Microsoft man slims down his $US625 guide to the science of cooking

Nathan Myhrvold

Good news for anyone who couldn't afford the original, six-volume $US625 version of Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking: on October 8, a slimmed-down version called Modernist Cuisine at Home will be released for a mere $US127.48 (you can pre-order via Amazon here.)

Mr Myhrvold sprung to fame in the tech industry as Microsoft's chief technology officer and the inventor of 17 of its patented technologies.

A long time amateur enthusiast in the kitchen, he resigned as CTO in 1999, quipping to the Wall Street Journal that "Microsoft was getting in the way of my cooking."

The mathematics and science graduate didn't do anything by halves in his subsequent efforts to discover the secrets of food.

He assembled a team of 36 chefs and researches and built a purpose-built lab. There, his team came up with material for the 2400-page original edition of Modernist Cuisine, released in February 2011.

The tome features recipes, plus nuggets of insight into kitchen science.

Mr Myhrvold's findings include:

  • Black coffee cools faster than coffee with cream (or milk as those outside the US would call it)
  • If your fried food is soggy, use more oil. Before shallow-frying, pour oil into a pan that is equivalent to nearly half the depth of your food. Heat it well and fry the food. When done, drain on a rack and blot excess oil with paper towels. The food will be crisp and less greasy than if you had skimped on the oil. Why? Because When food heats, water escaping from the food creates a tiny layer of steam that lifts the food off the bottom of the pan. If there's not enough oil in the pan, the food will not make contact with the oil. That means that instead of frying, it steams, and then merely absorbs the oil, sponge-like, upon contact. With a thick enough layer of oil the food will have full surface-contact with the oil and will fry—and properly fried food does not actually absorb much oil.
  • You can't make perfect fish. Broil it in wine. In an oven-proof pan, lay a piece of fish on a bed of onions, fennel or another aromatic. Pour wine to nearly cover the fish, leaving only the skin uncovered. Place the pan under a hot top-heated broiler and cook until the skin is crisp; the exact timing will vary widely depending on the thickness of the fish and other factors. Remove from broiler, insert a digital thermometer and wait until the fish reaches the desired temperature (somewhere between 120 and 130 degrees is often optimal). If the fish does not reach temperature, heat the pan gently on the stove top until it does. The fish will be tender, with crispy skin.

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