We included many recipe variations in Modernist Cuisine at Home, because the team had so many great ideas. We couldn’t include each one as a full recipe, though, or the book would have been twice as big. Including many step-by-step photos was also important to us, so sometimes we had to balance how many variations we included with how many photos we used. It made working on the layout a fun challenge.
In particular, our Basics chapter includes many variations. For example, our Marinara Sauce recipe page includes variations for Bolognese, Tomato Sofrito, Pineapple Marinara, and Pizza sauces. Since we’re celebrating pizza this week, we’ve put the Pizza Sauce variation into our standard format for you.
Try this sauce with our Neapolitan dough recipe. We recommend baking on our baking steel for best results.
Gluten, the protein complex in wheat that becomes tangled into sticky, stretchy dough when you knead flour with water, is crucial to a great crust. Bread flours need a large fraction of high-quality gluten to act as a binder. The more gluten in the flour, the more elastic the dough, and the firmer the baked crust will be. Kneading the dough liberates starches that are attached to the proteins and allows the gluten to form networks that make the dough strong and stretchy. When you let the dough rest, the networks relax.
All yeast-leavened doughs (but pizza dough in particular) benefit from higher levels of gluten. So we tried adding more gluten, in its purified form. We found that the addition of as little as 0.5% of vital wheat gluten (as in the recipe below) produces a dough that requires less kneading and yields just the right amount of chewiness when baked.
This dough is best when rolled thin and cooked quickly at a very high temperature. For best results, use our baking steel.
As soon as I brought home my copy of Modernist Cuisine, I was eager to try cooking from it. For one of my first attempts, I had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue and decided to try four or five recipes. The sort of precise cooking this book called for was still new to me, but I carefully weighed and mixed all of the ingredients until, finally, I only had to deep-fry my Brussels sprouts.
I’ve deep-fried on the stove many times, but never had it occurred to me to measure the temperature of the oil (in retrospect, this probably would have saved me from overcooking some meals throughout the years). Relaxing now because I thought the hard work was over, I heated the oil. I then grabbed the only thermometer I owned at the time; a glass analog thermometer that came with a cocktail kit someone gave me. Without thinking, I stuck the glass thermometer in the hot oil, causing it to shatter! Luckily, the thermometer was alcohol-based, not mercury-based.
Naturally, we pulled out a new pot to fill with oil, continuing to make the Brussels sprouts. They were a huge success, as was the rest of the party. In fact, I’m often asked to bring them to potlucks and dinner parties. And now that I have a digital probe thermometer, my Brussels sprouts are even better than that first time. I never have to worry about burnt food or shattered thermometers. It is amazing what a little precision and the right equipment will do.
Collagen determines, to a large extent, whether cooked meat ends up tender or tough. It is also the determining factor in how long you should cook a given cut of meat. Collagen fibers are the biological equivalent of steel cabling, forming a mesh that holds bundles of meat fibers together. Proper cooking unravels the cable-like structure of collagen fibers and dissolves them into juices, transforming the tough collagen into tender gelatin.
In order to unravel collagen fibers, you must heat them. Heat causes the fibers to shrink, and the contracting mesh squeezes juices out of the meat. The hotter the cooking temperature, the more collagen mesh contracts, and the more juices are lost. If you cook the meat at lower temperatures, fewer of the collagen fibers shorten at any given point in the cooking process, so the mesh constricts the meat less. This is why meats retain more of their juices when cooked sous vide. But at lower temperatures, more time is needed to shrink, unravel, and dissolve enough of the collagen fibers to make the meat pleasantly tender.
There’s something inherently fun about food on a stick. Skewered foods pop up in food culture all over the world: in yakitori bars in Japan; in the astounding variety of satay sold by Thai and Malaysian street vendors; in cotton candy, deep-fried ice cream, and corn dogs at the Minnesota State Fair; and in candy apples, popsicles (even “Spamsicles”), and crispy crickets on a stick.
In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we give some of our favorite skewers, such as Lamb with Mint Yogurt, a Modernist update by cooking the meat sous vide to the perfect temperature before skewering it. One benefit of this approach is that the skewers can be made in advance, vacuum sealed, and then refrigerated. When you’re ready to serve them, simply place the bag in a 55 °C / 131 °F water bath for 15-20 minutes to reheat it, and then sear them in a very hot pan, on a hot grill, under a blowtorch, or in hot oil.
Brining makes meat juicier and enhances its flavor, but salt diffuses through flesh very slowly. You can double or triple the rate of diffusion by injecting the brine deep into muscle tissue. This is very easy to do using a butcher’s syringe, also called a meat injector. Meat injectors usually include two large needles: one has a slanted tip for marinades with spices, and one is perforated for diffusing liquids.
One of the great things Modernist cooking does for home cooks is allow them to make foods that they normally can only get in stores. Our recipe for fruit leather also lets home cooks play with flavors, like we have in our Mango Chili recipe below.
This recipe is a variation of our Tomato Leather recipe. We also have other variations of fruit leather, and even onion leather, in our book, Modernist Cuisine at Home. In the Tomato Leather recipe as well as in other variations, you need to add 0.2% xanthan gum, but due to the high levels of pectin found naturally in mangoes, you don’t need additional thickeners when making Mango Chili Leather.
Consider hollandaise, that unctuous mixture of warm egg yolks and butter. The sauce is so fragile because butter congeals and separates as soon as it cools. And it’s all too easy to overheat the eggs and curdle the sauce. But we show you how to avoid these problems by cooking the eggs sous vide by putting the sauce in a whipping siphon; you no longer have to make hollandaise at the last minute while pulling together the rest of your meal.
This is yet another example of the dozens of foundational recipes in our Basics chapter of Modernist Cuisine at Home that are not only approachable and versatile but very tasty, too.
I love pressure-cooking grains. Many of them, especially barley, don’t need to be soaked. That, combined with the short cooking time of a pressure cooker, means it’s a big time saver. The barley in this recipe takes only 20 minutes to cook. It works perfectly and has a wonderful texture.
On the stove top, the water will evaporate as you cook the grains, so you must continually add water, which can result in grains that are really mushy. In a pressure cooker, however, you use only a small amount of water (just enough water to cook with) and none of it escapes, so the grains don’t lump up too much. It’s so easy!
This is a great recipe, but my favorite use of pressure-cooked barley is in our Barley with Wild Mushrooms and Red Wine recipe from Modernist Cuisine at Home, which is a variation found in the Risotto and Paella chapter.
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