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How to Read a French Fry: And Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science Paperback – September 8, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unique book, Los Angeles Times food editor Parsons combines complex science (rendered accessible to lay readers), workable cooking techniques, and excellent recipes. Each chapter addresses a specific culinary-scientific process (e.g., deep-frying, the secret post-harvest life of fruits and vegetables), provides a list of rules to follow therein, then offers a range of recipes that use the technique in question. In a chapter titled "From a Pebble to a Pillow," for example, Parsons explains the various ways in which grains, beans and other starches cook. He clears up myths about cooking beans and explains what makes an apple "mealy" (it's the pectin). The chapter ties up with some guidelines for preparing starch-thickened sauces, pasta, etc. Recipes include Smoky Cream of Corn Soup, a flour-thickened concoction, and a Gratin of Sweet Potatoes and Bourbon. The recipes are never gimmicky but are genuinely appealing, for instance Smoked Tuna Salad in Tomatoes and Lavender Fig Tart, and they are evidence of how a handful of techniques can turn out diverse results. Scientific information is handled in a light tone with plenty of examples. With his analyses of frying, roasting, and other processes, Parsons proves that the unexamined dish is far less rewarding than the meal we understand. (May 9)Forecasts: A truly valuable resource for the serious cook, with excellent recipes to boot, this deserves a wide audience, but its vague title may perplex potential readers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Award-winning journalist and Los Angeles Times food editor Parsons offers this delightful book that is one part kitchen science, one part cookbook. Ever wonder why onions make people cry, or why some potatoes are better for boiling rather than baking? The author answers these questions and discusses other basic issues like cooking processes (e.g., frying, emulsifying, and roasting). Using the premise that an understanding of the basics enables people to become better cooks, the book uses science to explain process. It then demonstrates with more than 100 recipes, ranging from macaroni and cheese with green onions and ham to apricot-almond clafoutis. While the author's conversational tone simplifies complex scientific processes, it sometimes makes it difficult to glean information; thankfully, each section contains lists of cooking tips and advice for quick reference. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Pauline Baughman, Multnomah Cty. Lib., Portland, OR
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618379436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618379439
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Clear and conversational, LA Times food editor Russ Parsons' first book demystifies the chemistry and physics of cooking. Knowing why makes knowing how easier, from picking the best vegetables to creating a stable hollandaise sauce to cooking a tender roast.
From the first page, on which Parsons explains why onions make you cry - a compound called sulfonic acid, lacking in Vidalias, which accounts for their raw sweetness - his book is full of fascinating, illuminating facts. He begins with deep-frying, and explains how to cook efficiently and healthfully, with fat. It's all a matter of getting oil temperature right so that the steam in the food repels the oil. And then there's the little details - why fresh oil fails to brown food, why batters should be firm.
The vegetable chapter - how to pick the freshest and tastiest - and how to keep them that way - is especially useful, explaining why mature vegetables are tougher, how the absence of green in a nectarine is more important than a rosy blush, which fruits can safely be purchased under ripe, why potatoes change color when exposed to air, why to cook green vegetables uncovered, why lemon preserves color.
Parsons explains emulsifying and the miracle properties of the invaluable egg; he explains how beans and grains go from toothbreaking hard in their raw state to tender soft in cooking and how this property can be used in a variety of ways from making perfect gravy to reheating rice; he deconstructs the mysteries of heat on meat and explains why treating piecrust tenderly produces tender piecrust.
Each chapter includes a summary list of tips and a selection of recipes demonstrating the properties and techniques discussed. An understanding of the science of cookery, Parsons says, enables the cook, freeing her or him from recipes.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a recipe book dressed up as "part textbook, part kitchen guide, part recipes." Parsons is too wired to the tastes of an LA Times food critic to notice that he isn't really satisfying any of his target audiences very well. This book *should* simultaneously: (1) serve the gourmet community in providing some recipes grouped along less-than-traditional lines, (2) provide lay-explanations for real kitchen dummies of some interesting science that goes on in the art cooking, and (3) provide an interesting new spin for those people that know a lot about cooking, but really still aren't gourmet chefs. He doesn't quite succeed, except for goal (1).
The book people must have loved him when he walked in with this manuscript, since it really only consists of 70 or so pages of real text about "food science" to edit, and can still be marketed in a neat niche that will disguise the kind of book it really is. I agree with the above reviewer who noted that of 100+ recipes, maybe only a dozen make me stand up and listen. The only conclusion I can draw is that just like other haute cuisine/california cuisine books, this one has that special disease which comes from the author living in another world from my own in terms of the time, and expense of gathering ingredients and preparation.
I wish he'd had more chapters and more text concerning kitchen science. At least 50% of the information will be old to a seasoned home cook, even if it is written well in many spots. The instructive recipes could have been trimmed to take up 50 pages/recipes, and the Bill Nye science act could have taken up 120-150 pages over 8-10 chapters instead of the 6 themes he stuck with. (As I said: the marketeers probably loved this.)
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Format: Paperback
Russ Parsons is a `Los Angeles Times' culinary columnist originally hired by Ruth Reichl who, with Shirley Corriher (`Cookwise'), Alton Brown (TV's `Good Eats'), and Robert Volker (`What Einstein Told His Cook') work at explaining cooking to us all. I have not read Corriher's very highly regarded book, but I would give Parsons the highest regard when compared to Brown and Volker when looking at what they do in common. To anticipate any thoughts that I am overlooking Harold McGee, I believe McGee's book `On Food and Cooking' is literally in a class of its own, from which all of these other authors have probably borrowed.
While Brown and Volker give scientific explanations of culinary phenomena, with Brown's chapters in `I'm Only Here for the Food' being somewhat deeper than Volker's question and answer format, Parsons is looking at culinary facts from a much broader point of view. It is as if all three understand food and all three have good scientific explanations for food facts, but only Parsons understands SCIENCE. Alton Brown gives an excellent metaphor for science in describing what he does as drawing a roadmap of a neighborhood (of custards, for example) rather than simply giving step by step instructions as one would when writing out the method for a recipe. Brown, however, seems constantly constrained by the limits of a 30-minute `Good Eats' episode or of a book chapter on braising.
Parsons addresses the whole field of food science from the other direction. He doesn't talk about what causes meat to brown (and why this tastes so good) or how simmering in water creates gelatin in stocks, or how the barbecue method is so good at producing tender meat from tough primals.
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