The Science of Good Cooking

The Science of Good Cooking

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Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen

the editors at America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby

illustrations by Michael Newhouse and John Burgoyne.

1. Cooking. 2. Food. I. Crosby, Guy. II. America’s Test Kitchen (Firm)
TX651.S375 2012

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Book Details
 1993 p
 File Size 
 18,497 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen 

Despite the saying about the cat, curiosity is what sets humans apart from other
mammals. A hundred years ago, most cooks were working with a limited
repertoire of recipes and ingredients, and they had plenty of first-hand
experience to make those recipes work. Now we stand at the beginning of a new
century, many of us keenly interested in the culinary arts, but without the years
of practical experience that it takes to become a great cook.

What’s the solution to this modern quandary? The answer reminds me a bit of
my favorite physicist, Lawrence Krauss, who spends his time pondering the
mysteries of the universe. In order to understand the cosmos and our place in it,
he says, one has to ask how and why. Once the questions have been asked, we
can conceive of experiments to prove or disprove our theorems.

All of that sounds rather familiar to everyone who works at America’s Test
Kitchen. We start every day by asking questions. Do bones add flavor to meat
during cooking? What causes ice cream to turn icy in the freezer? Then we
construct kitchen experiments to answer those questions in a manner that helps
us, as home cooks, to produce more foolproof recipes, and better food.

To test our theory about the benefits of adding small pieces of frozen butter to
eggs, we put 2-pound fishing weights on top of omelets. (The more tender
omelet could not hold the weight.) To gauge the benefits of letting cooked meat
rest, we sliced one roast as soon as it came out of the oven and measured 10
tablespoons of lost liquid; when we waited just 10 minutes to slice a second
roast, the liquid lost was reduced to just 4 tablespoons. And does mixing method
really matter when making brownies? We tested stirring gently (with some
streaks of flour remaining), then stirred a second batch until all streaks were
incorporated, and then finished with a third batch that was well mixed in a
standing mixer. The brownies made with the lightest touch were perfect; the
others were unpleasantly tough.

All of this is fun and interesting, but our real goal is to make you a better
home cook. Understanding the difference between amylose and amylopectin
(two types of starches) is of little use to cooks unless this information can be
used to produce better mashed potatoes. (It can and does.) And understanding
how heat is transferred from the outside of a roast to the inside is useful since it
explains why a low oven is best when cooking large pieces of meat. (The outside
won’t overcook by the time the inside is done.)
This reminds me, of course, of the story of the Vermont storekeeper who was
asked if he would have a particularly popular item back in stock before long.
“Nope,” the old-timer replied.
“Why not?” the customer wanted to know.
“Moves too darn fast!”
That inexplicable logic is often like the science of cooking. At first it doesn’t
seem to make much sense but then, after a bit of thought, things come into focus.
When you understand the language of science, cooking becomes clearer and you
naturally make better choices in the kitchen. The next time you make pie dough,
you might naturally replace half of the water with vodka. (It makes a more
pliable dough that bakes up flaky.) Or you will know to brine beans or macerate sliced fruit.

Please enjoy this book. You will find the answers to most of your cooking
questions, especially when it comes to “why”—the most important question of all.
Christopher Kimball
Founder and Publisher
America’s Test Kitchen

This book has been tested, written, and edited by the folks at America’s Test
Kitchen, a very real 2,500-square-foot kitchen located just outside of Boston. It
is the home of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and Cook’s Country magazine and is
the Monday-through-Friday destination for more than three dozen test cooks,
editors, food scientists, tasters, and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test
recipes over and over again until we understand how and why they work and
until we arrive at the “best” version.

We start the process of testing a recipe with a complete lack of conviction,
which means that we accept no claim, no theory, no technique, and no recipe at
face value. We simply assemble as many variations as possible, test a half-dozen
of the most promising, and taste the results blind. We then construct our own
hybrid recipe and continue to test it, varying ingredients, techniques, and
cooking times until we reach a consensus. The result, we hope, is the best
version of a particular recipe, but we realize that only you can be the final judge
of our success (or failure). As we like to say in the test kitchen, “We make the
mistakes, so you don’t have to.”

All of this would not be possible without a belief that good cooking, much
like good music, is indeed based on a foundation of objective technique. Some
people like spicy foods and others don’t, but there is a right way to sauté, there is
a best way to cook a pot roast, and there are measurable scientific principles
involved in producing perfectly beaten, stable egg whites. This is our ultimate
goal: to investigate the fundamental principles of cooking so that you become a
better cook. It is as simple as that.

You can watch us work (in our actual test kitchen) by tuning in to America’s
Test Kitchen (AmericasTestKitchen.com) or Cook’s Country from America’s
Test Kitchen (CooksCountryTV.com) on public television, or by subscribing to
Cook’s Illustrated magazine (CooksIllustrated.com) or Cook’s Country magazine
(CooksCountry.com), which are each published every other month. We welcome
you into our kitchen, where you can stand by our side as we test our way to the
best recipes in America.

Preface By Christopher Kimball
Welcome to America’s Test Kitchen
Navigating This E-book
The Science of Measuring
The Science of Time and Temperature
The Science of Heat and Cold
The Science of the Senses
The Science of Tools and Ingredients
Recipe Table of Contents
CONCEPT 1: Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking
CONCEPT 2: High Heat Develops Flavor
CONCEPT 3: Resting Meat Maximizes Juiciness
CONCEPT 4: Hot Food Keeps Cooking
CONCEPT 5: Some Proteins Are Best Cooked Twice
CONCEPT 6: Slow Heating Makes Meat Tender
CONCEPT 7: Cook Tough Cuts Beyond Well-Done
CONCEPT 8: Tough Cuts Like a Covered Pot
CONCEPT 9: A Covered Pot Doesn’t Need Liquid
CONCEPT 10: Bones Add Flavor, Fat, and Juiciness
CONCEPT 11: Brining Maximizes Juiciness in Lean
CONCEPT 12: Salt Makes Meat Juicy and Skin Crisp
CONCEPT 13: Salty Marinades Work Best
CONCEPT 14: Grind Meat at Home for Tender
CONCEPT 15: A Panade Keeps Ground Meat Tender
CONCEPT 16: Create Layers for a Breading That
CONCEPT 17: Good Frying Is All About Oil
CONCEPT 18: Fat Makes Eggs Tender
CONCEPT 19: Gentle Heat Guarantees Smooth
CONCEPT 20: Starch Keeps Eggs from Curdling
CONCEPT 21: Whipped Egg Whites Need Stabilizers
CONCEPT 22: Starch Helps Cheese Melt Nicely
CONCEPT 23: Salting Vegetables Removes Liquid
CONCEPT 24: Green Vegetables Like It Hot—Then
CONCEPT 25: All Potatoes Are Not Created Equal
CONCEPT 26: Potato Starches Can Be Controlled
CONCEPT 27: Precooking Makes Vegetables Firmer
CONCEPT 28: Don’t Soak Beans—Brine ’Em
CONCEPT 29: Baking Soda Makes Beans and Grains
CONCEPT 30: Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice
CONCEPT 31: Slicing Changes Garlic and Onion
CONCEPT 32: Chile Heat Resides in Pith and Seeds
CONCEPT 33: Bloom Spices to Boost Their Flavor
CONCEPT 34: Not All Herbs Are for Cooking
CONCEPT 35: Glutamates, Nucleotides Add Meaty
CONCEPT 36: Emulsifiers Make Smooth Sauces
CONCEPT 37: Speed Evaporation When Cooking
CONCEPT 38: More Water Makes Chewier Bread
CONCEPT 39: Rest Dough to Trim Kneading Time
CONCEPT 40: Time Builds Flavor in Bread
CONCEPT 41: Gentle Folding Stops Tough Quick
CONCEPT 42: Two Leaveners Are Often Better than
CONCEPT 43: Layers of Butter Make Flaky Pastry
CONCEPT 44: Vodka Makes Pie Dough Easy
CONCEPT 45: Less Protein Makes Tender Cakes,
CONCEPT 46: Creaming Butter Helps Cakes Rise
CONCEPT 47: Reverse Cream for Delicate Cakes
CONCEPT 48: Sugar Changes Texture (and
CONCEPT 49: Sugar and Time Make Fruit Juicier
CONCEPT 50: Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor
Equipping Your Kitchen
Cookware Materials
What About Nonstick Pans?
Knife Basics
Emergency Ingredient Substitutions
Food Safety
Conversions and Equivalents
Further Reading


While popular books on cooking science and food science textbooks provide
very helpful explanations, the ultimate source of scientific information comes
from scholarly review articles and original research papers published in
academic journals. While working on this book, I consulted more than 350
scientific papers. These landmark papers were especially helpful.
—Guy Crosby