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Harold McGee

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Everything posted by Harold McGee

  1. I’ve never looked closely at trussing per se, and intended to do an experiment before answering you—and here the week has gone by and I just haven’t been able to squeeze that experiment in. So I’ll just say that I don’t usually truss chickens or ducks because that does expose the leg-thigh joint to more direct heat. But I’ve noticed that turkey drumsticks seem to get more overcooked when untrussed, and might benefit from being less exposed.
  2. Thanks, Jeff, I’m glad that my book could help you find your path. Your question is a good and big one. I’ll weasel a little again, but only a little, and say that knowledge is a good thing. It’s better to know how things work, and what it’s possible to do with them, than it is to be unaware or mistaken. However, that knowledge can be put to use to all kinds of ends, some admirable and some venal. I think that the average quality of food in the supermarket and in restaurants is better now than it was when I was a kid. Part of that improvement is due to advances in food science.
  3. To me the greatest development, or ongoing discovery, is the growing understanding of gastronomical pleasure: the nature of our senses of taste and smell, how those senses are integrated and interpreted by the brain, and the molecules in food that stimulate them. I think that this understanding will (among other consequences) help us perceive more and enjoy more in all foods.
  4. I can’t think of any such matters, at least in food science itself. The disagreements come more over what to do with the science: how to translate knowledge and facts into public policy. For example, milk and cheese microbiology is a body of knowledge and facts that some people use to argue for universal mandatory pasteurization, and others to argue for the toleration of millennia-long traditions for the use of raw milk. As I mention in another post, I think we need more food lovers in decision-making positions!
  5. A lot ended up on the cutting-room floor! The original cheese section of the dairy chapter was about as long as the final dairy chapter, for example. I haven’t yet figured out whether or how to package all this additional good stuff—whether to put it on my website, or in several short books, or what. I’ll decide early in the new year.
  6. I find this experimental and inventive approach stimulating: whether I like a dish or hate it, it gets me to thinking about food in fresh ways. I’m not sure that many of the inventions are going to last very long, and I wouldn’t want to eat them every night, but that’s fine. They expand the experience of eating, and I like that.
  7. Great observations and question, Bux. Briefly, I would say that a growing number of chefs and cooks today are less interested in replicating traditional and classic preparations by mastering traditional and classic techniques, and more interested in creating specific effects that they as individuals envision and desire by using whatever preparations and ingredients and techniques can produce them—or they’re interested in exploring what nontraditional methods and materials can offer to the cook and eater. Sous vide, combi ovens, pacojets, liquid nitrogen, alginates, pop rocks, essential oils . . . Some of these seem to involve more technology than craft or skill. On the other hand, fine chocolate as we now know it is the creation of machinery (fine grinders and conches that can knead the cacao mass continuously for days); as is espresso—and there’s good stuff and bad stuff. I don’t think there’s any danger of “cooking by hand” disappearing. We cook and eat in various ways for various reasons; right now the spectrum of possibilities is expanding.
  8. Jack, I know there are tables of the sort you describe, but I haven't been able to lay my hands or eyes on one this past week. I'll keep looking. Just one point, though--these kinds of temperatures would only "pasteurize," not sterilize. They reduce bacterial numbers by several factors of 10, but don't take them to zero, as high temp canning and pressurized steam do.
  9. thanks for your kind wishes, and I'm glad you got a post in. The custardy quality comes from the egg proteins, and the gooey quality from the sugars and corn syrup. The way to minimize the former and maximize the latter is to reduce the proportion of eggs and increase the sugar and syrup.
  10. Yes, the boiling point of water drops with altitude. I'm not sure whether the heat resistance of the spores does as well, and it's better to be safe than sorry, so in the mountains you would need to extend the time of the pressure cooking to compensate for the lower temperature.
  11. Thanks for the reference, Michael--I know Rachel Laudan's work from the Oxford symposia and Petits Propos Culinaires, but had never heard about this article. I'm off to get it right now!
  12. Salt absorption came up in the "sodium levels" post--pasta absorbs a fair amount because it almost doubles its weight with absorbed cooking water; potatoes less, and mainly at the surface because it's already wet. The only other common osmotic agents in the kitchen are sugars; and alternative salts (potassium chloride, calcium chloride) tend to be bitter. Thanks, Mandy! Sea water does contain other trace minerals, as well as bacteria and one-celled algae and all kinds of other microbes. The minerals are fine and mostly good for us; but given the microbes, it's especially important to make sure the water boils. Especially when you're sailing close to civilization.
  13. Russ, I remember reading your long piece on this a few years back and being intrigued, then never getting around to trying it (I was on a forced march through the book, and meat was behind me!). Could you send me a recipe? I'll do it after Thanksgiving and let you know what I make of the results.
  14. contention is a good thing! Yes Russ, that's what I say in the longer paragraphs I give to the subject in the book. But this is essentially trying to rescue a misleading saying by tweaking its meaning. Searing meat makes it tastier. But the saying suggests that as long as you sear the meat, you can do what you like and it'll still be juicier. A seared well-done steak will be tasty and mouth-watering, but it will still be dry. So I think we should just keep juices out of it, so to speak. Of course I know this is futile. It just sounds too good.
  15. Yes. It's hard to do the dissection without damaging the glands and spreading capsaicin on the inner walls. And rinsing isn't going to remove much capsaicin, which is more oil-soluble than water-soluble. Oil or alcohol (or soapy water) would remove more. But taking the pith and seeds out of the dish will definitely tone it down.
  16. I don't worry a lot about food safety in my own kitchen, but I do try to get things back into the fridge pretty promptly. I once left a fully cooked pot of lentils, covered, on the stovetop for nearly a day, and it was absolutely teeming with mold and bacteria when I took the lid off. That got me to imagining the time-lapse movie, and wondering at what hour the stuff would have been noticeably tainted. Better not to find out. The refrigerated life of cooked meat depends on a lot of things, including how it was cooked, how long it sat out, how well it's wrapped, how cold the fridge, etc. A week in a good cold place is probably okay, but I'd be surprised if chicken in particular hadn't already developed some rancidity--though that would become more noticeable with warming. You certainly wouldn't want to warm such leftovers too gently and hold them warm. I would probably try to surface-pasteurize the meat by dunking it in boiling sauce.
  17. Those do sound like handy uses, and I'm sure that the more cooks who use these, the more uses they'll discover.
  18. Thanks for the lead to the U of I--I'll look there.
  19. Excellent experiments, Audrey! As you’ve discovered, egg whites are better foam stabilizers than gelatin, alcohol or no alcohol. There are several reasons for this. The egg proteins are relatively small and move easily into place in the bubble walls, and bubbles denature them and cause them to bond permanently to each other. Gelatin molecules are long and tangly and not as mobile, and don’t bond permanently to each other—that’s why jellies can be repeatedly melted and resolidified. Gelatin can be made into a better stabilizer by cutting its molecules into smaller, more mobile pieces (“hydrolyzed” gelatin)—something you could do by holding the gelatin for a short period with fresh pineapple, then heating it to kill the pineapple enzyme—but it still won’t match egg whites.
  20. Interesting idea! I think your safety concerns are important. You don’t want the meat surface and its bacteria to spend a lot of time at warm bacteria-friendly temperatures. I would modify the procedure to surface-pasteurize the turkey quickly at the beginning, so that you can then cook it through in the usual gentle way. One way would be to preheat the oil alone, or heat oil and turkey very quickly, to 180 or higher; then take the pot off the heat and either ice it or add cool oil to bring the temperature back down, and proceed with gradual heating. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out!
  21. Thanks, Lucy, for your kind words and for this beautiful photo. No, I haven’t done much more with topinambours or sunchokes since Curious Cook. But I think you’re probably right that prolonged gentle heating makes them more tolerable; such conditions break the indigestible inulin (fructose chains) down into absorbable sugars. I’m glad to have some evidence that the French are just as sensitive as the rest of us, though I’m sorry that your husband had to suffer to provide it!
  22. I think it would take a pretty strong high-pressure front to make a significant difference in boiling points and baking times. Was the milk as fresh as ever? The oven temperature consistent? I would suspect those factors more than the atmosphere.
  23. Many aspects of our diet changed with the industrialization of the food supply and the mechanization of life in general, and I think that a lower intake of fruits and vegetables and level of physical exertion may have been as important as anything. Grain feeding doesn’t make animal fats any more healthful, but how significant that shift has been, I don’t know. It may well be that a higher proportion of long-chain polyunsaturated fats would be good for our long-term health. What comes to my mind is that life expectancy in the industrialized world has been rising pretty continuously for many decades, and that the most reliable method for increasing it dramatically seems to be eating as little as possible. Facts to chew on!
  24. You're welcome! I think there are several different things involved in our pleasure in unpleasant flavors. One is learning. Aversion to bitterness is innate, but we can learn to appreciate it for its own qualities, just as we do chilli peppers and mustard. Another is a difference between the way things smell in front of our nose and in our mouth. Stinky cheeses aren't as stinky in the mouth, and that's probably for a variety of reasons, both chemical and neurological. And another is the effect of intensity and context. At low levels in a food that we know other people eat and enjoy, bitterness and pungency and decay can contribute to a kind of interesting fullness or complexity.
  25. Some steak bones are the backbone, which surrounds the spinal cord, so that does make some sense. The apparent infectious particles, the prions, are especially concentrated in the brain, spinal column, and optic nerve. Beef on the bone was banned in England for a while, but no longer. This is the first I've heard of such a voluntary precaution in the US.
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