In the last few months I’ve been reading the first two books of Modernist Cuisine on the train to and from work. To my opinion, it’s the very best book on cooking science currently available. At first the 20kg heavy cyclopedia might seem pretty expensive, but if you consider that it actually contains all the knowledge from your complete bookshelf, it’s quite a bargain. What I also like in the book is that it goes very much into detail on the science behind food and cooking techniques, but everything is explained in n easily readable and comprehensible way.
The chapter on cooking techniques and utensils in the second book was so inspiring to me, that I tidied up my kitchen and preserved some space for new kitchen equipment. One of the kitchen tools I acquired recently was a microwave. Yes, a microwave, the one and only kitchen tool that has been neglected in the past decades by several professional cooks. Only recently cooks started to use microwaves due to some of its unique applications. From a culinary perspective, a microwave has a lot more to offer. I read about these possibilities in the second book of Modernist Cuisine and I’ll feature each one of them in a post on my blog in the future. First I start with the simplest basic recipe, which is based on a recipe by the famous and well renowned chef Thomas Keller.
It’s almost 4 years now that I filleted a whole fish for the first time in my life. Since then I stopped counting the number of fish I’ve filleted and really gained routine in getting clean and beautiful cuts as result. Nowadays I prefer to buy whole fish at the local market, because this way I can use the bones, head, tail and fins as well to cook a flavorful fish stock, which really enhances sauces, risottos and soups. I prefer to buy local and traditional fish such as trout, char or carp. Sea fish are no options for me, because I don’t have any reliable source for buying fresh seafood, and my hometown Erlangen is simply too far away from the sea.
Regarding the connection between seafood consumption and the distance to the sea, I had a surprising experience a few years ago in Italy, which I like to bring up every time I’m asked about seafood. I was lucky to get a publication accepted at a major conference in computer science, which was held in the beautiful city of Florence. Of course, I used the lunch breaks and the evenings to explore the local restaurant scene. I was even more fortunate having a receptionist at my hotel who was actually a native Florentine citizen. As almost everybody in Italy, he loved to eat, and especially to eat well. So from the first day on I consulted him which restaurant he recommends me to visit. I wasn’t a regular tourist, I really wanted to get to know the real local cuisine. He always told me only the next location I should go to and based on my report the next day he recommended me the next place to visit. This tactic was quite comprehensible, because I could have been a usual tourist, who actually might have been afraid of tripe, wild boar or other local specialties. But he pretty soon learned, that I was after the real local cuisine.
For several years I planned to cook one of Heston Blumenthal’s “hoax” dishes. As part of his tasting menu he used to serve a very simple dish called “orange and beetroot” with only a yellow and a red jelly arranged on a plate. Then he asked his guests to start with the orange. Of course every guest assumed the yellow jelly to be the one flavored with orange. But when they tasted it, they were surprised by the beetroot flavor. Heston switched the colors of the ingredients: he prepared the red jelly from freshly squeezed blood oranges and the yellow jelly from golden beetroot juice.
If you open a cookbook about classic french cooking you will find recipes for several sauces. Except for vinaigrettes, almost all sauces contain either milk, eggs or animal bones. So while I was exploring vegan cooking, my idea was to figure out whether it is possible to create a rich brown sauce by using vegetables only. My result was more than satisfactory. I didn’t taste the same as sauces prepared with animal parts, but this rich vegan brown sauce works great for coating or glazing baked or roasted vegetables.
Winter is the season of braised meat. The secret of braising is pretty simple: use the cheap cuts with a lot of connective tissue and do not trim anything off of them. So ask your butcher please not to trim off anything at all. You can still cut it off on your plate, but if you braise meat long enough, the connective tissue will just disappear. Meat cooks a lot faster than the connective tissues, but if you braise your meat at low temperature for a long long time, the connective tissues are going to melt into the meat and turn the meat moist and soft. That is also the secret of all braised dishes and why they need so much time. I like to prepare them overnight in the oven. This way I don’t have to worry about any burnt parts and if I wake up during the night, I turn the meat around and go back to sleep. And I wake up in the morning with a wonderful scent of braised meat all over my flat.