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On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen Hardcover – .dff, November 23, 2004
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Before antioxidants, extra-virgin olive oil and supermarket sushi commanded public obsession, the first edition of this book swept readers and cooks into the everyday magic of the kitchen: it became an overnight classic. Now, 20 years later, McGee has taken his slightly outdated volume and turned it into a stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy. He dances from the spicy flavor of Hawaiian seaweed to the scientific method of creating no-stir peanut butter, quoting Chinese poet Shu Xi and biblical proverbs along the way. McGee's conversational style—rich with exclamation points and everyday examples—allows him to explain complex chemical reactions, like caramelization, without dumbing them down. His book will also be hailed as groundbreaking in its breakdown of taste and flavor. Though several cookbooks have begun to answer the questions of why certain foods go well together, McGee draws on recent agricultural research, neuroscience reviews and chemical publications to chart the different flavor chemicals in herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables. Odd synergies appear, like the creation of fruity esters in dry-cured ham—the same that occur naturally in melons! McGee also corrects the European bias of the first edition, moving beyond the Mediterranean to discuss the foods of Asia and Mexico. Almost every single page of this edition has been rewritten, but the book retains the same light touch as the original. McGee has successfully revised the bible of food science—and produced a fascinating, charming text.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Scientific American
"In 1984, canola oil and the computer mouse and compact disc were all novelties... [and] the worlds of science and cooking were neatly compartmentalized." A lot has changed in 20 years: magazines and books now discuss the science of cooking, and culinary schools offer "experimental" courses that investigate the whys of cooking. So McGee, a writer who specializes in the chemistry of food and cooking, has completely rewritten his 1984 classic, expanding it by two thirds into a book that weighs in at almost 900 pages. He offers thorough, scientific explanations of countless topics, including why brining your turkey is not a good idea, why food wrapped in plastic often tastes like plastic, why you should never refrigerate tomatoes. And he continues to display, as one admirer said of the first edition, "a scientist's skill and a cook's heart."
Editors of Scientific American
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Top customer reviews
However, I'm disappointed by the kindle edition:
- It has no navigable Table of Content. Yes, there's a linking ToC at the beginning of the book, but you can't access individual chapters by going through Kindle's "Go To" menu.
- The book cross-references itself by page number, which is useless in the kindle edition. I wish the references were hyperlinked to the proper locations. Alternatively, Amazon can implement the new page number feature.
- The editing for kindle needs some fine tuning. The kindle edition embeds page number directly in the text, but not always sensibly:
"... the amino-acid content and there192 fish and shellfish fore [sic] taste intensity of fish varies according to the waters they're caught in."
- The placement / flows of sidebars don't always make sense on kindle. Sometimes you'll be in a new section and then encounter a block of text that seems to referring to the content in previous or next section. I suppose this is a limitation of kindle's small screen.
Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is a book that looks behind the chemical scenes at one of my favorite activities. This is the book that showed me how the structure of a gluten molecule accounted for the strange elasticity of bread dough. It taught me what goes on when fruit ripens and meat browns: why there's no dark meat on fish and how a meringue forms.
I was delighted when I read this book and I keep a copy on my desk now, going back to it for answers to questions and just for fun. This is not a book of recipes, but it's the perfect first stop for someone who wants to make their own recipe. It is loaded with the history and culture of food.
The best thing about this book is that for lovers of food and cooking it offers something more than mere knowledge-it offers a sense of sharing in its secrets, a sense of intimacy with the subject, And for true lovers, isn't intimacy the best thing of all?
The recipe type person is not someone this book would appeal to.