A med & grad student who used to work the line in LA, NYC, SF and Napa talking about the science of cooking and cooking with science. Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen never satisfied my kitchen curiosity and more than one Chef grew exasperated with my asking "Why?" I'll try to stay on topic, but you may see a kvetch or two about the school & hospital.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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There are two important things you need before you begin a recipe - good ingredients and good equipment. Good ingredients are key because they need minimal work. Why bother hiding the inherent good flavor in a quality piece of protein or vegetable under mounds of spices and herbs? Doesn't need it.
Equipment is something home cooks don't always think of the right way. The most expensive cookware isn't always the best and flashy isn't always better. You can pick up a multitude of decent cookware at any restaurant supply store - pots and pans, storage, tools. You don't need the $130 stainless steel pan when you can pick up a decent one for $20 at a restaurant supply store (as I mentioned previously).
But there's one key piece of equipment that I cannot stress enough. Especially if you are going to go out and play with modern cuisine and the array of ingredients that read like they belong in a chem or biochem lab - xanthan gum, sodium alginate, anhydrous citric acid, anhydrous caffeine, tapioca maltodextrin. Maybe you've picked up Martin Lersch's handy guide over at khymos.org. Or maybe you've seen me tweet a recipe. That most important piece of equipment is the humble kitchen scale.
Let's forget the modernist ingredients for a second and think about why the scale is important in every day cooking. Maybe you're showing off for a date and want to make fresh pasta from scratch. Maybe you're getting your hands dirty making a cake from scratch for the first time. Sure, you could measure the flour and salt by volume, but why would you? Think for a bit about how in the lab we, as scientists, aim for precision. You wouldn't eyeball reagents, unless they were to excess, would you? Why do we let ourselves grow complacent in the kitchen? Making that pasta involves chemistry. You're working gluten and gliadin to make a protein matrix that gives structure and body to your food. If you can control that process, you can turn out a better product with which to wow your guests. And if you're trying to control that process, wouldn't you want to be as precise as possible? That kitchen scale will help you with that precision. It will help you control the reactions going on in the pasta dough and cake batter. Seriously. Controlling those reactions is what great cooks and chefs do, they just don't realize it. Why shouldn't we exercise that control?
I use two scales in my kitchen. One is a simple Oxo scale that measures to the gram, and the other is a "precision" scale that measures out to .01g. Having the extra decimals is great for really small scale preparations. If I'm playing around with ingredients and dishes, I'm not making enough for 4 full plates. I just want one small preparation I can taste and give to friends to taste.
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