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[A Chef's Tools]
[A Chef's Ingredients]
The Science of Food

Science of basic ingredients:

Cooking is a science as well as an art. A chef is also a scientist. The tools and methods used by a chef are very similar to those used by a scientist. We mix, shake, stir, separate, heat, cool, dissolve and measure. All reactions are based on scientific principles

Although trial and error is usually the best way to learn, it can be expensive - that's why we have cookbooks. Eventually cookbooks just become guidelines - don't be afraid to experiment! If you try something from a recipe and it doesn't come out perfectly - don't give up. Cooking takes patience and practice.

  • Eggs-

Eggs have an unusual property - they are liquid when cold and solid when heated. It is best to use eggs at room temperature. When whipping egg whites make sure that there is no yolk in the mixture at all. It pays to separate them one at a time rather than into one big bowl.

  • Milk-

When heating, cover the pot to prevent the skin from forming. Heat it slowly or else it will burn or scorch. (and then you'll have a h*ll of a time cleaning the pot)

  • Meats-

There are two types of meat muscle fibers - red & white. They cook differently. Red meats include all parts of beef, the dark meat of chicken, and the dark-fleshed fish such as salmon. White meats include veal, the white meat of chicken, and the white-fleshed fish. Red meat has larger amounts of fat around it. Some red meats need to be tenderized i.e.: breaking up the protein bonds. This is usually done with an acid such as wine, vinegar or citrus juice. You can also tenderize meat by pounding it or grinding it. Red meats can stay in a tenderizer (usually called a marinade) for long periods of time without harm. White meats need very little tenderizing. Marinating white meat should not be done for too long or else the meat will `cook'. ( example - ceviche) white meats can also be pounded to achieve tenderization.

  • Garlic and onions

Garlic has been promoted as an aphrodisiac (it works), as a vampire repellent (it doesn't work), a builder of strength, a cure for high blood pressure and a poison. Lately doctors are saying that garlic will keep your cholesterol down. All this to say that garlic is an important part of cooking. When sauteing - chopping garlic finely will produce a stronger flavor then if the same amount is used but just cut in chunks. Sautéing for a long period of time will lessen the strong flavor of the garlic. In stewing or boiling, garlic loses all its pungency whatsoever and has a nutty-sweet flavor. - Onions are from the same family and, like garlic, they cause no distress until cut. There are many old time remedies on how to stop the tears while chopping onions.

  • Starch

Usually used as a thickener for prepared dishes. Different starches have different properties. Flour has less thickening power than corn starch. Corn starch will produce a firm smooth paste while flour will produce a thick paste. Overheating or overstirring a starch solution will affect the thickening ability. As will adding an acid (ie vinegar or lemon) to your sauce. If the starch is cooked before using it will not thicken as well. Always dissolve your starch in a liquid before adding it. If not you will get lumps in a thin sauce.

  • Water

Every liquid has a specific boiling temperature. Once it reaches this temperature it will not get any hotter no matter how much heat is applied. Cooking foods in a boiling liquid over a high flame will not cook it faster, the water will just boil away more quickly. Adding salt or sugar will increase the boiling temperature, therefore the heat must be higher.

  • Fats and oil

At room temperature animal fats are usually solid while plant (ie: vegetable) fats are usually liquid. If fats are heated to a very high temperature in the presence of water (there is water in all foods) they will smoke. Smoking can be prevented by frying with fats that have high smoke points (like peanut oil) and by avoiding excessively high heat, but if the oil is not hot enough then the oil will seep into the food making it greasy. Fats used in cooking should be appropriate for the dish. In salad dressings the taste of the oil is important. In baking, melted butter or oil is preferred for quick breads such as muffins, and solid butter or shortening is preferred for pastry because it doesn't melt and gets in between the many layers of the dough.

  • Oil & water

Oil & water don't mix on their own you need an emulsifier. A typical cooking emulsion is a salad dressing. The emulsion can be temporary - like a vinaigrette, or permanent like a mayonnaise.. The thicker an emulsion the less likely it is to separate. A good emulsifier is mustard. (and a lot of shaking)

  • Yeast

Yeast is a living organism. If inactive yeasts are placed in a warm, wet solution and are given food in the form or sugar or starch they will become active. Always check the expiry date on the yeast package. When bread is put into a hot oven the heat finally kills the yeast cells. When the surface of the bread is dry and hard the bread cannot rise anymore and the browning begins.

  • Acids and bases

Baking soda is basic. It must be used when you have an acidic liquid batter to neutralize the acid. These batters have ingredients such as; yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, citrus juices etc. If the batter is not acidic all the baking soda will do is taste bitter, and the batter will not rise. If too little baking soda is used when needed, again the batter may not rise. Baking powder is baking soda combined with an acid (i.e. cream of tartar). It is used to leaven delicate batters that do not contain an acid. Some recipes call for both baking soda and baking powder. These batters usually contain enough acid to react with a small amount of baking soda but not enough to produce the desired rising effect. Lemon juice - in addition to being a good acid for a salad dressing and a good acid for a marinade, will stop cut fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, avocados and artichokes from browning.


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