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The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore Paperback – April 20, 1992

4.4 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not a recipe collection but a series of investigations into culinary problems and dogma, this combines McGee's ( On Food and Cooking ) appreciation of the good life with his background in biochemistry and dedication to experimental procedure. In the first section the author reconsiders received truths, such as "sear the meat to seal in the juices," and proceeds to demonstrate, in this case, that it just isn't so. He evolves a means for the home cook to sterilize egg yolks without ruining them for hollandaise or mayonnaise, and discusses the function of sugar in sherbet texture. Explaining the relevant chemistry in accessible terms, McGee appeals to those who savor nuances of method in problem-solving, but in spite of some witty touches and a tone much lightened by etymological and historical asides, his very perseverance can become wearisome. The second section addresses health problems associated with eating habits, including a lengthy and informative, though scarcely comforting, treatment of cholesterol's impact on the circulatory system. In the final, highly readable section, McGee offers a more subjective view of gastronomy in essays paying tribute to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and the continuing quest for a science of taste.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Harold McGee plays with his food and encourages everybody else to do the same." -- Mary MacVean, columnist

"The Curious Cook is as explosive as a le Carr yarn, as simple as good bread, as complex as a classic sauce, and as enlightening as only Harold McGee can be." -- George Lang, owner of the Caf des Artistes restaurant in New York City --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (April 20, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0020098014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0020098010
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I have been searching for the "ultimate" book on the science of cooking for a while now, and this book is my latest read on the subject. While it's not what I was hoping to find, it is the most interesting of the books I've read so far.
McGee's earlier book, "On Food and Cooking" (ISBN 0684843285), attempted to be encyclopedic in its coverage of food topics, hitting on every ingedient from a historical and scientific perspective. As a result (for me, anyway), it failed to be fully satisfactory on both counts. This book makes no such pretense, and is much the better for it.
From the earliest chapters, discussing the effects of searing and various temperatures on meat (did you know you could kill trichinella by keeping pork below 5 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 weeks?), I knew that I was in for a much more interesting and lively read this time around. There is a lot of interesting, new and useful information in this book, though the information doesn't always necessarily satisfy all 3 criteria at once.
The second chapter, for example, covers the topic of why oil collects on the inside of your glasses when you cook. The actual reason turns out to be fairly pedestrian, but the story of his experimentation (including a rather tongue-in-cheek diagram of several pairs of glasses propped on inverted bowls around a frying pan) was fun to read.
The topics in the book were chosen more-or-less at random, consisting of free-form explorations of topics including how to force persimmons to ripen, just how little egg you can get away with in mayonnaise, the truth (such as it is) about food, cancer, and heart disease, and various thoughts about what makes things taste good.
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Format: Paperback
McGee really knows his food. Down to the very molecules. There's a good touch of amateur science as well, when he attempts to see how much oil an egg yolk can =really= emulsify (the answer was amazing!) and how one can use butter to emulsify itself! This book has inspired me with its easy-to-understand analyses of chemical and physical processes to do some food experimenting of my own - my husband is a vegetarian, so I can't use the direct knowledge of how butter and eggs work. But McGee =does= indicate which substances in the foods do the work, and I can find vegetable replacements for that.
Also of deep interest is the question "Why does food taste better cooked?" in which one discovers that "All food aspires to the condition of fruit." The topic selection is somewhat hodge-podge, but one comes away with a greater appreciation for the complexity of cooking (and not as impressed with beurre blanc sauces - it's almost impossible to screw those up!)
And for those who like this book, I recommend the T.V. show "Good Eats", hosted by Alton Brown, on the Food Network, which draws on a similar scientific interest in all things eaten.
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Format: Paperback
Harold McGee is probably the most widely cited writer in American culinary writing today. Alton Brown literally genuflects at the mention of his name and complains that he is hard pressed to find a subject on which Herr McGee has not already explored at some length. His major work, `On Food and Cooking' appears to be on the short list of Culinary Institute of America references for their students, next to Escoffier and their own references.
This work, `The Curious Cook', is a bit different that the other work, in spite of the subtitle `More Kitchen Science and Lore'. The larger book is largely theoretical. This book is largely experimental and its subtitle should be the title of the first and longest section `Playing With Food'. The lesson taught here is probably the single most important lesson you can learn in any endeavor. That is, when in doubt, try a little experiment. When I was studying philosophy, this largely took the form of thought experiments, not unlike the development of a Science Fiction plot. `What would happen if there were artificial people who were indistinguishable from biological humans. The result is the story `Blade Runner'. When I worked with chemistry, this step was obvious. Oddly, I had to relearn the lesson when I became a professional programmer. It took a few years and more than a few books to learn the value of prototyping code, even for some of the most simple algorithms. All this means is that when you cook, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TRY THINGS OUT WITH THE OBJECTIVE OF SEEING IF SOMETHING WORKS. My favorite example is in making and using a simple bechamel sauce to make macaroni and cheese or creamed chipped beef without having the sauce break.
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Format: Paperback
How could McGee follow "On Food and Cooking", a bible to those who live and love to cook? He has written a more conversational and humorous book combining cooking lore and practical chemistry to answer a thoughtful cook's questions to "I wonder why...?" His chapters on ices/sorbets and sauces contain essential info I've never found anywhere else. It was too short! When is the sequel being published?
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