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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Science and cooking go hand in hand and what a beautiful couple they make

"Cooking is the manipulation of food for the purpose of rendering it suitable for consumption"
How many times have we tried to cook a recipe that is dear to us or followed our mother`s/grand mother`s recipes or any recipe, only to be disappointed with the end result?
I hope this bit of information gives you the idea of how cooking should be approached. Cooking to me is more than just following a recipe, adding things to a pot or regulating heat. There is a bigger picture to be seen here, we need to think in advance, before we even read the recipe.
In life I have two greater passions, cooking and learning about the universe and the cosmos and my own personal opinion is that there is nothing more fascinating and humbling than that. You might wonder why I mention the universe and the cosmos if i`m talking about cooking. Well; like everything else in the universe, cooking is subject to the laws of nature, so when we cook we can control the outcome if we understand the applicable natural laws.
In other words, once we know the science of cooking, we know what will happen before we even start, basically there is no more guess work, no more wondering how a dish will turn, trust me.

Cooking is not just following a recipe, a recipe is only a map to give us direction, but what happens if we don`t know how to read the map? Simply said, we won`t reach our destination. We also know that maps leave out a lot of important information that is key. Likewise a recipe can not account for all the factors that affect successful cooking, such as the amount of juice in one lime versus another, the stove`s BTU or the quality of our cooking equipment pots and pans), and their ability to conduct heat. This is why I always recommend copper or stainless steel. The best way to navigate in a kitchen is to learn as much as you can about the natural laws behind cooking, and please, do so before you start cooking.

To be a good cook, it helps to be conversant in many different fields, both hard sciences and social sciences. These are the ones I consider important and the ones that will facilitate the work and understanding of what happens when we cook.

Chemistry; understanding the chemical makeup of ingredients enables us to predict how they will react to heat or cold, or to other ingredients. it tells us why sugar melts or why meats brown in the skillet.
Anatomy; knowing how an animal is put together tells us how to take it apart. If we know the skeletal structure of the chicken for example, it will help us to break it down in minutes.
Mathematics; without an understanding of numbers or ratios, you`d never be able to recreate a dish. It would be pointless trying to cook using more than one ingredients without the concept of what "how much" means
Biology; the science of life tells us why veal bones are better than beef bones for making stock, and what happens to chlorophyll when it comes into contact with acid.
Geography; The geographical origin of a given dish or cuisine can tell us a lot about what to expect from it. As the cuisine of any region is heavily influenced by the ingredients that are locally available in that region.
History; The story of a dish is an echo of the story of the people who created it. To understand the popularity lets say of my cuisine (Mexican), follow the paths of the New World explorers.
One of the things thati have always loved about cooking is the range of knowledge that you acquire when you are learning how to do it WELL, simply put, the better informed you are in all things, the better cook you will be, with or without recipes.
The key to cooking, then, is understanding your ingredients: what they`re made of (protein, starch, fiber, water, etc), how they are put together ( what is the skeletal structure like, where are the seeds?) we must understand how they interact with each other and how they react over time when exposed to various types of heat. Knowing that the seed of a mango dictates how you cut the flesh into pieces. Knowing that acid affects protein the same way heat does will Help you obtain a great ceviche when preparing one, in which raw fish is "cooked" in an acid such as lime jjuice. Knowing in advance what is going to happen to an egg if you crack it into a pot of boiling water, rather than the much lower temperature of poaching (160F to 180F), will help you avoid a mess
In addition to learning as much as you can about ingredients, to become a skilled cook you must have a good understanding of method and technique. Method is the order in which you put ingredients together; technique is what you do to food to get it ready to cook: cutting up vegetables, scaling a fish.
if you know your ingredients and you know your methods and techniques, you will be able to cook virtually anything. And that to me is priceless and a great place to be.
Greater results will be achieved when doing this with love and passion.

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