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Chris Amirault

Cooking with "Modernist Cuisine" (Part 1)

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eG Forums topic on Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold & Chris Young.

Society-friendly link to their multi-volume book on Amazon.

As the above topic indicates, Society members are pretty excited about the arrival of the multi-volume MC package. Thanks to the generosity of the MC team, a few Society members have been granted access for two weeks to an online version of the book. (Here's my initial reaction.) Our exposure to this remarkable project is prompting one major reaction: what should we cook first?!?

Thus this topic, a place where we can all discuss what we'll do and how we'll do it, then compare notes about what did (and didn't) happen. Along the way, we can also share kludges, sources, photos, and the like. Indeed, cooking many of the things in MC may require a bit more preparation than other cookbooks, whether it be sourcing some sodium hexametaphosphate or getting your hands on a chamber vacuum sealer. :huh:

But that's not to say that every dish need be a hydrocolloid-n-liquid-nitrogen showpiece taking the better part of a week. Volume 6, the Kitchen Manual, is filled with recipes for everything from house cocktail bitters to potato purée, from SV stock to hamburger buns. I, for one, plan to start with some basics!

There's some content already available online at the Modernist Cuisine website, and those of us with access to the online copy may get started a bit early to whet your appetite. Of course, next month, we'll all have copies to cook from. Because you bought it, right? :wink:

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Yeah, I was leaning towards starting with stock, since I'm running low. That kitchen manual is pretty amazing.

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Robbie   

Looks like a very interesting book, especially for someone like me who absolutely loves the science of cooking. My question is are the actual cooking techniques described things you could use at home or are they geared more towards professional chefs?

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Exhaustively, both. Even if you can't do half of the stuff -- and that's just a rough estimate for the purposes of discussion; I could be way off -- you've still got over 1,000 pages.

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Really, I'd say that many if not most of the recipes are at least scaled for the home cook. For example, the "Cassoulet Toulousain (Autumn)" recipe only makes four portions. It requires a pressure cooker and a sous vide setup, but seems quite approachable if you have those things. However, I note that the intro lists a centrifuge in its equipment list: I can find no mention of it in the instructions. And I'll wager not many home cooks are breaking out the centrifuge! Those few recipes that call for it will remain inspirations only for the majority of us.


Edited by Chris Hennes clarified which cassoulet recipe (log)

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JBailey   

Within the book that you have been able to see thus far, does Nathan indicate how large of a centrifuge one needs to replicate some of the dishes? I know Nathan's kitchen has a Sorvall refrigerated centrifuge (as discussed by Popular Science), but for smaller applications and batches are the vessels of smaller machines feasible and is refrigeration necessary?

Also, have what have you learned about chamber vacuums and what guidance to they give for their use in the kitchen?

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There are several pages covering centrifuges and their use: in them the authors suggest "Restaurant chefs would be well served by units that are about the size of a washing machine and can process up to 3l/3qt of food at a time, at rotational speeds up to about 30,000 rpm."

Regarding chamber vacuums: it's difficult to distill the massive amount of information in this set of books into a few sentences, I'm afraid. Volume 2, Chapter 9 is "Cooking Sous Vide" and covers more or less everything you want to know about the subject. "Comprehensive" hardly does it justice. It has five complete pages on chamber vacuums alone, not counting the more general discussions of vacuum packing itself, etc. Remember, this project started with nathanm's interest in sous vide... this is it: THE comprehensive sous vide reference.


Edited by Chris Hennes Typo (log)

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JBailey   

Thank you for your comment. Yes, I realize this is the definitive book and certainly the reason I am looking forward to my copy being shipped. As I have stated before and under other headings, I personally want to thank Nathan and each member of his staff for all their hard work. I also appreciate his investment in the research, machines, equipment and building that has allowed this to happen. He is a most generous individual to give of his time, energy and money to make all this possible. Those of us who enjoy cooking whether at home or those who make a living by cooking have been bettered by Nathan's involvement. Nathan may have heralded a new golden age of cuisine.

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nickrey   

In addition to what Chris has mentioned, chamber vacuums are used in the books for much more than vacuum sealing. As people have played with the machines in Modernist Cuisine, they have used them to enhance flavour by vacuum infusion and also to manipulate texture. The team have included many such uses in the books.

For example, one of the first recipes in the plated dish book is for a mushroom Swiss burger. The picture of this has been available on the Modernist Cuisine website for a while. A chamber vacuum sealer is used twice in this recipe in two different ways: to infuse lettuce with smoke flavour (by pulling a vacuum until the water boils then leaving to infuse); and to compress an heirloom tomato.

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ChrisZ   

Out of curiosity, I googled "DIY centrifuge" to see what came up. I had visions of sticking a cordless drill into the middle of a lazy susan...

A number of links came up, but most interesting was the "Dremelfuge", which can apparently go up to 33,000 RPM for about $50. I already have a dremel, and I've been fascinated by the concept of "pea butter" which was on one of the videos on the Modernist Cuisine website, and $50 doesn't sound like that much...

Other DIY centrifuges that Google found included one that used to be a hand-cranked cream-seperator, one made from a salad spinner (total cost - $30!), and one that used to be a washing machine... the salad-spinner one looks very simple and relatively safe, not to mention cheap.

Anyway, food for thought...

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Dinner tonight will be at least partly from the MC book:

smoked NY strip steaks cooked SV and quickly finished in high-heat grapeseed oil

retrograde starch mashed potatoes

mushroom ketchup

hyperdecanted wine that the guests bring

Also have some artichokes and asparagus to go with, so I might try to make an additional sauce....

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Pausing to solve some computer issues (I hope). But the basics are cooling in the fridge: steaks are smoked, seasoned, and sealed with some rendered beef fat; potato starches are retrograded; mushroom ketchup is done.

And that mushroom ketchup? It's fantastic.

Updates with photos after dinner.

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edsel   

Is the potato starch retrogradation technique like the one in the Potato Primer? That's my favorite way of making mashed potatoes. (Did it at the Heartland Gathering in KC).

Cook at 71ºC, cool completely, finish cooking at 80ºC. And yes, the cooling step is essential. I'm sure Nathan and company explain it well.

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edsel, yes, it's that technique (cooked at 70°C in this case). They have a couple other tricks up their sleeves, however. Amirault, are you doing the instant potato flake thing? I've got my potatoes and peels in the bath now, and was contemplating a quick trip to the store for mashed potato flakes to try it out. Also, edsel or Chris or anyone else who knows: my water bath temp dropped pretty far when I added the bag: do I start timing when the temp recovers, or right away? How sensitive is the retrograde technique to the exact time spent at 70°C?

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edsel   

edsel, yes, it's that technique (cooked at 70°C in this case). They have a couple other tricks up their sleeves, however. Amirault, are you doing the instant potato flake thing? I've got my potatoes and peels in the bath now, and was contemplating a quick trip to the store for mashed potato flakes to try it out. Also, edsel or Chris or anyone else who knows: my water bath temp dropped pretty far when I added the bag: do I start timing when the temp recovers, or right away? How sensitive is the retrograde technique to the exact time spent at 70°C?

I usually heat the bath a bit warmer than the target temp with the expectation that the temperature will drop. I 'd just start timing when it reaches the target temp and not worry about it.

There's a discussion in McGee about the various temperatures that are key thresholds for potatoes. I think that's what Jack based his technique off of when he did the Potato Primer for eGullet. I think it's important not to excede the 71ºC temperature by much, though I'm not sure how critical it is. The goal is to "set" the grains of starch by cooking-then-cooling (retrogradation). The second, higher-temperature cooking frees the grains and finishes the cooking process so that the result has a creamy, luxurious texture. It works!

p. s. - I'm envious of you guys who already have access to the book on line. I'm counting the days 'til it arrives!

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edsel   

Oh, I should also mention that I start timing when the internal temp of a potato chunk reaches target. Nathan described a technique for using a strip of weatherproofing gasket to maintain the seal on the bag. (This was way back in the sous vide thread).

Poke a sharp thermocouple probe through the weather strip, through the bag, into the product you're cooking. That way you can monitor the internal temp of the product you're cooking, not just the environment it's in.

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From my reading of the relevant material in MC, the precise time at temp in this case is less important than the temp, and making sure you are there long enough. I started timing when the bath hit 70°C (never exceeded it), and went for 35 minutes. We'll find out soon enough if it worked...

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edsel   

I think that's the way McGee reads as well. Sufficient time at the target temp to transform the starch. And complete cooling so that the retrogradation sets in. Then the higher temperature can be used to free the starch grains.

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Potato Puree (Parametric recipe p. 3-297)

This recipe is based off of Robuchon's famous potato puree, with additional refinements from Jeffrey Steingarten, Heston Blumenthal, and the Modernist Cuisine team. First off, peeled some Yukon Gold potatoes and put the peels, potatoes, and 4x the weight of the potatoes in water into a vacuum bag:

Potato Puree - Vacuumed.jpg

Drop into a sous vide rig at 70°C (158°F) for 35 minutes (picked my circulator up for $20 on eBay... proportional control only, and not much power, but it does the job):

Potato Puree - Sous Vide Rig.jpg

Chill (yes, we actually have snow on the ground here right now):

Potato Puree - Chilling.jpg

Now, what I think is an MC-innovation, break out the potato flakes:

Potato Puree - Instant Potato Flakes.jpg

Saute them in butter until browned:

Potato Puree - Toasting the flakes.jpg

Then grind using high-tech grinding mechanism:

Potato Puree - Grinding the flakes.jpg

50% of the weight of the potatoes in butter:

Potato Puree - A little bit of butter.jpg

I used a potato ricer rather than a food mill here:

Potato Puree - Riced potatoes.jpg

At this point, you fold the butter into the potatoes and then either continue, or chill. I chilled it because the main course was not done yet. That's where the trouble started. After adding the liquids and potato flakes things were OK, but I made the mistake of then trying to heat the potatoes further in the microwave. Oops. The butter separated out from what must actually have been an emulsion of butter fat into the potatoes. After whisking for a minute to try to bring it back together it was clear that was not going to work: I needed a better emulsifier. Unfortunately, I'm just getting started with this "Modernist" thing, so none of the fancy ones have arrived yet. I used pretty much the only emulsifier I had on hand: egg yolks. I added about a teaspoon of raw egg yolk to the mixture and whisked like mad: viola! It came right back together:

Potato Puree - Served.jpg

So obviously, my techniques need some refinement, but a disaster was narrowly averted. The puree was excellent: in particular, the added potato flavor from the potato skin infusion and from the toasted potato flakes were a welcome addition to what otherwise can taste like a plate of butter. It also went very well with a decidedly-un-modern beef stew.

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nickrey   

Reporting on my first excursion into Modernist Cuisine cooking.

The recipe was Guinea Hen Tagine.

Challenges:

  1. No guinea hen (they say to substitute chicken, so no real drama. Must think next time to substitute spatchcock rather than full sized chicken: Absolutely no chance of getting the photo like theirs)
  2. Dehydrator needed (I have one of those, hooray. They say to dehydrate at 50C for 35 minutes. My dehdrator only works at around 35C. Oh well, need to put in oven on silpat as a substitute).
  3. Pressure cooker needed for cooking chick peas. Again, I have one of those. Cooked up the chick peas. Realised my chick peas still had skin on. They won't work in dish. Down to shop to get canned chick peas.
  4. Argan oil used in dish. No idea what this is. Glossary says it's very rare and expensive oil made from the Moroccan Argan tree. Forget about Argan oil.
  5. Beldi olives. What the ... is a Beldi Olive? Check glossary. Looks like Kalamata will be ok as a substitute.
  6. Tagine with no couscous. Who does tagine without Couscous? Cook some Couscous to go with it. It's definitely not going to look like the picture.

Processes:

  1. Make Dark Chicken Stock. But I have Chicken stock. Decide to use own chicken stock. It was made more or less from Heston Blumenthal's recipe. That should be ok as a substitute.
  2. Pickle Figs. This one I did to specifications. Wow, they are delicious. Note to self: try not to eat them all before dinner.
  3. Make Tagine Base. Need ginger juice for this one. Ginger juice? Ah, I have a cold press juicer. Will use my microplane to grate ginger and then put it through the juicer. Works like a dream. That ginger residue looks interesting. Perhaps I'll dehydrate that to give me a ginger powder. Dehydrated it and then powdered it in a mortar and pestle. This Modernist Cuisine thing looks like it will be fun.
  4. Sous Vide Guinea Hen: As mentioned above, am using chicken: the Jurassic Park equivalent of guinea hen. It's never going to look like the picture.
  5. Make puffed chick pea salad: As mentioned above, used bought chick peas. Dehydrated in oven at 50C. Seemed to split appropriately. Hopefully this is going to work.
  6. Marinated Navel Organges: Says to supreme Navel oranges. What the ... is supreming? Decide to cut into segments removing connective tissue. Looks like the picture: this must be supreming.
  7. Moroccan Batbout Flatbread: This should be easy. Wait a minute the flat bread calls for yeast. Is it a flat bread or leavened bread? Oh well, follow recipe. Seems to puff up a lot but it should be ok.

Assemble dish.

Heat plates to make it through the assembly phase.

Cut bread.

Drain Chicken; remove yoghurt covering (used too much but seems to have worked).

Place everything on plate.

That looks nothing like the picture but it does look inviting.

chicken tagine.jpg

Lessons:

You will need to substitute and improvise.

The dish was absolutely delicious. The flavour combinations were exceptional and touches such as the crunchy deep fried chick peas and sour figs really turned expectations on their head.

The book is written by exceptional cooks. Not to mention them having fantastic presentation skills. Next time, I'll use spatchcock and make the photo plate more 'restaurant' and less 'home cooked meal.' But know what? It may look scary with all the processes involved but the outcome is well worth the effort.

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I am without my usual computer, which is being repaired, I hope, by an Apple genius. So apologies for the limited commentary on the great posts above and lack of photos.

I ended up making a less involved meal that I had planned due to the trip to the Apple store: steak, potatoes, mushroom ketchup, asparagus, and artichokes. No innovations with that last item, though I will report that, like Steven, I did find myself being more mindful of technique and processes as I prepped and steamed them, wondering about the chemistry of acidulation and artichoke cell walls....

In addition, the methods I used for the steak and asparagus were not entirely derived from the MC book, though I picked up a few tips there about temperatures, times, etc. so, for example, I found myself using the rosemary-cured bacon I had smoked earlier in the day in three ways: as lardons atop the finished dish, as grease in the sherry and roasted garlic vinaigrette, and as a cooking liquid, blanching the asparagus in the pan that had the bacon fond in it. Again, there's nothing in the book about this technique exactly that I've found, but I found myself thinking through problems more mindfully. For example, when I added water to the pan and the fat rose up, I paused and wondered if the asparagus would be greasy. Then I remembered Robuchon's degreasing technique and realized that the ice (snow, actually) bath would harden the fat, making it easy to remove. Easy enough!

As for the potatoes, I used a modified version of the method, putting the potatoes into the bag for their 70C 45 min bath without water. The trick here is getting uniform pieces of potato so you can get all the air out. Photos later, but they turned out very well, even without the 50% butter addition! (Added a few drops of white truffle oil instead.) the steaks were cold-smoked in the Bradley with apple pucks, trimmed, cooked SV at 56C for, I dunno, maybe 90m or so, and then finished on a cast-iron grill and served with a bit of sel gris. Photos of those to come, too.

The last item was the mushroom ketchup, which I've been fascinated by since seeing that insane burger photo. As Nick said, you've got to be willing to substitute thoughtfully with these recipes, I think, or you'll be spending a fortune to create a full larder. Computer issues prevent me from seeing the list of ingredients, but I know that I had none of the malt items (vinegar and syrup); instead I used sherry and cider vinegar and gum syrup, the latter of which has a decent malty note. I also used espresso powder, coconut vinegar, and ... um... something else in place of items I lacked. It turned out great -- and having a scalable, weight-based recipe was a godsend. You set up your scale, calculate your base percentage, pour, tare, repeat, and in a few minutes you've got everything in one pan cooking away.

The guests I had over have eaten here a lot, including many lavish holiday meals. To a person, they said that this was the best food they'd ever eaten here. More soon, I hope, with photos.

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JBailey   

Chris Amirault

You have hit exactly on the point as to why I am so looking forward to when Modernist Cuisine ships. It is taking the nuggets of their research, ideas and tips, then doing work arounds and modifications according to what we each have in our respective kitchens. While many will and can follow the recipes or instructions step by step, I imagine it will also free the rest of us to improve what we currently do by exposing us to better approaches to solve a problem or challenge. If nothing else, helping each of us think out issues to get to our desired results may be the most significant contribution.

Your dish, Nickrey's and Chris Hennes' all sounded wonderful. Thank each of you for sharing.

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...having a scalable, weight-based recipe was a godsend. You set up your scale, calculate your base percentage, pour, tare, repeat, and in a few minutes you've got everything in one pan cooking away.

This. I've had last night's dinner scheduled for a while, so I didn't have tons of flexibility to play around with recipes from the book. That said, I knew I needed a bunch of dashi, so why not try dashi the Modernist Cuisine way? I was surprised at first that the recipe was so small: who makes only 360 grams of dashi? I needed miso soup for 9! But, of course, the recipe is scalable, so I easily increased the starting mass to 2,500 grams of water, and calculated the amount of kombu and bonito flakes I needed.

I've been intrigued by the idea of vacuum-sealing kombu and water for dashi ever since seeing it on Cooking Issues, and it worked well, even in my FoodSaver. After straining, I was surprised how "seaweed-y" the broth smelled; many recipes I've read for dashi call for you not to over-infuse the kombu. (And I went with the shortest infusion time allowed for in Modernist Cuisine.) One interesting note is that the recipe says nothing about the nature of the water to be used; I've heard that hard water is not good for dashi, because it inhibits the extraction of glutamates from the kombu. So is this a myth, or just something that didn't merit mention here for some reason? Or is it covered elsewhere in the book? I used bottled, demineralized water.

The final result was definitely one of the most intense dashi broths I've ever had. This is at least partly, I'm sure, due to the fact that it used substantially more raw ingredients than I'm used to; my standard recipe (Yoshihiro Murata's, which is the stated inspiration for the one in Modernist Cuisine) calls for 17 grams of kombu and 28 grams of bonito flakes per litre of water; the Modernist Cuisine recipe calls for 25 grams of kombu and 53 grams of bonito. My sister commented that it reminded her of lapsang souchong tea, because it was so smoky.

I'll be interested to play around with this approach - in particular, I want to taste the broth before adding the bonito flakes. I'm also more interested than ever in finding better-quality kombu and bonito flakes. I doubt that I'll make dashi this way for everyday use, simply because of the expense. But for special occasions, when I want the best dashi I can muster up, this will be my recipe.

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tomdarch   

Nathan's team have been demoing their all nut ice cream - is that in the book, and if so, is it doable in a "modernist" home kitchen? When they were on Martha Stewart, their description gave me the impression that the process required some sort of extra-exotic equipment (but I can't remember which step now). Might there be a work-around?

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The recipe calls for several hydrocolloids and emulsifiers, which shouldn't be too much of a barrier. It sounds like you need a colloid mill, though, which they price out at $3,500-$30,000, depending on size, and then one of the steps calls for the base to be "homogenized", without specifying the equipment used. (In the immediately following recipe, they call for homogenizing in a commercial blender or rotor-stator homogenizer.) I imagine you could substitute a commercial nut butter for the one made in the colloid mill. Might be worth a try, anyway!

Edit: Vague pronoun reference.


Edited by mkayahara (log)

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