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Modernist Cooking Tips That Everyone Should Know


Chris Amirault
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Over in the "Cooking with Modernist Cuisine" topic, we've been sharing a lot of tips and ideas that are "modernist" by some measure or another. However, there's no question that most of those tips and ideas apply broadly to all cooking, not just composed plates with reimagined dishes manipulated with powders and rotovaps.

That is to say: as many of us have discovered, there's a lot that traditional cooking can learn from this modernist stuff. I'm someone who devotes a whole lot more time to rustic dishes, charcuterie, and speedy family dinners than to multicourse meals filled with el Bulli and Alinea references, and I can tell you that using modernist techniques is changing the way I do just about everything.

I suspect I'm not alone, and that many of us have changed the way we approach basic cooking. So I thought we could share those ideas here.

Here's my first one. Giving cured products time for the salt and sugar to diffuse throughout the meat produces a much better product. That's obvious for things like hams aged for months, but for me the case in point is bacon, which I've been making for years following Ruhlman & Polcyn simply by giving it a day to dry out a bit after curing.

This last time, following The Modernist Cuisine recipe for house bacon, I let the bacon rest for 10 days in a 40F curing chamber after it was done curing, to allow that diffusion to take place. This bacon is, by far, the best I've ever made, and I'm convinced that the extra time spent is the reason.

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Chris Amirault

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Ok, I've got one that comes up occasionally: how do you figure how how a change in temperature will affect the cooking time? For example, how long will it take to braise something in a pressure cooker compared to a regular pot, or how will changing the temp you SV your shortribs at change cooking time?

Rule of thumb: for every 10C increase in cooking temperature, the cooking time decreases by 50%. The formula to use is F = 2 ^ [(T2 - T1) / 10], where F is you adjustment factor (multiply this by the specified cooking time to get the actual cooking time), T2 is the specified temperature, and T1 is the actual cooking temp. But of course this is only an approximation, so don't expect it to be perfect. Also, it will only work for things where the food temperature is the same for the duration of the cooking process (i.e., it doesn't tell you how long it takes to reach some particular core temp).

A good resource for finding the basic properties of various materials (like the temperature of a pressure cooker filled with saturated water vapor at 2atm) is Wolfram Alpha.

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Burner area/diameter is a far more crucial element for even cooking on a stove top than thickness or material. That is to say, my relatively inexpensive Sitram set does me just fine, and spending the cash on Mauviel is a waste of money.

Chris Amirault

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Burner area/diameter is a far more crucial element for even cooking on a stove top than thickness or material. That is to say, my relatively inexpensive Sitram set does me just fine, and spending the cash on Mauviel is a waste of money.

I was just gonna say, cheap saute pans are evidently the way to go. That is, unless you read the current issue of Bon Apetit, which disagrees greatly. As does much info on our own eG about pots and pans.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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The information in MC focuses not merely on the conductivity and thickness of pans but on other factors, and includes rigorous and pretty convincing experiments about what happens when you think about, say, burner size.

Edited by Chris Amirault
typo (log)

Chris Amirault

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I don't think that anyone is proposing anything remotely like that. There's no question that high-quality metals play a role in effective cooking. But they just don't play that important a role for most people -- including restaurant chefs, the vast majority of whom haven't built batteries filled with expensive copper pans.

Chris Amirault

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I think it's absolutely easy to understand that burner diameter and area are far more important than thickness or materials in providing for evenness of heat. If you have the right diameter of burner and the flame is evenly distributed throughout that area, then there is little need for any thermal material to spread around the thermal energy because the burner is already doing it for you. If you have a really nice restaurant stove, your need for fancy cookware to provide evenness of heat is less than it is for someone who has a crappy stove with smaller diameter (and less powerful) burners.

--

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I just don't think we should throw away years and years and decades and decades of actual cooking and experimentation by actual chefs just because the science says we should.

I think that is EXACTLY why we should throw such techniques away -- if our facts are wrong, discard them.

Kind of like the "searing meat seals in the juices" statement I hear on Food Network every week. I know it's wrong, you know it's wrong, the celebrity chef in question probably (maybe?) knows it's wrong.

Yet we're stuck with "searing seals in juices" because decades of chefs believed it to be true -- without bothering to pull out a scale and verify it.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I absolutely agree that we need to discard discredited theories. As an instructor in culinary arts at the local community college, I think we have a responsibility to correct these misconceptions. I cringe every time I hear "searing in juices" and similar phrases. I just received my copy of MC this week and am already pondering how to incorporate some of this improved science into my classes. That does not mean we forget the classics, but as we evolve our knowledge we need to evolve our techniques.

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I just ate a fine dinner at a small plate spot here in town, we sat at the "kitchen counter", a bar that has a small glass wall separating us from the chef and line cooks. Very interesting to watch the speed and to see that there was not one expensive pot or pan in sight. All the dinged up pans looked like they're made of aluminum not shiny but a bit dull. On the stove, food in, food out, on a pile on the floor (or maybe a box, could not see) and a young guy came buy ever couple minutes to pick them up, wash them and put them back on a big pile. And this is one of the more upscale places here. I actually don't recall ever seeing expensive pots and pans in a restaurant. I don't own any overly expensive ones. The most stupid investment I've made for the kitchen is an All Clad non stick pan for some $120 or so. Does it work? Yes, just as well as my cheap $10 one from Safeway before. Will it last longer? Maybe, but not 12 times longer. Is it prettier? Yes, but who cares, it's nothing but a tool. (And I really don't like the All Clad handles..)

My most used item on the stove is my cast iron pan, ancient "technology" with no fancy layer of this and that. It works a lot better than my more expensive steel and who knows what else pan (wedding gift) that I hardly ever use, stuff sticks to it.

My stove? crappy Jenn Air with those electric coil elements. While those expensive pots and pans are gorgeous, I can't imagine what they could do better than the stuff I have, most certainly not THAT much better to justify the silly prices.

My go to modernist tool? My Sous Vide Supreme Demi. I was not sure about SV (and still see it as a bit of cheating for home cooking) but the convenience of prepping part of dinner sometime during the day and being able to get everything together in about 10 min or even less come dinner time is fantastic.

Next on my shopping list is a pressure cooker, that ancient kitchen tool that seems to have so many modernist uses.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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The pan is the least important part about sauteing something.

Go to any restaurant you like - they've got the cheapest stuff possible back there.

Non-stick can't sear food? Wrong again.

Edited by AaronM (log)
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I just don't think we should throw away years and years and decades and decades of actual cooking and experimentation by actual chefs just because the science says we should.

I think that is EXACTLY why we should throw such techniques away -- if our facts are wrong, discard them.

Kind of like the "searing meat seals in the juices" statement I hear on Food Network every week. I know it's wrong, you know it's wrong, the celebrity chef in question probably (maybe?) knows it's wrong.

Yet we're stuck with "searing seals in juices" because decades of chefs believed it to be true -- without bothering to pull out a scale and verify it.

Is it still "modernist" if Cook's Illustrated discovered that years ago?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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If you have a really nice restaurant stove, your need for fancy cookware to provide evenness of heat is less than it is for someone who has a crappy stove with smaller diameter (and less powerful) burners.

This was my experience after we bought a house a couple of years ago--before, cheap old apartment stove, after, monster Wolf Range stove. The difference, with exactly the same set of pans, was like night and day. I had been thinking about investing in copper heat diffusers, but with the Wolf, they're totally unnecessary.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I just don't think we should throw away years and years and decades and decades of actual cooking and experimentation by actual chefs just because the science says we should.

I think that is EXACTLY why we should throw such techniques away -- if our facts are wrong, discard them.

Kind of like the "searing meat seals in the juices" statement I hear on Food Network every week. I know it's wrong, you know it's wrong, the celebrity chef in question probably (maybe?) knows it's wrong.

Yet we're stuck with "searing seals in juices" because decades of chefs believed it to be true -- without bothering to pull out a scale and verify it.

Is it still "modernist" if Cook's Illustrated discovered that years ago?

In that case it is just "modern" :smile:

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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My favorite modernist cooking tip isn't particularly specific, nor does it feel all that modernist. Reading between the lines in "Modernist Cuisine" and "ideas In Food", there is a pervasive underlying thrust to reexamine every part of the process, every ingredient, every tool and technique, in every step, all to see if there may exist some better way.

Not modernist at all, except that doing so does tend to push aside the traditional, when traditional ideas happen to be weak. I'm not much of a cook, but the effort is rewarding nonetheless.

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I think it's absolutely easy to understand that burner diameter and area are far more important than thickness or materials in providing for evenness of heat. If you have the right diameter of burner and the flame is evenly distributed throughout that area, then there is little need for any thermal material to spread around the thermal energy because the burner is already doing it for you. If you have a really nice restaurant stove, your need for fancy cookware to provide evenness of heat is less than it is for someone who has a crappy stove with smaller diameter (and less powerful) burners.

I think this hits the nail on the head.

People bemoan the cost of copper pans yet they are much cheaper than purchasing a new stove.

Sure the width and diffusion of the flame may be more important but there are other variables that impact on this equation, eg metal conductivity. Ok, maybe not as much but I can tell from experience that they result in huge improvements if you do not have the unlimited resources that seem to be assumed in much of the MC discussions.

If you cannot afford a new stove with superior burners, you can get a huge lift in evenness of cooking by using high conductivity pans.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I suspect I'm not alone, and that many of us have changed the way we approach basic cooking. So I thought we could share those ideas here.

I thought I'd suggest that McGee's most recent book, 'Keys to good cooking', is more or less a 550 page collection of modernist cooking notes. When I first read his original 'On Food and cooking' I felt like there was so much information there that I needed to read it several times and takes notes of the specific tips that I found useful. But then 'Keys to good cooking' came out, and I discovered that he'd done it for me.

Of course 'Modernist Cuisine' covers vast new areas that aren't in McGee's books, and a 550 page book may not sound concise (unless you're comparing it to the 5 volumes of 'Moderist Cuisine'), but if you are after a single reference for current practical tips in the kitchen, then 'Keys to good cooking' is definitely worth a look...

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Burner area/diameter is a far more crucial element for even cooking on a stove top than thickness or material. That is to say, my relatively inexpensive Sitram set does me just fine, and spending the cash on Mauviel is a waste of money.

I was just gonna say, cheap saute pans are evidently the way to go. That is, unless you read the current issue of Bon Apetit, which disagrees greatly. As does much info on our own eG about pots and pans.

The information in MC focuses not merely on the conductivity and thickness of pans but on other factors, and includes rigorous and pretty convincing experiments about what happens when you think about, say, burner size.

If you have the right diameter of burner and the flame is evenly distributed throughout that area [...]

As opposed to the "ring of fire" model that I have, that produces a mirroring "ring of carbon" in anything I try to cook over it? :biggrin:

*IF* the flame is "evenly distributed" then you really shouldn't need any experimentation to tell you that the heat will be transmitted pretty evenly.

However, IF you are using a typical non-uniform domestic heat source, then again, you shouldn't need "scientific experiments" to appreciate that a pan base that diffuses the uneven heating is going to be a good thing.

It seems to me that the non-uniform heating situation is where experimentation might be useful/interesting - by comparison, just how well does copper/iron/cast-aluminium/tr-ply/etc actually diffuse point-source heating, as against the thinnest/cheapest cookware.

The reality is that most real-kitchen heat sources are far from uniform.

The two important stages of recognising that fact and advising on dealing with it, seem to have got lost in this 'ideal world' consideration.

I'm just somewhat astonished that

1/ anyone would feel the need to perform experiments to confirm uniform heat transmission (even with a 'thin' pan) from a uniform heat source

and

2/ that readers might mistake performance over an "evenly distributed" heat source as being any indication of heat-distribution-performance with a typical domestic heat source.

Let me apologise in advance if I have traduced the authors' work, but this sort of thing is not exactly an inducement for me to spend $600+ (£375 Amazon) on this tome.

And as for meat curing, allowing time to mature the product is distinctly traditionalist. Modernist curing is about speeding up the cure, by injection and tumbling - and using polyphosphates to bulk up the meat with water.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I'm just somewhat astonished that

1/ anyone would feel the need to perform experiments to confirm uniform heat transmission (even with a 'thin' pan) from a uniform heat source

and

2/ that readers might mistake performance over an "evenly distributed" heat source as being any indication of heat-distribution-performance with a typical domestic heat source.

Let me apologise in advance if I have traduced the authors' work, but this sort of thing is not exactly an inducement for me to spend $600+ (£375 Amazon) on this tome.

I'll be interested to read this section when my copy arrives. Until then, I can't really comment much other than to say that I have great faith in the methods of this team. It's hard to have much to say about what this section may say without actually reading it, or at least getting a much more detailed explanation of what they say in the book.

It's worthy of note, however, that there are any number of things in the book that convincingly contradict not only conventional wisdom but modern "accepted wisdom" we have thought was based on an understanding of the underlying science (a good example would be the fact that the "barbecue temperature stall" is due to a wet bulb/dry bulb effect and not the conversion of collagen into gelatin).

And as for meat curing, allowing time to mature the product is distinctly traditionalist. Modernist curing is about speeding up the cure, by injection and tumbling - and using polyphosphates to bulk up the meat with water.

Modern and Modernist are not the same thing. Just because this is what Oscar Mayer does in making bacon doesn't make it a "modernist technique."

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  • 1 year later...

....This last time, following The Modernist Cuisine recipe for house bacon, I let the bacon rest for 10 days in a 40F curing chamber after it was done curing, to allow that diffusion to take place. This bacon is, by far, the best I've ever made, and I'm convinced that the extra time spent is the reason.

Chris is the 40° F curing chamber a refrigerator? If not, what is it? Thx

How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?

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I just don't think we should throw away years and years and decades and decades of actual cooking and experimentation by actual chefs just because the science says we should.

I think that is EXACTLY why we should throw such techniques away -- if our facts are wrong, discard them.

Kind of like the "searing meat seals in the juices" statement I hear on Food Network every week. I know it's wrong, you know it's wrong, the celebrity chef in question probably (maybe?) knows it's wrong.

Yet we're stuck with "searing seals in juices" because decades of chefs believed it to be true -- without bothering to pull out a scale and verify it.

A worthwhile read to challenge debunkers on the subject of sealing juices. http://culinaryarts....alinjuices1.htm

Edited by thoughtforfood (log)
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That article appears to completely ignore the theory and evidence presented in Modernist Cuisine: in fact, its entire rebuttal rests on a casual analysis of a single unreferenced experiment. "This one experiment I read about this one guy on the internet doing didn't properly control for all the variables." Not terribly compelling.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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