The hidden beauty of food constantly sparks our child-like wonder and curiosity. This holiday season we want to share the same whimsical magic, so we’ve turned some of our favorite images from The Photography of Modernist Cuisine into coloring sheets for you to Download, share, print, and color. Once they’re colored, we hope you’ll take a photo and share it with us (@modcuisine) on Instagram using #MCincolor
The winter holidays are often celebrated with glorious roasts. But there’s another staple of Christmas and New Year’s fare: crustaceans. From country to country and coast to coast, it’s all about seafood.
In Australia, barbecued or steamed prawns (referred to as shrimp in the US), Australian crayfish, and marron take center stage on the table for Christmas dinner, a trend that is being echoed in the United Kingdom, where more and more families are replacing traditional turkey with large lobsters. Seafood is staple Christmas Eve fare, but most notably in Italy where the night is known as la Vigilia. Also referred to as the Eve of Seven Fishes in the United States, the night culminates around the kitchen table, which is set with course after course of dishes laden with a variety of fresh fish and crustaceans. Lobster, in particular, has become a Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve tradition (despite some cultural superstitions) for many families throughout the world and, along with crab and prawn, is a staple of Réveillon, celebrated in France, Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Quebec, New Orleans, and other areas with French or Portuguese influence. The food at réveillons, long dinner parties preceding both Christmas and New Year’s Day, is luxurious, extravagant, and comforting—a mix that is well suited for delectable crustaceans.
Although cooking crustaceans isn’t terribly complex, picking the right ones for the pot can be a challenge. You’ll do better armed with the knowledge that when crustaceans grow, they periodically shed their exoskeletons; that is, they molt. Many cooks know to avoid crustaceans that are getting ready to molt, but you may not know when to chase after those that have already molted.
Timing is important here because prior to molting, lobsters and crabs shed a large amount of muscle mass. They literally shrink inside their shells. After the exoskeleton weakens, they break out of it, living briefly without any protective covering at all. Just after molting, they pump up, adding 50%–100% to their body weight by absorbing water. You don’t generally want to eat a crustacean that is about to molt or that has just molted and is taking on a lot of ballast. The exception is soft-shelled crab, which is cooked just after having molted.
Once their new shells begin to harden, crustaceans are perhaps at their best for the table. Many say that a lobster with a new exoskeleton is exceptionally sweet and firm. Likely, this is because the creature ate voraciously after molting to replenish its protein and energy stores in order to rebuild its protective armor.
What to look for
1. Look at shell color and firmness:
When crustaceans are at their prime for eating, their topsides will be deeply colored, and their bellies will take on a stained or dirty look. The shell should be firm to the touch. Crustaceans are primed for cooking when their shells will have become very hard.
2. Compare size to weight:
Crustaceans will feel heavy for their size because they are filled with dense muscle tissue, not tissue that is bloated with absorbed water. Crustaceans that are about to molt feel the lightest because their shells are partly empty.
3. The shell will also give you clues that tell you when it’s better to pass on a particular animal:
Recently molted crabs and lobsters have shells with a grayish-to-green cast on their topsides and a lustrous white abdomen. That’s because the pigmentation of the shell comes from the animal’s diet, and they haven’t yet eaten enough to color the shells more richly.
Sometimes you will see a pinkish tinge, commonly referred to as rust, on the bottom of the crabs, which can indicate that they are getting close to molting. Before they do, they will reabsorb calcium from the shell, softening it. A telltale sign is that the shell will begin to appear slightly green again. They will bloat with water to loosen the shell and then will shed muscle mass to become small enough to squeeze out of it. Such crabs do not make for good eating.
So pick it right, and you’ll enjoy the aroma of cooked crustaceans, which is unique. The chemistry responsible for this redolence turns out to be the Maillard reaction, which normally requires a very high cooking temperature. But because the flesh of crustaceans contains a lot of sugars and amino acids (such as glycine, which tastes sweet) to counteract the salinity of seawater, the Maillard reaction occurs at an unusually low temperature. After you’re done feasting, save your crustacean shells. Collect them in the freezer until you have enough to make Pressure-Cooked Crustacean Stock. If you don’t have any shells, use whole shrimp (with heads on), which are relatively inexpensive and easy to find.
We’re celebrating holidays the best way we could think of: by giving away some of our favorite things. That’s right—Modernist cooking for everyone.
This year we’ve partnered with Artspace, Baking Steel, Modernist Pantry, Phaidon, Sansaire, and ThermoWorks to help spread our love of food, art, and Modernist gear. With 10 different prize packages, you can enter to win anything from ThermoWorks gear to art from our new limited-edition series of Artspace prints. Is Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking still on your list? We’ll be giving another copy away this year—the shipping is on us too.
How it works:
Starting December 7 visit modernistcuisine.com each morning to discover a newly featured prize. Enter to win one of the prize packages once a day before 11:59 p.m. (PST) through December 16. The winners will be selected and notified via e-mail on December 17th.
After entering, we hope you’ll stick around for even more holiday cheer. The hidden beauty of food constantly sparks our child-like wonder and curiosity. This year we want to share the same whimsical magic, so we’ve turned some of our favorite images from The Photography of Modernist Cuisine into coloring pages for you to download, share, print, and color. Once they’re colored, we hope you’ll take a photo and share it with us (@modcuisine) on Instagram using #MCincolor.
Above all, we sincerely hope you have a wonderful holiday season.
You’ve covered your bases— the turkey was in the oven with a digital probe, or separated into white and dark meat, and then cooked to the perfect internal temperature. But when you begin carving your bird, you notice the devastating color that is sure to break the hearts of hunger-mad guests moments before Thanksgiving dinner is served: pink. No need to panic. If you’ve carefully cooked your bird, there are other reasons why you might see that hue.
Several phenomena can cause discoloration in cooked meat. By far the most common, and to some people the most off-putting, is the pink discoloration that frequently occurs in poultry and pork that have been over cooked to temperatures above 80 °C / 175 °F or so. This pink tint makes some people think that the meat is still slightly raw—a common complaint with Thanksgiving and Christmas birds. In pork, the pink hue may even lead diners to suspect that a sneaky cook has injected nitrites into the meat.
In fact, a pigment known as cytochrome is to blame. Cytochrome helps living cells to burn fat. At high temperatures, it loses its ability to bind oxygen and turns pink. Over time, the pigment does regain its ability to bind oxygen, and the pink tinge fades. That is why the leftover meat in the refrigerator rarely seems to have this unseemly blush the next day.
Pink discoloration can also come in other forms, such as spots and speckles. Nearly all of these blotches are the result of the unusual way that various protein fragments and thermally altered pigment molecules bind oxygen. None of them indicate that the meat is still raw or that it will make you ill. Nor do they implicate a sneaky cook.
-Adapted from Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
You asked for more prints and we listened. We’ve partnered with Artspace.com, the leading digital marketplace for fine contemporary art, to curate a new series of photography prints that features some of our most captivating images from our books and The Photography of Modernist Cuisine: The Exhibition. Together, we’ve produced our most stunning works yet— the edge-to-edge, 17.00 x 12.00 in (43.2 x 30.5 cm) prints are reproduced on high-quality matte paper. Each work is limited to 1000 editions that come with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Each iconic image captures food from a riveting perspective using photography techniques developed by Nathan Myhrvold and our photography team:
Steaming Broccoli Cutaway, the first cutaway we ever attempted, reveals an avant-garde look at cooking as it is happening. As a result of the magical view, we went on to machine more equipment in half so that the photography team could make dozens of such cutaways.
In Cabbage Close-Up, the gradation of green hue tells the story of the plant’s time in the sun. From deep to pale, you can see that the bright outermost leaves were fully exposed to light, while those near the center experienced less directed sunlight.
The original Levitating Hamburger, inspired by exploded parts diagrams, is a gravity-defying homage to each flavorful layer of the Ultimate Cheeseburger and forever changed the way sandwiches and burgers are illustrated.
The Hidden Garden was among the most technically challenging images we created, but provides a rare glimpse of the circus-like range of colors of these roots and tubers that are normally nestled beneath soil.
The prints are on sale now and can be purchased exclusively on Artspace.com. And there’s more to come—Artspace.com intends to add additional Modernist Cuisine prints to its portfolio over time.
Although our kitchen is stocked with top-of-the-line equipment that allows us to create fantastic dishes, all in-house, there’s one tool that we don’t have: a 3D food printer.
Last year we collaborated with 3D Systems Culinary to create 3D-printed sugar sculptures, shaped like the colorful chimneys atop the Güell Palace, designed by Antoni Gaudí. The sculptures were used as “sugar cubes” during the absinthe service for our dinner honoring chef Ferran Adrià. We watched the sugar chimneys dissolve through a 3D-printed slotted spoon, designed to cradle it perfectly, as the absinthe was poured—a striking way to end the 50-course meal.
When 3D food printers are discussed, comparisons are frequently made to the technologies and gadgets that are depicted in science fiction. It’s hard to avoid, after all. Many of us remember the replicator from Star Trek that could instantly prepare a single martini or a full meal by rearranging subatomic particles. It was perfect for voyages into deep space and seemed especially appealing after a long day at work when a materialized drink or warm meal would hit the spot.
3D food printing doesn’t work like a replicator, though. 3D printers work to create foods in different ways, but the process starts with a digital design. The design can be original, made with software, or scanned using a 3D scanner. Before the design is uploaded to the printer, a program slices it into thin, horizontal layers that the printer can read. To create the sugar chimneys, 3D Systems Culinary used the ChefJet Pro, the first professional-grade culinary 3D printer. The ChefJet Pro works a lot like making frosting in a bowl; it adds the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, just very, very precisely, layer by layer. It can incorporate food dyes into each layer, to produce photographic-quality color pieces. When the print is complete, compressed air is used to remove excess dry ingredients, revealing the finished sculpture.
3D food printing is still novel to most of us, although foods like frozen pancakes are made in a similar way. Some of the applications of 3D food printing are similar to its science fiction counterpart. NASA is investigating how 3D printers can feed astronauts on long missions. 3D food printing already has practical, terrestrial applications—some German nursing homes use it to create softer foods for patients with dysphagia, a difficulty in swallowing. 3D printing has created a new world of pastry applications, expanding what we can create with sugar and chocolate. We can create shapes and designs that would be impossible by hand, including elaborate architectural structures.
Let Them Eat Brioche
When 3D Systems Culinary reached out to us about a new collaboration, we were just on the heels of constructing Casa Batlló in gingerbread. A 3D-printed structure made out of sugar was the perfect way to highlight what 3D Systems Culinary can do. We also happened to be deep into the development of our brioche recipe, so we had the buttery bread on our minds. We connected the dots, from an ornate building to a sumptuous French bread, and found ourselves transported to the opulence of Versailles.
Bread is irrevocably woven into the history of Versailles. If Marie Antoinette said anything to the hungry peasants and sans-culottes it was to advise them to eat brioche instead of cake. Brioche was incredibly expensive, a luxury for the rich, and a far cry from the crusty whole-grain loaves that were eaten by the poor. Although the famous quote most likely belonged to a princess who lived 100 years before the revolution, bread still plays an important role in the history of the château. By October 5, 1789, the undercurrents of the French Revolution were already in motion, and flour and bread had been scarce for some time. Louis XVI and his family remained blissfully, and purposefully, ignorant at Versailles, a symbol of the disparity between the immense wealth of few and the poverty of the masses. Prices were high, tensions had escalated, and a crowd of angry working-class women was close to rioting at the market. The crowd grew into a mob of thousands that then began the long march to Versailles, armed with pitchforks and whatever they could find. Their siege forced Louis and his family to leave the picturesque castle to return to the realities of Paris. On July 14, 1789, less than a year later, a crowd of revolutionaries laid siege on the Bastille, signaling the beginning of the French Revolution.
Our sugar Versailles began with a sketch by head chef Francisco Migoya, which 3D Systems Culinary transformed into a 3D digital model that could then be printed in sugar. The design of the enormous château was simplified because of the scale.
The structure had to fit around a brioche, even if the brioche was somewhat larger than normal. The 3D structure captures the incredible detail of the architect Louis Le Vau’s work and grandiose Baroque architecture—the repetition and symmetry of the windows and gates as well as the detailed moldings of filigree and foliage. Back at The Cooking Lab we designed an acrylic foundation, which we laser cut to resemble the grounds of the château.
Once the 3D printed sugar structure was delivered by the 3D Systems Culinary team, head chef Migoya baked an incredibly rich brioche. True to the project, it’s totally decadent—eggy, buttery, subtly sweet, and utterly delicious. He began construction by coating the brioche in a glaze of pectin and water, then topped it with gold leaf as a nod to the façade of Versailles. Gold leaf is safe to eat and has been consumed throughout history; ancient Egyptian royalty mixed gold in with their food, even incorporating it into breads.
Next, he painted a glaze on the base and covered it with grass (panko) to incorporate even more bread, mixed with Chlorella for color. The panko was patted down to fix it to the foundation, the brioche was centered, and, finally, the 3D-printed detail was placed over the loaf. Meringue rosebushes were added to the garden as a final flourish.
We served the brioche as it would have been eaten in 18th-century France—with a fat dollop of whipped cream (because everything is better with whipped cream), and then we added farm-fresh raspberries for a bright pop of color.
We hope you enjoy our latest collaboration with 3D Systems Culinary, and we look forward to our next sweet construction project!
Every great restaurant has both a front and a back of the house. Juli Soler personified the front of the house in one of the most influential restaurants in history. In 1983, he was managing an unassuming seaside bar and grill that was part of a miniature golf course when he hired a young chef with an unimpressive résumé. It was a very inauspicious start, but, together, the two of them changed the world of cooking. The chef was Ferran Adrià, and the miniature-golf bar and grill was elBulli.
To say that elBulli was special is an understatement. Carved out of a bay on the Costa Brava, it was a magical spot, and Juli was largely responsible for that magic. Committed diners waited years to secure a reservation before traveling incredible distances for a single, albeit very large, meal. Juli was there to welcome them at the climax of their journey. He was everything a host should be—gracious, funny, and warm. He changed the fine-dining experience, stripping away many of the formalities so that guests could relax and engage emotionally and intellectually with the dishes in front of them.
The cuisine of elBulli, crafted by Ferran, his brother Albert Adrià, and an extremely talented team, was legendary of course, but there would have been no elBulli without Juli. He was the kind of person you wanted to work with, someone who inspired the people around him to grow. As elBulli began to evolve, he encouraged the team to learn, travel, and experiment. When Ferran took sole control of the kitchen and threw out old recipes, Juli fostered Ferran’s burgeoning creativity. They took risks, challenged conventions, and would eventually close the restaurant down for six months each year so the chefs could dedicate themselves to research and culinary innovation. The dishes that came out of elBulli captivated diners and inspired chefs throughout the world, including the Modernist Cuisine team and the work that we do.
Together, Juli and Ferran transformed an inconspicuous restaurant into a hotbed of culinary creativity. Some of the most talented chefs in the world passed through the kitchen and went on to become industry leaders—their success is a testament to the tremendous environment Juli created. elBulli is one of the great restaurants. It will be talked about for many years to come and Juli’s legacy will live on in those conversations.
Juli will be deeply missed. Our thoughts go out to his loved ones and the elBulli family.
When we think about innovation in food, we often think about expensive, high-tech gadgets that introduce novel ideas or technologies into our kitchens. The most innovative tools, however, are sometimes the ones that apply traditional techniques in a new way—and they can have the most extraordinary impact on lives. Some of the best ideas are those that solve critical problems.
The piece of equipment that we recently got our hands on falls into the last category. The Wonderbag is a heat-retention slow cooker we find exciting for both its applications in the kitchen and the tremendous effect it’s having on communities around the world. The idea for the cooker came to Sarah Collins, a native of South Africa, during a not-uncommon rolling power outage there. Inspired by memories of her grandmother’s slow-cooking techniques, she decided to continue cooking amid the outage by wrapping hot pots of food in blankets. It was a quick remedy for an immediate problem, but she quickly saw a more important application: power-free cooking could improve conditions in communities that rely on open fires to cook.
Heat-retention cooking is a centuries-old technique that dates back to the middle ages. Food was brought to temperature in ceramic pots and then placed into a box or hole surrounded with an insulating material such as hay, feathers, or moss. The retained heat would continue cooking the food for several more hours, while reducing the resources needed to cook.
The Wonderbag uses the same principle, but is insulated with foam chips, repurposed from furniture factories, which allow it to retain warmth for hours without a heat source. Food is briefly parcooked (meat must be browned) and brought to temperature in a pot over heat; it is then placed in the Wonderbag to cook over the course of several hours. Because the Wonderbag cooks with heat retention, food must be put into the cooker at a higher temperature, so the cooking process continues as the temperature slowly falls. Like its traditional predecessors, the Wonderbag frees users from active cooking and reduces the amount of overall fuel required, making it an environmentally friendly tool.
The implications of powerless cooking are even greater for families living in parts of Africa where cooking is still primarily done over open flames. Women, who often do the cooking, must spend tremendous amounts of time monitoring open fires, and families must have enough firewood to maintain the blaze over long periods of time. Then there are the hazards: burns and smoke inhalation are incredibly common. Indeed, the statistics are staggering—an estimated four million people will die from smoke inhalation from these fires, and over half of those deaths will be children under the age of five.
The Wonderbag alleviates several constraints put on families and their environments. Freed from continually monitoring their food as it cooks, women are able to pursue other activities, spend more time with their children, and acquire new skills, while children spend less time gathering firewood, allowing them more time to attend school. Fewer trees need to be harvested for fuel, reducing carbon emissions and cutting water usage by half. And, without constant open fires, the number of cooking-related accidents drops.
It’s probably the only slow cooker in the world that can make duck confit and change lives.
Wonderbag Sous Vide
Preparing food sous vide is one of the hallmarks of Modernist cooking and is often associated with expensive equipment and intricate applications. Like heat-retention cooking, the idea of cooking food in packages is not new. Throughout culinary history, food has been wrapped in leaves, potted in fats, packed in salts, or sealed inside animal bladders before being cooked. The defining features of sous vide cooking is not packaging or vacuum sealing but rather the ultrafine temperature control that modern technology enables. Using sous vide, you can heat foods to precisely the temperature you want for precisely the amount of time you desire. There is no need to overcook or undercook parts of food to achieve the desired doneness at the center.
It’s a misconception that cooking sous vide has to be an expensive endeavor. Technology has become far more affordable within the past year alone. We’ve demonstrated how to employ the technique using nothing more than a digital thermometer, a pot, some zip-top bags, and a cooler or kitchen sink. Cooking sous vide is a far more approachable, utilitarian technique than most people give it credit for.
We couldn’t help but draw parallels between the thermal-retention of the Wonderbag and cooking sous vide. According to Wonderbag, cooking is simple. “It works in four easy steps: boil it, bag it, stand it, and serve it.” The Wonderbag is essentially a slow cooker—chicken on the bone takes at least two hours to cook; white meat takes at least an hour. Because it does not use direct heat, food will not burn or overcook. You can see why the description sounded remarkably familiar to us.
Because of the similarities to sous vide, we were intrigued by the idea of using the Wonderbag as a portable, affordable water bath. Although it wouldn’t give us precise control over temperature, we were curious to see if we could recreate certain sous vide recipes with the Wonderbag.
To determine if the Wonderbag could be used to cook food sous vide, we first needed to do some experiments to see how long the Wonderbag could keep our water within the required temperature range.
For the experiment, we outfitted our bag with a thermocouple to log data. As a control, he also logged data from a pressure cooker with the lid locked so water vapor couldn’t escape. Both the pressure cooker and the normal lidded pot he used in the Wonderbag contained 5.76 liters / 1½ gallons of water at a starting temperature of 97 °C / 207 °F.
The Wonderbag performed better than the control. According to the data, the bag retained a target temperature for 4–6 hours. After 10 hours, the water temperature fell to 65 °C / 149 °F. After 16 hours, the water temperature was still above 55 °C / 131 °F.
With these data, we were able to identify recipes that would work with the Wonderbag, but we determined that we would need to adjust our favorite temperatures and times to account for heat loss.
To demonstrate its versatility, we used the Wonderbag to make duck confit, an adaptation of our Modernist Cuisine at Home Turkey Confit recipe. We recommend cooking duck legs to a core temperature of 60 °C / 140 °F. To account for heat loss incurred while food rests in the Wonderbag, we adjusted our recipe as follows.
We cured the duck in a 1:1 salt and sugar solution overnight to maximize tenderness and minimize the amount of seasoning needed once the duck was removed from the Wonderbag. The duck was put in a Le Creuset Dutch oven with enough duck fat to coat it, and the fat was heated to 97 °C / 207 °F. Once the fat reached our target temperature, the Dutch oven was placed inside the bag with a trivet underneath it to protect the fabric. Thermocouples were positioned in both the duck and the fat. When the duck reached the target core temperature of 60 °C / 140 °F, it was removed from the Wonderbag and allowed to cool completely.
Using the Wonderbag, our duck confit took between 5 and 6 hours to cook; this time will depend on the ratio of fat to duck and how often you check the temperature. Opening the bag allows heat to escape, so only check the temperature when you are close to service time. Food will not overcook or burn; the longer it cooks, the more tender it will become.
To finish, we recommend frying the duck legs in the rendered duck fat. We slowly heated the cooled duck and the fat until it began to sizzle and the skin became crispy. And, because we cured the duck overnight, there was no need to use additional seasoning. The results were incredibly delicious—tender and juicy legs nicely contrasted the crisp bits of rendered fat.
The Wonderbag works best with recipes that take under 6 hours to cook. You won’t be making 72-hour short ribs in this cooker, but tender proteins, such as steak, pork, lamb, and most poultry, will work well.
The versatility of the Wonderbag is exciting, but more so is the impact of this innovative tool. For every bag sold, one is donated to a family in Africa. The Wonderbag is more than just a tool— it’s an extraordinary example of how re-thinking food can change our world. We hope you will visit the Wonderbag site for more information about their foundation and for slow-cooking recommendations.
We lost an extraordinary voice on Tuesday, one that inspired his guests to think, imagine, savor, and smile.
I first connected with chef Homaro Cantu in 2003 through discussions on eGullet forums, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I met a member who used the handle “inventolux”; all I knew about this person was that he or she was incredibly knowledgeable. We began to correspond directly, and eventually I pieced together enough information to realize I was talking to Cantu.
I finally met him in person at Moto. Dining at that Modernist mecca was always an experience of both technological wonder and gustatory delight. Chef Cantu was truly a showman—his food elicited a sense of surprise and shock that ignited the imaginations of his guests. He became famous for his “printed food” and was perhaps the most technologically advanced wizard on Chicago’s culinary scene. Even more importantly, his edible innovations echoed who he was: an intelligent, wildly creative pioneer who always had a twinkle in his eye.
Chef Cantu had a deep interest in invention that extended beyond the sleek dining room of Moto and its high-end cuisine. He wholeheartedly believed that novel approaches to food can help solve critical problems. He wanted to find solutions that would feed the hungry and help us live healthier lives. He cared deeply about the culinary community and was instrumental in establishing The Trotter Project to honor the legacy of his mentor, Charlie Trotter.
Homaro Cantu enchanted guests with playful, avant-garde food and inspired his fellow chefs to create, take risks, and dream big. Cantu was an innovator, a scientist, a passionate chef, and a generous friend. Our hearts go out to his family and to his team. He will be profoundly missed.
Bone broth is in. Technically it has been for a really, really long time. The resurgence of bone broth inspired us to create a Modernist Cuisine spin on the trend.
When people try to describe the Cooking Lab, and the building it’s housed in, you hear a lot of comparisons to a certain fictional chocolate factory. The analogy is fair, though we’ve yet to replicate Wonka’s three-course dinner gum. Truthfully, one of the best things about coming into the kitchen is that you can expect the unexpected: new breads, experiments, lasers, even dinosaurs.
Nathan loves food and cooking, but he also really loves dinosaurs. It’s not uncommon to come across fossilized bones at the lab. He’s contributed to paleontology literature and led expeditions in the Montana Badlands—his T. rex count is 12. Sometimes we get to examine some of the fossils that are brought in, but he’s never merged both of these interests. Until now.
There’s a lot of interesting work going on in the craft beer world. Geneticists, paleontologists, archaeologists, microbiologists, and master brewers have been teaming up to extract yeast from archaeological sites and from fossils to reconstruct old recipes and create new brews. We took a little inspiration from these efforts and applied the ideas to cuisine.
We were able to obtain some fossils from some well-studied dinosaur species. These bones were superfluous so we decided to put them to a creative use The fossils turned out to be fragments of bone from the tail of a Triceratops, which was recovered from one of Nathan’s more recent trips to the Hell Creek Formation, located outside of Jordan, Montana. This formation is known for the incredible diversity of bones discovered there. Most date to the Cretaceous Period, which began 145.5 million years ago. It was the final portion of the Mesozoic Era, and the longest, lasting 79 million years. The Cretaceous Period ended with the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, 65.5 million years ago.
During this period, the area had a subtropical climate that supported a varied population of plants, mammals, and dinosaurs. One of the most recovered animals from the formation has been Triceratops horridus, a species that typically grew to 9 m/30 ft long and 3 m/10 ft tall and weighed between four and six tons. Fossils from the massive herbivore can be quite large, but bones from the tip of the tail can fit in the palm of your hand.
Nom Nom Dinosaur
There are no blueprints or rules to working with dinosaur fossils in the kitchen—it’s uncharted territory. You can touch a fossil to the tip of your tongue to determine if it’s legit (real dinosaur bones will slightly stick to your tongue, thanks to their porous structure), but there are no books to consult for cooking techniques or recipes.
The fossilization process also places some restrictions on how you can utilize prehistoric bones. Here’s a quick review. After an animal dies, soft tissues like organs and bone marrow begin to decay, leaving spaces where the tissue was. In a process called permineralization, the animal is covered in sediment from ash, silt, and runoff. The sediment protects the bones from decaying, and, eventually, minerals from the sediment fill the spaces left in the bones and replace the calcium phosphate to form a cast. Fossils from the Hell Creek Formation typically contain iron oxide and coal as well as the minerals quartz, feldspar, mica, and pyrite, all of which comprise the mudstone and sandstone found there.
With no soft tissue, marrow-based dishes were out of the question. Instead, we started to think about how we use one of the dinosaur descendants: chicken. The idea of Dino Broth was a quick revelation from there. Instead of pulling out the flavors of soft tissue to flavor our liquid, we would extract the minerals for an earthy broth.
Instead of simmering the fossils for days, head chef Migoya adapted our Pressure-Cooked White Chicken Stock recipe from Modernist Cuisine at Home. With only a few fossils to work with, we were concerned that a two-day simmer would compromise the bones and also fail to draw out all of the subtle aromatics of the minerals. By pressure-cooking the bones, we dramatically reduced our cook time, accelerated the extraction of flavors, and prevented aromatics from escaping into the air. A little salt, pepper, and MSG were added to the broth—just enough to enhance, but not alter, the mineral flavor. We all sampled it and thought it was quite good; the broth was comforting, complex, and earthy—the epitome of how terroir creates unique dimensions of flavor. It’s the next level of bone broth.
Big in Austin
We discovered that there’s one more rule to constructing a broth from fossils: it needs an epic debut. So off it went, packed away with the rest of the prep for a dinner at Qui. Admittedly, we did a bit of strategizing as we looked over the list of attendees. Who would take us seriously? Who would actually taste this stuff? Andrew Zimmern, that’s who.
We were fortunate to share a breakfast with the Bizarre Foodshost during SXSW. Over coffee, eggs, and monkey bread, the conversation finally turned to dinosaurs. We revealed our broth and then eagerly fed him a sample, which we served steaming out of a makeshift shot glass that we made by hollowing out a raptor tooth. We’re not sure if it’s possible to surprise Andrew Zimmern with any food, but we’d like to think we might have done just that.
His first response was a hearty, satisfied laugh—we were hopeful. After one more swig, he responded, “It tastes like chicken, but it has a riverbed, river-stone vibe. There’s a citrus quality that’s really nice and appealing.” After passing the raptor tooth on to the rest of the party, he joked, “In two years, this is going to be on the [TGI] Fridays’ menu.” But then he got quite earnest. “That is unbelievable. I haven’t felt this alive since I was locked away in the Alcatraz vault and Geraldo set me free.” We thought the debut was a success.
Right after breakfast, we made our way to La Barbecue, where we met up with our friend Kerry Diamond, who joined us on our barbecue crawl before her interview with Nathan. Kerry has visited the lab twice; she attended our 35-course dinner last June. It’s safe to say that at this point, she’s also learned to expect the unexpected from us. The line at La Barbecue is really long. Waiting offered the perfect opportunity to gather another valued opinion from someone who knows and loves food.
Another laugh at our raptor claw and another swig. “I spent all night researching Nathan and all of his interests, including dinosaurs, and now he’s feeding me bone broth that was made from fossils he found.” After another taste, she added, “It’s familiar like homemade chicken broth, but really distinctive at the same time. Is this gluten-free?” It’s definitely local, but we’re not sure if dinosaur is seasonal.
We’re still experimenting and refining the broth. We’re interested to see if fossils from different dinosaurs will differ in flavor profiles or if the excavation location is what matters. Next, the culinary team will be testing broth made from Apatosaurus fossils that Nathan unearthed during a dig in Colorado. Our Jurassic Broth could end up on one of our dinner menus when we have access to extra fossils; however, as Andrew Zimmern pointed out, this project illustrates the most remarkable thing about food. It’s an experience; when you’re curious and experiment, even with the simplest ingredients, you can create incredible moments for people.
Tastes Like Chicken
As Andrew Zimmern noted, our broth did indeed taste like chicken—for a good reason. That’s exactly what it was. This post is really our Modernist spin on April Fools’ Day. Thank you to chef Zimmern and Kerry Diamond for their help in our hijinks. As for real dinosaur bone broth, we can dream. For now, we hope you have a happy April Fools’ Day.
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