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Having relied on Cooks Illustrated recommendations for many of my favourite kitchen tools, buying this book was a no brainer. Needless to say I had high expectations going in, and this book did not disappoint.
I'm an avid cook, and while I've had great success with certain types of food, I've been frustrated by inconsistent results in others. (I can't seem to get a consistently moist pot-roast -- reason: my cooking temperature was probably too high; wrong cut of meat + oven braising is better than stovetop since it heats more evenly in more directions)
The Science of Good Cooking breaks down why food cooks a certain way, and which techniques are best for what purpose. The book is organized into 50 concepts with recipes reinforcing each concept. There's a section called "why this works" following each recipe, which breaks down the science behind each step -- for instance why use a certain type of marinade, cooking technique, take extra steps, etc to achieve a desired outcome. It's nice that it's not just a list of recipes.
Experiments back each concept. Meats were weighed, measured, smashed to determine tenderness, and moisture loss. They came up with a range of ideal resting times for various meats based on actually measuring the amount of juices lost at various times, and they sent food to the science lab to analyze their structure. They even stuck bones on mashed potatoes to test out whether keeping bones on makes food taste better. This book debunked some assumptions I had (acid does not actually make food more tender), and helped me understand other ones better - why salt directly applied on skin makes it more crispy, but if you brined the skin you'd get a different outcome.Read more ›
I still consider myself an advanced beginner when it comes to cooking so I LOVE cookbooks like this where they explain WHY recipes are they way they are. Things I liked about this book:
1. They have 50 cooking concepts that are discussed in detail. These range from "A covered pot doesn't need water" to "starch helps cheese melt nicely." They tell you the concept, then explain the science behind it. Often the explanation comes with illustrations, tables and details of the experiments they did in the test kitchen. There were a lot of things I had never read/heard of before like how salt added to meat makes it more juicy, but salt added to vegetables takes the water out. 2. The book is brimming with tips, tricks and information. The index has information on how to pick out kitchen equipment like knives, pots and pans and tools; emergency ingredient substitutions are also given. The front of the book goes over basics like meat temperatures that indicate doneness, definitions of common cooking terms. (I now know what to do if a recipe calls for chiffonading herbs!) 3. The book has lots of recipes and a good variety of types. It really has a little bit of everything. 4. The book is very well put together. The pages are glossy, the binding is tight. Feels like it can withstand years of being used.
Yes, I have a BS in food technology with a lot of chemistry, biochemistry, bacteriology, etc. background. So I found this book another interesting treatise on food science. Personally, I love it. My wife, with a BS in elementary education, 2 sons with accounting and finance degrees, and a mechanical engineering daughter, I am probably the only one in the family to love this book. If you want to cook, and want to know WHY things happen during the cooking process, this is a great book. The recipes in each section emphasize each subject. If you like Alton Brown, Shirley Corriher, etc., then this book is for you. If you watch America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Country on TV, and like the science section, buy the book. To me, the recipes may be redundant (400 recipes for 50 sections). This is a great book if you want to take "Food Science 101" at home. Read each section carefully, then maybe try a suggested recipe to understand the chapter subject. If you want to know HOW, don't buy the book, but if you want to know WHY, place your order now. But for me, at age 74, it is a great refresher course. It is definately a FIVE if this type of book interests you. With 50 sections, you could do one a week and take a two week sabatical.
I'm a longtime COOK'S ILLUSTRATED subscriber, and if you are too--or if you're curious why some of us are such CI nutjobs--this book will sate your curiosity and provide you with lasting help in the kitchen to boot.
CI is famed for obsessively testing and re-testing virtually every aspect of their recipes. They don't take on fussy foods; they take regular stuff and tell you how to make it as well as possible. This necessarily means that some culinary tropes and old wive's tales get upended, but the effect is exhilarating rather than upsetting. "The Science of Good Cooking" is, essentially, an enormous keyring with dozens of keys allowing YOU, regular old home cook you, to perform to the highest standard you can in the kitchen.
One thing I love about the book and about the CI philosophy in general is that it's DEPENDABLE. You know that the authors and their staff have tested and tested and tested each recipe six ways to Sunday, and you sow the harvest of their hard work. The whys and wherefores are fascinating--food chemistry is the only branch of science that even remotely interests me--but the real fun comes when you set your work down on the table and witness it being enjoyed and dispatched by appreciative eaters.