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781 of 786 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read to improve the results of your food!, September 22, 2012
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This review is from: The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks) (Hardcover)
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. I also learned that the direction you cut your onion affects its taste - obvious in retrospect, but I never thought about that!

I was disappointed I couldn't see a table of contents before purchase, so here are the 50 concepts you will find within the book -

1. Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking
2. High Heat Develops Flavor
3. Resting Meat Maximizes Juiciness
4. Hot Food Keeps Cooking
5. Some Proteins Are Best Cooked Twice
6. Slow Heating Makes Meat Tender
7. Cook Tough Cuts Beyond Well Done
8. Tough Cuts Like a Covered Pot
9. A Covered Pot Doesn't Need Liquid
10. Bones Add Flavor, Fat, and Juiciness
11. Brining Maximizes Juiciness in Lean Meats
12. Salt Makes Meat Juicy and Skin Crisp
13. Salty Marinades work best
14. Grind Meat at Home for Tender Burgers
15. A Panade Keeps Ground Meat Tender
16. Create Layers for a Breading That Sticks
17. Good Frying is All About Oil Temperature
18. Fat Makes Eggs Tender
19. Gentle Heat Guarantees Smooth Custards
20. Starch Keeps Eggs from Curdling
21. Whipped Egg Whites Need Stabilizers
22. Starch Helps Cheese Melt Nicely
23. Salting Vegetables Removes Liquid
24. Green Vegetables Like it Hot -- Then Cold
25. All Potatoes Are Not Created Equal
26. Potato Starches Can Be Controlled
27. Precooking Makes Vegetables Firmer
28. Don't Soak Beans -- Brine 'Em
29. Baking Soda Makes Beans and Grains Soft
30. Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice Fluffy
31. Slicing Changes Garlic and Onion Flavor
32. Chile Heat Resides in Pith and Seeds
33. Bloom Spices to Boost Their Flavor
34. Not All Herbs Are for Cooking
35. Glutamates, Nucleotides Add Meaty Flavor
36. Emulsifiers Make Smooth Sauces
37. Speed Evaporation When Cooking Wine
38. More Water Makes Chewier Bread
39. Rest Dough to Trim Kneading Time
40. Time Builds Flavor in Bread
41. Gentle Folding Stops Tough Quick Breads
42. Two Leaveners Are Often Better Than One
43. Layers of Butter Makes Flaky Pastry
44. Vodka Makes Pie Dough Easy
45. Less Protein Makes Tender Cakes, Cookies
46. Creaming Butter Helps Cakes Rise
47. Reverse Cream for Delicate Cakes
48. Sugar Changes Texture (and Sweetness)
49. Sugar and Time Makes Fruit Juicer
50. Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor

The only thing I would have loved was a trouble shooting / Q&A section - e.g. How do you keep meat from cooling too much when you rest it?

Overall a great book if you want to improve your cooking technique, and also if you just want to learn more about why things behave the way they do!

Update: Looks like "Look inside" is now available for this book so there's finally a table of contents! :) Since I've been cooking with the new concepts in mind, I'm happy with how my meat dishes (especially the stews) are turning out. I also tried using vodka instead of water to make pie crust (with the tip of putting a heated pan under the pie pan) and the pie crust turned out flaky and delicious as promised.
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Comments

Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 24, 2012 4:46:15 PM PDT
Gail33 says:
Thank you so much for your post! I have been debating if I should order this book and what it would be about. There is a lot more covered in it than I though - thank you!! :)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 24, 2012 9:40:48 PM PDT
Pokin says:
Thanks for your comment! :) Yeah I debated whether to purchase this book or not for a couple days and I'm glad I did. Reading it motivated me to go stock up at Costco to try some new dishes!

Posted on Sep 25, 2012 7:31:47 PM PDT
lp says:
It was kind of you to type out the TOC...all 50! Thank you. :)

Posted on Sep 26, 2012 2:01:03 PM PDT
S. Anderson says:
Here is a related webinar by the author done for the American Chemical Society (ACS) showing the actual chemical reactions (at the molecular level) behind some of these techniques: http://acswebinars.org/tasty-culinary-chemistry.

Posted on Sep 26, 2012 4:09:45 PM PDT
Thanks Pokin for helpful post. I'm definitely getting this book after reading your Table of Contents, whereas before I was still hesitating while just looking at their website.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2012 12:02:48 AM PDT
J. S. Myers says:
Thank you for the link!

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 10:51:17 PM PDT
Thanks very much for your thorough review and posting of the table of contents. I am buying it now. I also like your Q&A section idea.

Thanks again.

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 12:08:39 PM PDT
Toni South says:
That was so thoughtful of you to provide the Table of Contents!! I was hoping a "look" inside the book like Amazon usually does but this gives me enough info to want to buy it. Your review is very helpful. Thanks again!! :)

Posted on Oct 6, 2012 2:47:27 PM PDT
I have a young niece who thinks she would like to be a chef. I would like to encourage her in her dream as well as pique her interest in chemistry. Do you think this book would serve that purpose?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012 11:34:11 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 16, 2012 9:26:11 PM PDT
Pokin says:
Hi Kathryn!
Since I'm not an actual chef, I'll share the perspective of the authors in the intro. To be a great chef and to create great food, you have to understand what happens to food and why so you know how to manipulate it. Good chefs will know many of the tips within this book, but they might not necessarily know why it is -- just that through trial and error and lots of experience, they understand how food behaves. It seems like knowing these concepts (and the science behind it) serves as a good shortcut, plus perhaps allow you to extrapolate out to other foods / concepts not mentioned in the book.

So from that point of view, the lessons in this book can only help your young niece. Plus I found the chemistry componentt fascinating personally. I'll defer to the point of view of an actual professional chef though!
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