peeking over MC 690

I’m over­joyed to announce that, start­ing in January, I’ll be join­ing the Modernist Cuisine team full-time as the Business Development Manager… and Modernist Cuisine Evangelist! If you’ve been fol­low­ing the blog (or if you’ve ever had a 5-minute con­ver­sa­tion with me) you know that I’ve been a huge fan of Modernist Cuisine since I first heard about the project. From my first inter­view with Nathan Myhrvold in May, 2010 to my recent expe­ri­ence of intern­ing with the kitchen team, it has been my dream to join this team. Now, I’ll have the tremen­dous plea­sure of help­ing Modernist Cuisine grow in new and excit­ing ways, and spread our mes­sage to a much broader audience.

We are for­tu­nate to be wit­ness­ing a world­wide, culi­nary rev­o­lu­tion. Much like Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire for­ever changed cook­ing in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Modernist Cuisine enables con­tem­po­rary ideas, tools and cook­ing tech­niques to spread more widely than any other book before it. In fact, I’ve been infa­mously quoted as say­ing “Escoffier would crap his pants…” at the sight of the five gor­geous, com­pre­hen­sive vol­umes. However, with the U.S. book launch com­pleted and for­eign edi­tions now broadly avail­able, our work is far from done.

More than ever, we are excited about the huge poten­tial we see in the road ahead. We’ll be explor­ing ways for The Cooking Lab to con­tribute to the Modernist rev­o­lu­tion, not only through our books but also through new ser­vices and prod­ucts that we hope to develop our­selves and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a wide range of other com­pa­nies, from food and equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers to chefs and restau­rant own­ers, to pub­lish­ers and pro­duc­ers. We’ve got a list of great ideas to turn into real­i­ties, but we also want to know what you’d like to see from us. If you have an idea, a request, or a part­ner­ship oppor­tu­nity, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact us online or email scott@modernistcuisine.com.

I’m incred­i­bly excited about the future of Modernist Cuisine, and I’m hon­ored by the priv­i­lege of help­ing to shape it!

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Reading time: 2 min

tomatoes

After much ogling, I finally took the plunge and purchased a VacMaster chamber vacuum sealer when I caught an irresistible deal for an older model on Craigslist.  I had known for a while that my FoodSaver was woefully inadequate at sealing wet foods for sous vide, but after witnessing how much of a workhorse the chamber sealer is at the Modernist Cuisine lab, I knew it was an essential missing piece of gear for my own kitchen.  These are the results of my first real experimentation with the chamber vacuum sealer: “quick pickling.”

A chamber sealer pulls a much stronger vacuum than a FoodSaver – so strong, in fact, that it will boil water at room temperature.  When you apply this ultra-strong vacuum pressure to plant foods, you can physically change their cell structure in a way that causes the foods to quickly absorb  liquids that surround them.  Modernist Cuisine explains the phenomenon best:

The cells of plant tissue contain pockets of air and water called vacuoles.  As the outside pressure decreases during vacuum sealing, these vacuoles act like balloons rising up through the atmosphere, and like balloons they eventually pop.  The popped vacuoles cannot reinflate[…] so they collapse under the weight of atmospheric pressure as soon as the sealing chamber is opened.[…] Incidentally, this phenomenon also is the reason that infusing liquids into fruits or vegetables under vacuum compression works so well.  Once the vacuoles rupture, they quickly fill with any surrounding liquid.

So, I set out to exploit this phenomenon with a bunch of different plant foods.  Here are the results.

 

Tomatoes
tomato macro

The image at the top of this post shows the outcome of my tomato experiments.  On the left is a raw tomato, sliced 3mm thick.  In the middle is a tomato infused with olive oil.  On the right is a tomato infused with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Since the oil replaces much of the water in the tomato slice, you can safely top these tomatoes with salt without the salt melting, which is a neat trick.

The image just above shows a macro shot of the oil and balsamic tomato slice.  You can actually see the expanded vacuoles, which are now filled with oil.  As the pressure in the vacuum chamber dropped, the tomatoes boiled vigorously in the olive oil – they actually looked like they were being deep-fried, but at room temperature.  I think there’s more to explore here…

Cucumber

cucumber

[Raw on the left, infused on the right].  These are classic pickles.  I infused 3mm cucumber slices in a brine of rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water, coriander seed, black peppercorn and fresh dill.  Because the cell walls are collapsed, these pickles don’t quite have the same “snap” as traditional pickles, but they were still excellent.  Having total control over the flavor of the brine and being able to make pickles in less than 60 seconds more than makes up for the difference in mouthfeel.

Quince

quince
[Raw on the left, infused on the right].  Because the quince was so firm, I sliced it to 3/4mm on the mandoline.  I pickled the slices with Noble Tonic No. 4 and thyme.  Although they are quite acidic as a standalone snack, they’d make a fantastic garnish for something fatty, like a slab of pork belly or a chunk of tuna.  They’re also much more attractive when they turn translucent.

Jicama

jicima

[Raw on the left, infused middle and right].  Much to my surprise, the jicama didn’t compress much or turn translucent.  However, it did do a fantastic job taking on surrounding flavors.  My first test was Sriracha and light coconut milk.  This worked like a charm – the liquid was quite thick, but even after I rinsed the jicama, the flavors remained.  The second test was a brine of apple cider and fennel seed.  This has the potential to become a fantastic slaw.  Although I was happy with the flavors, I didn’t compare the results of the vacuum compression to simply soaking jicama in these liquids, so I can’t say for sure that vacuum did any magic here.

Turnip

turnip

[Raw on the left, infused on the right]. This was one of the most promising results – I infused 3/4mm sliced raw turnip with Nobile Tonic No. 1 Maple Syrup.  In fairness, I could lick that maple syrup off a cast iron griddle and still love it.  However, the sweetness of the syrup added a wonderful complexity to the bitter, spicy finish of raw turnip.  I could see these infused turnip sheets used as a wrapper for a filling, or perhaps deep fried into chips.

I’m very excited about the results of this first round of testing, and I look forward to more experimentation with the chamber sealer.

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Reading time: 3 min

pan with steak

As you may know, one hallmark of the photography in Modernist Cuisine is their use of cutaway photos that show what’s happening inside your food – and cookware – as you cook.  Since I plan on (eventually) trying to recreate all of the recipes in the  book, I thought it might be prudent to recreate those cutaway shots, too.  Unlike the MC lab, however, I don’t have a waterjet

Enter the fantastic folks at Flow International Corporation.  They happened to catch my half-joking tweet asking if anyone had a waterjet I could borrow, and as it turns out, they do.  In fact, Flow manufactures waterjet machines and invited me to visit them at their headquarters in Kent, WA.  When I arrived, they led me – and my box of fully intact cookware – into their demonstration room, an enormous space punctuated by a handful of monstrous waterjets machines. 

Under normal circumstances, they’d load a 3D model of the object we were cutting and the cutting nozzle would follow an exact path through the object.  However, since I just wanted my pans cut “in twain” the operator switched  the machine into manual mode and piloted the cutting head across the surface of the pan like a Jedi.  The video below shows the cutting process. 

Thanks to the folks at Flow International Corporation for cutting some cookware in half for me!

Water and abrasive grit forced at 87,000 psi through an opening the size of a human hair is powerful. And, it doesn’t discriminate – it’ll cut paper, tile, glass, stone, metals (including titanium) and just about anything else that gets in its path. As it turns out, water jets are also commonly used for cutting food products.  Since the water jet doesn’t generate much heat as it cuts, it’s perfect for portioning frozen meat and fish or slicing a sheet of nougat into individual candy bars.  Of course, now I totally want one of these machines for home.  Cutting the crust off a loaf of Wonderbread would never be the same again.

The image at the top shows one of my new half-skillets and depicts the problem with cooking a thick steak on a hot surface (see those gray bands of well-done?).  Now I can do my very own cutaway shots, just like the big boys 😉

Huge thanks to the fantastic folks at Flow for helping me out!

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Reading time: 2 min
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