The other day I came across an interview with Herve This, at the end of it was a rather interesting list of ten elements to remember about cooking and what he thinks is the most important tools of our trade. I only hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Trained as a physical chemist, Dr. This is the godfather of molecular gastronomy, the emerging discipline of understanding the physical and chemical structure of food and the scientific processes of cooking.
Naysayers accuse him of tarnishing culinary traditions, but to Michelin three-star chefs such as Spain's Ferran Adria and Paris's Pierre Gagnaire, he's a guru. Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor and Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, the first of his books to be released in English, set out to make kitchen science accessible to the lay cook. We talked to him about distilling countless napkins' worth of experimental results into practical advice on how to prepare meltingly tender meat and why all you need is a good oven.
Helping chefs understand and apply the rules of chemistry in the kitchen has made Herve This a culinary hero to Michelin three-star chefs such as Ferran Adria
The term "molecular gastronomy" is now associated with chefs like Ferran Adria, but you disagree with that usage. Why?
They are doing molecular cooking. The truth is that molecular gastronomy is science, molecular cooking is cooking, and chefs are not scientists.
What equipment do you consider essential for home cooks?
A good oven, certainly. Induction is fine, because induction is more efficient than a gas stove. That's all.
No thermometers? Scales?
If you have a good thermometer in your oven it's alright. I would say that we lack knowledge more than tools. Our kitchens are full of gadgets, but if we don't know what to make with these tools we cannot make anything.
You've devoted a lot of research to collecting and debunking "precisions" - old wives' tales about cooking.
I have more than 25,000 precisions. People say you should make stock by starting the meat in cold water to extract more juice. Is it true? Well, let's do the experiment. We take one piece of meat, cut it in two to have the same quantity of fat, and put one part in boiling water and one part in cold water. In the end, when the temperature has reached equilibrium, you have exactly the same. So, this is wrong.
You have assembled a list of 10 fundamental pieces of knowledge for cooks. It includes unexpected items like salt dissolves into water and salt does not dissolve into oil.
You see how silly it seems? It's not obvious. Imagine that you take a glass of oil, you put some salt, even after one century the oil will not be salted. This, according to Pierre Gagnaire, is my main discovery.
Yes, he was putting Maldon salt on meat just before serving, but the salt was drawing out the water from the meat, so it was dissolving instead of giving the crunch he wanted. I had an idea: Put the salt into oil because it will be protected. And now, in all of Pierre's kitchens, there are small cups with various oils and various salts. He tells the press in many interviews this is my main discovery, but I will not get the Nobel Prize for that.
Do people understand these basics?
They don't know. Water boils at 100 C. It seems obvious, but it's not. I have a cookbook written by a three-star chef with some scientific education, and the book states that when you put a lid on a pan you can increase the temperature of water up to 130 C. You will never achieve 130 C.
So how can home cooks apply this knowledge?
Imagine you have a tough piece of meat. If you cook it at a high temperature the water in it boils, rule number four, and evaporates, rule number seven. You now have a crust, but it's still tough in the middle. To make it good and tender you have to apply rule number eight, collagen dissolves above 55 C [131 F]. See, it's easy.
How do you respond to people who criticize you for dehumanizing food and cooking?
There is an easy answer. Imagine you take a moonlit walk with your lover and you understand why the moon shines. Are you less in love? No. You know, any way of discussing what you eat makes it better. If you just eat, you're an animal; but we are not animals, we are humans.
10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge
1. Salt dissolves in water.
2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.
3. Oil does not dissolve in water.
4. Water boils at 100 C (212 F).
5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).
6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.
7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.
8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 C (131 F).
9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).
10. Some chemical processes - such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) - generate new flavours.