for passionate amateur photographers. And for those who are serious, it is worth investing in a high-quality DSLR camera body. The Canon EOS-1D X (5253B002, $6,799) has the ability to capture sharp, accurate, and high‑quality images. It is also incredibly water resistant and has a durable frame, making it useable in a variety of conditions.

 

PR_Canon EF 24-105mm 4.0  L_205242In truth, lenses are almost always more crucial to the quality of the photo than the camera body. The Canon 24–105 mm f/4L zoom lens (0344B002, $1,149) is an all‑purpose, versatile lens that allows you to quickly shoot a range of frame widths. It’s a great option for situations in which you can only take one lens with you.

 

Believe it or not, a good monitor goes a long way when it comes to photography, which is why it makes a great gift. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a nice monitor that will display 99% Adobe RGB with 1.07 billion colors. That’s right, billions of beautiful colors with the bonus of smooth gradations. Try out Dell’s UltraSharp 24 in (U2412M, $267 and up) or 27 in (U2713H, $599 and up) PremierColor LED-lit Monitors.

Cold Opener

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Macro Shots

To capture truly gorgeous macro shots, we recommend the Canon 100 mm f/2.8L macro lens (3554B002, $1,050). If you’re on a smaller budget, the non-L version (4657A006, $600) will provide you with similarly impressive results.

Improving image quality starts by improving a camera’s flash. Off-camera flashes allow photographers to create better lighting angles. The Canon Speedlite 600EX‑RT (5296B002, $549) or 430EX II (2805B002, $299) are great choices for any photographer using a Canon DSLR. The Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord OC-E3 ($70) allows you to hold the flash up to 2 feet away from the camera and still maintain all E‑TTL II functionality; at $70, it’s a wise investment.

Vitamin C_option 1

Micro Shots

In food photography, mid-range laboratory microscopes are useful for imaging the cellular structure of plant tissue or details such as the fat-covered bubbles in whipped cream. Microscopy is a different art form from photography in many ways because the light-scattering properties of matter change at the microscopic scale. A good‑quality microscope typically comes equipped with five or more objective lenses, ranging in magnification from 10:1 to 100:1. We use the Nikon E800 microscope ($6,999) with Nikon CFI objective lenses; however the newest incarnation of the model is the Nikon Eclipse Ni-U (price varies depending on configuration).

Circular Polorizer_X8A3461Polarizing filters, like this Hoya 77 mm Evo Circular Polarizer ($89), help to enhance picture quality by blocking harmful reflected light. It can be used to reduce light reflections from glass and liquid surfaces or to improve color saturation. An example of this effect can be seen in this image from The Photography of Modernist Cuisine called “Kaleidoscopic Vitamin C,” where the use of a polarized filter helped create an explosion of colors.

Eggs and Bullet sequence

High Speed Images

Remote triggers serve as the communication link between a camera and its flash. The trigger, which is usually mounted on the hot shoe, uses radio signals to synchronize flashes so that they fire at the exact moment when the shutter opens. We suggest the PocketWizard MultiMAX ($249 and up).

The Phantom V12.1 is something of a dream gift for any photographer (or director, for that matter). It’s akin to asking your parents for a pony for the holidays. Because our PR_Phantom Rear angle With Shadow V2_171321_M=Creflexes often aren’t quick enough to capture a fleeting moment of action, our studio uses high-speed video cameras like the Phantom V12.1, which can shoot up to a million frames per second. This allows us to capture moments that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by the naked eye.

Vegetable Garden_Opener

Cutaways

Some of the contents of our cutaway shots were literally held together by pins and needles. Add sewing pins to your gift list; they’re an essential tool for capturing the momentary (and fleeting) precision of a cutaway. Sewing needles are easy to hide from view or remove during editing when they can’t be fully hidden.

Salad Bowl supporting 4For a serious photographer, color is incredibly important. To achieve truly brilliant colors like those in our vegetable garden cutaway, we used the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport ($89). By taking a picture with the ColorChecker in the frame, you can easily white-balance your images during post processing. This great tool also helps photographers create custom color profiles for individual scenarios.

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On The Go

A pocket-sized tripod, like the GorillaPod ($14 and up), is an incredible gift for budding food photographers who like chronicling their meals and adventures on the go. When you don’t have much control over the lighting in your environment, a tripod can help eliminate some of the blur that you experience when taking photos in ambient lighting. Compact and portable, these small tripods connect to digital cameras of all sizes, even cell phones, making them an easy tool to carry around for impromptu shoots or to catch fleeting magical moments.

Another simple lighting gift for photographers is a portable reflector, like this 32″ Impact 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc ($38). Portable reflectors help diffuse tricky lighting in the field or in the studio. The disc itself helps soften lighting, and the removable slipcover can be used to reflect light for shadowing effects.

A Very Sous Vide Thanksgiving with Modernist Cuisine

This Thanksgiving we are exploring the diverse bounty that cooking sous vide can produce. Call it a bit of a challenge for Modernist diehards, or a joyful homage to a technique we are truly thankful for, but make no mistake: it’s a very sous vide Thanksgiving at Modernist Cuisine.

MCAH_SV_Slow Cooker Sous Vide Cutaway

Modernist chefs have embraced sous vide cooking because of the unparalleled control it provides over the textures of cooked food. Sous vide is actually perfect for a preparation-heavy, feast like Thanksgiving—by removing the chef as the role of human thermostat, you can yield perfectly-cooked food without any of the babysitting required by traditional roasting. Preparing dishes sous vide will also help to alleviate the competition for space (and correct temperature) in your oven on Thanksgiving Day. Make dishes like our potato puree ahead of time, and then store and reheat them in your water bath. They won’t overcook, and they’ll never dry out!

Planning a Thanksgiving dinner with the help of sous vide will require a water bath and a little organization, but those who plan ahead will be rewarded by the most delicious, stress-free family feast ever. To help you succeed, we’ve selected some professional tips, organized our recipes according to order of preparation, and included a few extra recipes that highlight our sous vide favorites. For juicy, evenly cooked meat, tender vegetables, and smooth potatoes, make all of these recipes, or just choose your favorites.

Turkey leg final

Improvising a Water Bath

If you have one or more sous vide baths, you’re ready to start cooking! But if you don’t yet have a sous vide setup (or if you want an extra), there are a few ways you can improvise. All you need is a digital thermometer.

  • One of the simplest ways to improvise sous vide cooking is with a pot on the stove. Clip bags of food along with your digital thermometer to a wire cooling rack, and hang it on the rim of the pot, arranging bags carefully so that the pot isn’t overcrowded. Dial in a burner setting that maintains the desired water temperature. Keep the pot covered to retain heat, uncovering only to check on the temperature.

MCAH_SV_Improvised_Ziploc Rack_VQ6B8851

  • Placing a pan filled with water into your oven will also work, but we recommend using an oven probe to be sure the temperature of your water remains stable.

Stack in Oven

  • When in need, you can convert a clean kitchen sink into a water bath. Fill the basin with water that has been heated to the desired cooking temperature, adding 1–2 °C / 2–4 °F. Add bagged food to the water, refreshing it with hot water as needed. Use silverware to hold down floating bags.

Salmon in Sink

  • If your kitchen sink (or bathtub) is occupied, a cooler can make an excellent water bath.

Step 4

  • Don’t fret if you don’t have a circulating bath. Although these baths are preferred by professional kitchens, keeping your portions in each bag small and well separated will help convective currents flow around them easily.
  • Our last suggestion doubles as a party trick: believe it or not, a hot tub will work as a (giant) water bath (but only if you’re lightly cooking salmon). If only we had a photo.

 

Prep

Now that your water bath(s) are all ready to go, it’s time to start cooking sous vide.

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1. Start your preparation by making the potato puree. This can be made two days ahead of time and then reheated just before you’re ready to serve your meal. This is not your standard mashed potatoes recipe—instead, you’ll produce velvety-smooth potatoes without a hint of gumminess or grit! Dairy-free? We also have you covered.

MCAH Potato Puree

2. Don’t save dessert for last when it comes to sous vide. Make our Vanilla-Cinnamon Cream Pie two days ahead of time and refrigerate it. The brown butter crust and apple foam add a seasonal twist to this Modernist favorite.

MCAH Sous Vide Vanilla Pastry Cream

Brown Butter Crust

Apple Foam

3. Next, it’s time for vegetables. Chop seasonal vegetables as desired and then vacuum seal them separately. All of your vegetables can cook at the same temperature (see table), and bagging them separately will allow you to pull individual bags from your water bath when they reach the desired tenderness. Make sure you don’t overcrowd your tank; leave enough room for the water to circulate. Prior to serving your food, reheat it and dress it with our Modernist Vinaigrette.

If you prefer the traditional aesthetic of roasted veggies, feel free to make those ahead of time; then seal them in a bag with a little butter or olive oil. An hour or so before you’re ready to eat, pop the bag in your sous vide bath and your veggies will stay at a perfect serving temperature.

MCAH Modernist Viniagrette

4. Classical approaches to roasting a bird whole can compromise your results: perfectly cooked breasts hide the undercooked dark meat of the thighs or else swap flavorful dark meat for dry, overcooked white meat. A Modernist approach is to cook each part of the bird separately. We devoted an entire chapter in Modernist Cuisine at Home to the art of roasting chicken and poultry. For Thanksgiving, we suggest a confit for the dark meat and sous vide turkey breast. Top your turkey with your favorite gravy recipe or dip bites into our recipe for Cranberry-Apple Sauce.

mcah-turkey-confit

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Cranberry Apple Sauce

5. Infuse your meal with some family favorites—these might be the best dishes to pair with your sous vide creations.

On Thanksgiving Day, heat your water bath to a serving temperature that’s still below the lowest cooking temperature of the foods you’ll load into it—in this case, 55 °C / 131 °F. Then add your prebagged foods at least two hours before you plan to eat. That’ll give everything enough time to get nice and warm. If your guests arrive late—not to worry—your food won’t suffer at all because of the delay.

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We’re very thankful for sous vide Thanksgiving. Very thankful, indeed!