Everyday alchemy: creating food for your body and mind

By Seangnay Kheang​​ | on Wednesday 25 April 2018​

 

Cooking is the perfect combination of art and science. Whenever we cook, we become practical chemists, drawing on the accumulated knowledge of generations as we transform the spoils of nature into pleasure and nourishment. As we cook, the kitchen is our laboratory, packed with high-tech gear and stocked with supplies to make culinary art.

The more we understand how art and science unite through cooking, the better we will become – all the while having fun in the process! If you’re the type who hates cooking, r just doesn’t think you’re good at it, the following points may still prove useful for you.

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Cooking uses the basic principles of science

As you look at a recipe, ingredient list, measurements, and instructions, you can see that they are designed to lead you to a specific, repeatable outcome: cooking something delicious. Baking can be a bit more precocious, but it’s still a science in its own right. The best cooks and bakers know the scientific principles behind their craft and they can see and feel whether they’ll achieve their desired result. At its core, cooking is the process of taking a series of ingredients, combining them, using energy to apply heat or cold, and working with them to produce a delicious, nutritious, and hopefully fun result. When you learn to interpret and understand measurement make sure you have the basic tools to help you succeed: Measuring cups or spoons, a timer, a thermometer, and a kitchen scale. Now you’re on your way!

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Learn your cooking methods inside and out

As with any scientific endeavour, you need to break down the language barrier between your self and your study topic. When it comes to cooking, you’ll want to understand cooking methods on their own terms. Learn the differences between dry cooking methods like frying, baking, roasting, broiling, or grilling and wet cooking methods like poaching, boiling, braising, steaming, and stewing. You may be familiar with them, but this rundown at Wiki educator goes into deeper detail on each. Studying cooking methods does more than just clear up terminology: By understanding each, you’ll also learn how foods and flavours develop under different conditions and temperatures.

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Useful food hacks and the science behind them

1. Master the reverse sear

The reverse sear is the technique of slow-cooking steak or roast before finishing it off with a hot sear.

2. Don’t forget the salt – but never too much

3. Melt your butter for chewy cookies

4. Bloom ground spices in hot oil to open up the flavour.

What does bloom your spices mean? First, heat the oil, then add your spices and fry them. This distributes the flavour effectively.

5. Tame tricky emulsions with a dab of mayonnaise.

6. Reach for cocoa power when you need serious chocolaty flavour. 

7. Keep a “Umami bomb” at the ready for emergency savoury injections

Don’t know what a “Umami bomb” is? This post from Lifehacker has a great overview.

8. Try cooking sous vide.

What is sous vide (pronounced sue-veed)? It’s a cooking technique that uses precision cooking equipment vacuum-seal food in a bag and then cooking it to a very precise temperature using a water bath. The sous vide method delivers consistent high-quality results. High-end restaurants have used them for years, but the equipment is now more affordable for the home cook.

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