Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen

Ah, the alchemical fire of cooking! This is one of the ways in which a kitchen is exactly like a laboratory, even an alchemical laboratory -- where activities in both are concerned with putting together ingredients (or reagents) toward a goal. In both places fire is the transforming agency. It seems as though the home cook could use a little chemistry or alchemical knowledge. Alchemical Cooking -- there's a cookbook idea........
clipped from www.nytimes.com
OF all the ingredients in the kitchen, the most common is also the most mysterious.

It’s hard to measure and hard to control. It’s not a material like water or flour, to be added by the cup. In fact, it’s invisible.

It’s heat.

Every cook relies every day on the power of heat to transform food, but heat doesn’t always work in the way we might guess. And what we don’t know about it can end up burning us.

We waste huge amounts of gas or electricity, not to mention money and time, trying to get heat to do things it can’t do. Aiming to cook a roast or steak until it’s pink at the center, we routinely overcook the rest of it. Instead of a gentle simmer, we boil our stews and braises until they are tough and dry. Even if we do everything else right, we can undermine our best cooking if we let food cool on the way to the table — all because most of us don’t understand heat.

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