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The Science of the Oven

The Science of the Oven

Hervé This
Translated by Jody Gladding
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  • Book Info
    The Science of the Oven
    Book Description:

    Mayonnaise "takes" when a series of liquids form a semisolid consistency. Eggs, a liquid, become solid as they are heated, whereas, under the same conditions, solids melt. When meat is roasted, its surface browns and it acquires taste and texture. What accounts for these extraordinary transformations?

    The answer: chemistry and physics. With his trademark eloquence and wit, Hervé This launches a wry investigation into the chemical art of cooking. Unraveling the science behind common culinary technique and practice, Hervé This breaks food down to its molecular components and matches them to cooking's chemical reactions. He translates the complex processes of the oven into everyday knowledge for professional chefs and casual cooks, and he demystifies the meaning of taste and the making of flavor. He describes the properties of liquids, salts, sugars, oils, and fats and defines the principles of culinary practice, which endow food with sensual as well as nutritional value.

    For fans of Hervé This's popular volumes and for those new to his celebrated approach, The Science of the Oven expertly expands the possibilities of the kitchen, fusing the physiology of taste with the molecular structure of bodies and food.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51854-3
    Subjects: General Science, Chemistry, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[ix])
  3. Into the Mouth
    (pp. 1-17)

    What is cooking? And why do so many of us enjoy it? Basically, if cooking consists of roasting meat, tenderizing vegetables in water, binding sauces, kneading dough . . . there is not really much to making . . . a dish.

    Roasting meat? The steps are dishearteningly banal: You take a piece of meat, put it on a spit, heat it, take it off the spit. Many of those who cook on a daily basis grow weary of this “chore” that an allocation of domestic tasks assigns them.

    Tenderizing vegetables by cooking them “English style”? The term hardly hides...

  4. 1 Let Us Play with Our Senses
    (pp. 19-39)

    Sensorial physiology is a science concerned with perception. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, balance. . . . For each sense, there are stimuli and the organism’s reactions, interpreted by that marvelous organ, the brain. This science seems very far removed from cooking because, with its necessary reductionism (breaking down phenomena in order to study them), it necessarily distances itself from the eater and, a fortiori, from the cook, who is concerned with culinary transformations.

    Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the author of The Physiology of Taste, which has traversed languages and centuries, wanted to establish a physiology of taste, to the point of claiming...

  5. 2 Health and Diet
    (pp. 41-59)

    Health and diet. . . . The duo is a land mine! Because of the obesity pandemic that rages today in certain countries. because of a certain industry that “invents” benefits for health. Because of the fear of eating unknown products. Because of new human behaviors, new industry and business organizations, new capacities for mixing molecules.

    Must we eat ten fruits and vegetables a day? Tomorrow, the quota will drop to five. And the day after that, a vegetable or fruit will become less important than exercise. Bread? It is prohibited, but here it is back on the table again....

  6. 3 What Are the Notes?
    (pp. 61-73)

    The “product”! Maurice-Edmond Sailland, also known as Curnonsky, a journalist who called himself the “crown prince of gastronomes,” wrote that “things are good when they have the taste of what they are.” Appalling assertion, aimed at authoritatively imposing a personal vision upon the collective field that constitutes cooking! No, things are not good when they have the taste of what they are, and moreover, the intellect cannot accept such a declaration without an explanation of the second half of it.

    The fact remains that this idea has done much harm in the culinary world, which hides behind it either to...

  7. 4 The Question of Hors d’oeuvres
    (pp. 75-93)

    Let us imagine that we must quickly set about cooking, without a book. What principles could guide us? Since culinary practice is the implementation of chemical or physical natural phenomena, let us seek our principles in those two disciplines.

    In physics the question of the diffusion of molecules is certainly central; the molecules of gases and liquids are moved about haphazardly by bumping into their neighbors, transmitting heat, altering concentrations. . . . As a result, new possibilities for reactions arise. What chemistry is thus born? It is useful to distinguish the strong forces, which bind atoms in the “usual”...

  8. 5 Understanding, Perfecting
    (pp. 95-125)

    Understanding, perfecting: Have we perhaps moved on to technology? Molecular gastronomy, which is a science, maintains a strange relationship with culinary technology, indeed even with technique. It feeds on the phenomena of cooking, a pedestrianism that is certainly no original sin, but, more important, the knowledge that it produces, for reasons difficult to understand, is immediately applicable in cooking . . . whereas science wants only to produce knowledge.

    This case is not unique. Pierre Potier, the father of Taxotère (used in fighting breast cancer) and other anticancer compounds, made a completely exceptional and admirable specialty of studying natural products,...

  9. 6 Without Forgetting All That Makes Life Beautiful
    (pp. 127-155)

    Yes, our world is a terrible place, and many of our human brothers and sisters die of hunger. Is not molecular gastronomy a kind of extravagant flourish? When Lavoisier studied beef bouillon in the prehistory of our discipline, he was concerned with making the best possible use of the meat allocated to the hospitals by the king. Here science was certainly not superfluous, and the work of the patron of chemists was, like that of many chemists of the past, concerned with the food of the populace.

    Could molecular gastronomy be different in nature? Could it be aimed at higher...

  10. 7 From Molecular Cuisine to Culinary Constructivism
    (pp. 157-177)

    At the end of this grand tour of the culinary realm, there are a few paths we can take to determine the future (at least the near future) of cooking. It is common knowledge that television, radio, and the newspapers continually feature the newest style, which has led from nouvelle cuisine to fusion cuisine; that is, molecular cuisine. What is molecular cuisine?

    In the 1980s, when molecular gastronomy was created, its program was flawed, as I have said, because we were confusing science and its applications. In particular, we wanted to introduce into cooking new ingredients, utensils, and methods, to...

  11. A Last Bite for the Road
    (pp. 179-182)

    A book drawing to its close always marks a painful separation for the author, when he likes the friends who are reading it, and a sadness for readers, when they like the book they are finishing. How can we avoid this separation?

    At least for this subject of cooking, there is the possibility of discussing the thousands of “points of information” collected in cookbooks (in actual fact, more than twenty-five thousand). This information is our culinary culture, amassed by cooks of yesteryear, packed into cookbooks. There is information of all kinds, regarding meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, hors d’oeuvres, desserts. ....

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 183-190)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-206)