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The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks) Hardcover – October 1, 2012
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About the Author
Cook’s Illustrated is a widely renowned America’s Test Kitchen brand that is the work of over 60 passionate chefs based in Boston, Massachusetts, who put ingredients, cookware, equipment, and recipes through objective, rigorous testing to identify the very best. America’s Test Kitchen brands are well-known for top-rated television shows with more than 4 million weekly public television viewers, bestselling cookbooks, magazines, websites, and a cooking school. Discover, learn, and expand your cooking repertoire with Julia Collin Davison, Bridget Lancaster, Jack Bishop, Dan Souza, Lisa McManus, Tucker Shaw, Bryan Roof, and our fabulous team of test cooks!
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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.
Salt brining meats was one of the things I tried and I swear on a stack of bibles that a short 1 hr treatment resulted in the best chicken and pork chops I have ever cooked. The book makes you want to try out new things and these methods usually result in a realization that you CAN cook and produce foods that are really, really good.
Recommend for people who want to understand different cooking methods and looking for more than just a typical cookbook that has colored pictures of food and thousands of recipes of things you will probably never make and will not likely duplicate with typical abbreviated instructions in those books.
I am drawn to the "test kitchen" experimental approach that Crosby has implemented at Cook's Illustrated. In Concept 35 (to chose one of the most remarkable chapters) he designs a test for 21 tasters using four flavor solutions: pure water; glutamate as MSG; inosinate; and glutamate-inosinate. The average scores, rating for savory notes, are 0, 5, 5, 10 -- a practical kitchen science experiment we all wish we had the means to do for ourselves. We jump right away into the takeaway: beef stew with umami bolstering through the use of anchovy. This book takes you beyond the blind use of other people's recipes and equips you with scientific techniques for the very act of creation itself and, in so doing, will forever change the way you cook.
Five super-yummy stars!
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