science in the kitchen

The traditional cooking techniques that have been known for years, such as drying or fermentation, as well as modern and more sophisticated culinary techniques, will diversify the menu and allow you to use a wide range of options of food processing.

What does it mean to know how to cook?

Why theoretical knowledge is crucial for culinary skills? Theoretical knowledge is essential to develop real culinary skills.

We rarely realize that our natural human tendency to organize reality and find the mechanisms underlying phenomena will eventually lead us to the creation of some conceptual system.

But if we don't trust truthful sources of information, it will be based only on imagination, not fact.

Someone may object and say that you can learn to cook from the recipes themselves. However, we have to realize that the rules are largely just wrong.

The cooking times and the proportions of the ingredients are recorded from memory. Even the correct recipe is just a shorthand for the entire composition of the dish, which already presupposes some cooking knowledge.

The purpose of specific activities is also not given. Which steps are necessary to maintain the integrity of the plate and which are optional? Which ones can be excluded and which ones can be modified?

Without knowledge of cooking theory, we are condemned to the grace of a recipe: we have no way of verifying if it is good before the cooking is finished. We don't know what impact the individual steps and techniques will have on the final result.

Emulsification

Emulsification is a cooking technique that allows the permanent combination of fatty and aqueous substances.

As a result, emulsions are formed, giving the dish a new structure. They can contain any flavor and color them any color. We get them, for example, by adding glycerin to the oil and heating everything to 60°C.

The emulsion will also be created by combining oil with egg yolk. Another way to achieve this is to blend the xanthan or xanthan gum with any liquid, warm or cold.

Solidification

Gelling is a culinary technique that allows you to prepare a dish with the consistency of gelatin. This cooking technique uses natural ingredients such as agar, gellan or gelatin, for example.

The first two allow you to make hot jellies that retain their consistency even at 80-90°C. Just mix agar with any vegetable or fruit juice and, while stirring, bring everything to a boil and let it solidify.

However, remember to add more agar or gellan gum or use fruit pectin instead when using this cooking technique and gelling acid solutions.

We can also quickly turn gelatin into a smooth gel or puree by blending it with a blender and sifting it through a fine strainer.

The sous-vide method

The sous vide cooking technique usually consists of cooking the sous vide product for a long time at a low temperature.

The suction of the air prevents the growth of aerobic bacteria, which in turn allows to significantly extend (up to three times) the shelf life of food in refrigerated conditions (without the need to freeze).

However, the prerequisite for using this culinary technique is that the food be rapidly chilled in ice cold water and stored under controlled cooling conditions.

Alternatively, instead of the circulator, a convection oven set to steam can be used, and the vacuum bags can be replaced with zipper food bags.

However, the greatest advantage of the low temperature cooking technique is the more intense flavor and aroma of the food and the minimum loss of moisture and weight in the product

It is important to note that the sous-vide cooking technique allows dishes to be prepared in advance and finished just before serving, maintaining their juiciness, freshness and unique structure.

It also helps to significantly reduce the risk of human error, as dishes will be of consistent quality every time.

Drying

Involves exposing food to heat and airflow. If you are concerned about time, place the product in a preheated oven at 80-100°C with hot air. We can dry in the dehydrator at a lower temperature, but the process also takes longer.

The cooking technique by means of the evaporation of the water of the product makes its flavor more intense. It is also easy to change its consistency to powder. Mushrooms, tubers, and fruits like apples, pineapples, and pears are ideal for drying.

Fermentation

The oldest method of food fermentation is lactic fermentation, which consists of the production of lactic acid under aerobic conditions.

Its bacteria are found, among others, in fresh leaves of currant, horseradish and sorrel. These products and salt allow you to dry or wet almost any food in a controlled way.

In this cooking technique, the process can be speeded up by adding garlic, onion, or even fresh oysters.

Thus lactic fermentation can be subjected to, for example, rutabaga, cauliflower, celery, garlic, tomatoes or lemons, but also, often surprisingly, herring and eggs.

It's worth knowing that there are also special fermentation mushrooms that allow you to plant vegetables.

Compress

Compression is the process of vacuum packing food to give it a unique flavor or color. Of course, we must first put the product in the right company, for example, cover the meat with herbs or put pieces of fruit in sugar syrup.

The compressing culinary technique is like injecting a new flavor into a product, so you can use it to speed up the pickling process.

During this culinary technique, special vacuum packaging machines are most often used, but we can also use a culinary siphon.

Put in pieces of fruit, eg watermelon or apples, pour in juice or syrup with a different flavor than the compressed ingredients and screw on two cartridges. We get the effect after several minutes.

What are the most important skills we should acquire?

There are many ways to categorize cooking information, but we are going to break this system roughly into three interrelated parts, which have their foundations in the scientific fields of chemistry, physics, and biology.< /p>

Knowledge about products and their components

If we know what starch is and how it behaves in contact with water and temperature, then we will be able to prepare most flour dishes, no matter if it will be millet, rye, wheat, etc.

We will be able to see differences and similarities, interchangeability and complementarity of ingredients where they really exist.

In general, in the culinary arts, products should be seen as aggregates of chemical compounds with specific characteristics and not as separate entities. Each of the ingredients has a specific function in the recipe.

Knowledge of thermal food processing techniques

We are talking about frying, baking, blanching, steaming, sous-vide, preserving, etc.Different methods will involve different ways of transporting thermal energy: radiation, conduction, convection, condensation

We can also divide the heating methods into the so-called dry (without water): baking, grilling, frying; and wet (in water or in an environment with high humidity): blanching, stewing and steaming.

Knowledge about processing methods is complementary to knowledge about products.

Knowledge about food safety

This should be a limiting factor in our creative aspirations: absolutely anything is allowed in the kitchen, as long as it doesn't violate food safety regulations. Food poisoning is a real problem.

Food is threatened not only by bacteria, but also by viruses, parasites, heavy metals, natural toxins and prions. It is the responsibility of the chef to minimize the risks.

Unfortunately, food safety awareness among home and professional chefs is quite low. Before starting to cook, we must read the information on:

  • ​​Influence of temperature.
  • The pH.
  • Water activity.
  • Antimicrobial compounds in the reproduction of bacteria and moulds.
  • The role of pasteurization and sterilization.
  • Identify products at risk.
  • Minimize the transport of infections.
  • Effective cooling, freezing and thawing methods.

This will not only prevent many diseases, but also food waste.

Do we have to be scientists to cook well?

Absolutely not. Around the world, thousands of top chefs get by without a solid understanding of food, relying only on tradition and knowledge passed down from their older, experienced colleagues.

However, this is not an optimal solution. We currently have very good and reliable sources of knowledge that we should use, and not rely on word of mouth full of superstitions.

We live in a time when cooking based on a scientifically grounded theory has become commonplace. Only this knowledge allows complete creative freedom and guarantees optimal security.

However, this does not mean that we need a doctorate in science, we are not going to fission the nucleus of the atom or fight for the Nobel Prize. It is enough to learn the basic mechanisms, but real, not invented, of the kitchen.

We don't need to know the exact details of Strecker degradation or the conversion of asparagine to acrylamide to effectively brown steak. But we'll do much better if we know.

We must also remember that not everything can be learned from books. A feeling is essential, which we will only acquire when dealing with the products.

For professional cooks, the following processes are of the utmost importance: work organization, speed, ability to multitask, endurance, and stress management.

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