The saturated fat bogey

Everyone knows that to be healthy we should consume less saturated fat. Well, the thing is, the best scientific evidence we have available indicates that dietary saturated fat does not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. There are certainly scientific studies that support the dangers of saturated fats, but

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Safety of sous-vide cooking

This is a common question, and rightly so for any new technique. However, the unprecedented control over temperature and time that sous-vide offers means that it can be quite safe (see what is sous-vide?). Sous vide was adopted (in the 1970s) by NASA as a means of preserving food in lightweight packaging

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Ageing beef

The process of transforming muscle from a cow into prime meat on a plate starts at slaughter. In addition to not being humane, it is known that stressing any animal before slaughter degrades the quality of the meat produced. After a humane slaughter, muscle continues to live on for a

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Human lifespan

Our hunter-gatherer forebears would have had a high infant and juvenile mortality, which biases the calculation of population life expectancy and probably led to the famous ‘nasty, brutish and short’ (Thomas Hobbes) concept of our ancestors’ lives. But, those that did survive into adulthood could actually live a long time.

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Consider the knife

Stone age cutting implements (sharpened stones or bones) predate fire by about a million years. It’s worth reminding ourselves that for millions of years hominids survived in part by hacking and eating raw meat. Throughout our evolution, the importance of eating food meant that cutting implements always made use of

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Low-temperature baked roast

Meat baked in the oven is called a roast for some reason. The convective heat of the air in the oven heats the exterior of meat, and then heat from the exterior diffuses into the meat by conduction. Doing this in a ‘hot’ oven (~180C) also dehydrates the surface and

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Bugs ‘R’ us

After a couple of posts focusing on the bad guys, I thought I should set the record straight. Ever since Louis Pasteur established germ theory about 150 years ago, it seems we’ve been trying to eradicate everything microbial from our lives.  Even though we’ve tackled this with gusto and science,

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‘Kills 99.9% of household germs’ is a ubiquitous claim found on cleaning products these days, such a hand soaps and washes, but probably not for much longer. The FDA has recently (December 2013) flagged that companies claiming this have to justify its health benefits and prove its safety (they have

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Trash cooking

Trash Cooking – it’s what René Redzepi calls it – using the parts of an ingredient that would normally be trashed automatically. René is Chef-patron at the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which was voted the world’s top restaurant (by 900 peers) for three consecutive years. He has built a new Nordic

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Breathing wine

For centuries it has been known that decanting – allowing a wine to be in contact with air for a period – improves a red wine. A whole industry and wedding-gift business has sprung up as a result, from carafes to various devices (typically expensive) that ‘assist’ the process. And

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Citrus Air

Foams are common in the kitchen. Egg whites and meringues, a head of beer, whipped cream, cappuccino etc. What’s modernist about foams is pushing the limits a bit. For example, can it be lighter and airier, and can liquids that don’t foam of their own accord be foamed? One way

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Food safety

It’s a big topic, too much for a post. So I will focus on some aspects that might not be widely known. Even so, this is a long post that only touches briefly on the issues. Food safety rules in privileged western countries like mine do a good job in

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Summer menu – 2014

I thought I would document a dinner I did just recently for good friends. There were seven courses, and it had a light summer theme. It was meant to comprise interpretations on Italian, until a considerably more scholarly guest than I reminded me (tactfully) that gazpacho was Spanish. Oh dear.

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Removing tomato skin

The usual way to peel a tomato is slitting the base, dunking it in boiling water and then into an ice-bath. This is fine. If the tomato flesh is to be used in saucing, in other words if the integrity of the flesh doesn’t matter, then a more unusual, but

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Sous-vide: an example

I thought I would share my version of sous-vide pork belly. Starting with a good-quality pork belly: 1. Remove the skin (make a crackling out of the skin separately if desired). Cut the belly in half 2. Sprinkle the surfaces (opposite the skin side) with transglutaminase. Join together, vacuum pack

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Sous-vide: resources

[recommended pre-read: what is sous-vide?] All you need is some way of packaging the food without air, and a temperature controlled water-bath. That’s it. PART 1: Air-extracted packaging The simplest method is the water displacement method using a ziplock bag. This requires no appliance, and has the advantage of being able

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Sous-vide: improvised

[recommended pre-read: what is sous-vide?] You can improvise with a pot of water on the stove, a thermometer and a zip-lock bag. A bit fiddly but it will give you an idea. Place a salmon fillet in the bag with a little olive oil (to maintain contact between the salmon

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Sous-vide: what is that?

The sous-vide technique has become an epitome of modernist cooking. The name translates as ‘under vacuum’, and it is usually associated with cooking vacuum-packed food in a heated water-bath, however the vacuum packing is not its most important feature. Its most important feature is precise temperature control of the water.

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Once-upon-a-time when I had a microwave, I mostly used it for defrosting meat. It is a quick, but not very satisfactory, method. The outside can cook a bit while the inside thaws (especially noticeable with chicken as I recall). Microwaves don’t penetrate more than about 1cm into the food, so

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Food chemicals

I wonder about the trust put in things that are ‘organic’ compared to the distrust of ‘artificial’ or ‘man-made’. The organic does not need to justify that trust; it is sufficient that it is organic. Whereas the artificial, even when scientifically proven to be safe, is still distrusted. This matters

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[recommended pre-read: deep frying] There are hurdles to overcome for a crispy edible batter. The problems are that the batter itself has to dry-out at just the right time, and it must not absorb either oil or water, despite being cooked in oil from the outside, and blasted with water

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Deep frying

Deep-frying is not unlike baking, with the hot air replaced by hot oil. The physical principles that operate are much the same. Just as the aim is to dehydrate and brown the surface of a loaf of bread in the oven, so it is with browning deep-fried food. When food

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Lactose tolerance

Most people from western societies are lactose tolerant and able to drink milk as adults, although intolerance still affects a significant minority. However, for most races, lactose intolerance is not the minority but rather the norm. It is estimated that globally, only about a third of today’s population can consume

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Brain food

I often get asked  – What foods are good for the brain? I think the answer is – most of them. The brain, like everything else, requires a balance of nutrients, and a balanced diet is the best thing you can do for it. The concept of ‘a brain food’,

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An unexpected use for gels: freeze-filtering. [recommended pre-read: Gels] Lets say you want to clarify a stock and produce a clear flavoursome consommé. Traditionally, this is achieved by adding an egg-white mixture to the stock, and slowly heating it. With heat, the egg proteins unravel and reconnect to form a very

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Gels are fun. They are also kind of improbable – turning a liquid into a solid. Take gelatin for example. Add just 1% of gelatin (by weight) and you can turn water into something solid. A solid consisting of 99% water? Where did the water go? What did such a

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Food for thought

I thought I would perhaps expand on my reasons for writing the previous ‘food is history’ post (and others like it). There are very few things humans can absolutely not do without, and one is food. So food, cooking, eating and producing are everywhere. But this does not make their

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Food is History

Our hominid ancestors branched off from the chimpanzees around 6-8 million years ago. For 99.9% of the ensuing time they lived by hunting and gathering. Our own species, homo sapiens, emerged from the hominids about 100,000 years ago, and for the next 90,000 years they too were hunter-gatherers. The Neolithic

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Baking or roasting?

Were the potatoes in this image baked or roasted? We ‘bake’ a cake, but ‘roast’ a chicken. I wonder why that is, given that both are put in an oven at around the same temperature. And what do those bake/roast settings on the oven knob mean anyway? Not much really.

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Potato 3: Chipped

[recommended pre-read: Potato Science] The chip is probably the (western) world’s most successful fast food. So it is frustrating that a good home-cooked chip is a challenge (for me at least). To me, a chip has to satisfy all of these requirements: 1. Crisp, but not tough exterior 2. Fluffy,

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Potato 2: Mashed

[recommended pre-read: Potato Science] To me, the goal is somewhere between being lumpy at one extreme and gluey at the other. Connotations of ‘fluffy, light, smooth, creamy’. The starting point is the potato itself. Floury and waxy-type potatoes both work for mash. Floury potatoes are relatively high in starch and

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Potato 1: Science

Understanding the structure, composition and behaviour of what is being cooked can guide how to cook it. So, here is Potato Science 101. Potatoes are related to tomato, chilli and tobacco – members of the deadly nightshade family, and at least potato and tomato were once considered poisonous. Which potatoes

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Taste and flavour

The terms taste and flavour are often used interchangeably, but they do mean different things: taste is a basic sensation (salty, sweet, bitter, sour, savoury), whereas flavour is a complex perception. Taste seems to have evolved for specific biological purposes and serves vital functions. Taste is like the gatekeeper governing

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One of the iconic modernist techniques is spherification. As an industrial technique it has been around a long time (circa 1973), but in a basic way. It was Ferran Adria who first realized its culinary potential when, in 2001, he saw it being used to make small pearl-like gels for

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Hard-steamed egg

To me, the most challenging thing about a hard-boiled egg is not cooking it, but smoothly peeling it. While there are many ways to approach this challenge, I recommend not to boil the egg, but to steam it.  Steam for 14 minutes, then transfer to an ice-water bath (at least

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The 6xC egg

I was going to write something about the remarkable and reproducible changes that occur in eggs when they are cooked to a precise temperature. This gives rise to the concept of the 6x°C egg, which this blog is named after. But, in this video demonstration, David Arnold explains it much more

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Fluid gels

I haven’t said much about modernist cooking so far have I? I’ll add a musing later, but in the meantime here’s a concept in the modernist spirit: The ‘fluid gel’ (thixotropic for the scientific-minded). A fluid gel is something that is a gel when sitting quietly, but that transforms into

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Heat in the Kitchen

The heating of food is synonymous with cooking, and the techniques to apply heat in the kitchen are numerous and nuanced. So, one might think that accurate temperature measurement and control would be standard in the kitchen and for any kitchen appliance. Perversely, it seems to me, the exact opposite

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How to poach an egg

The most effective modernist way to cook an egg is in a temperature-controlled waterbath in the range 62-63C for 60-90 mins. More of this in another post… The more common methods involve cracking the egg into a pan of hot water on the stove. There are many methods for refining

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How to make an egg

During their laying lifetime, hens will produce about eight times their bodyweight in eggs. These come from a few thousand specialized germ cells in the chicken’s ovary. They are the small pinhead-sized white specks that can be seen riding on the top of the yolk. Everything else is life-support for

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Searing meat to seal in the juices

We all know, because we have been told for so long (even by celebrity chefs and authoritative cook books), that you should begin cooking meat by searing it to seal in its juices. This long-standing truism was most famously debunked in 1989 by Harold McGee in his remarkable book On

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The traditional-cooking myth

There’s an adage in Science: “The eminence of a scientist is measured by how long he holds up progress” There’s more than an element of truth in there. Big-picture scientific thinking progresses by overthrow, but people (including scientists) prefer their comfort zone (maybe refurbished a bit, but certainly not overthrown).

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There’s no blood in red meat

The sight of what appears to be blood leaking onto a plate from a medium-rare steak can be off-putting. It’s one reason that steak is often overcooked, even though the trade-off is tough dry meat (and logically; cooked blood). But the juices that come out are not blood at all.

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Why Cook?

Why cook? Well, there are the usual candidates (health, social, bonding, family), but what if cooking might define us as human? James Boswell had this to say in 1773: “My definition of Man is – ‘A Cooking Animal’. The beasts have memory, judgement, and all the faculties and passions of

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