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Posts by Harold McGee

Arrowroot and potato starches come from below-ground storage organs, cornstarch and flour from seeds, and the two different kinds of sources produce starches with different qualities. Briefly, the root starches have larger granules and longer starch molecules that gelate and thicken at lower temperatures, and are more efficient at thickening, but that break down on prolonged heating or freezing: so you need less root starch to thicken, but the consistency isn’t as stable....
Most shellfish are best cooked quickly at a high temperature. Like fish, they have very active protein-digesting enzymes in their tissues, and at low temperatures they can digest themselves into mush. Squid and octopus are something of an exception—their flesh is rich in connective-tissue collagen, and long cooking will dissolve it into gelatin and make them more succulent. Moderate levels of salt and acid won’t have much of an effect. Harold
The great thing about sous vide cooking is that it gives you really precise control over cooking temperatures, and thereby over the texture of meats and fish in particular, which is very sensitive to temperature. My understanding is that Georges Pralus developed the initial sous vide method in the early 1970s as a way for Troisgros to reduce shrinkage in foie gras; and Bruno Goussault worked out how to apply it more generally and toward the goal of better quality products....
Copper is useful in high-temperature applications because it’s such a good conductor of heat. I don’t think there’s any chemical advantage to a copper surface, though. Sugar work does go way back, at least to the 13th century in Baghdad! In my book I give some recipes from the earliest sources I could find. Harold
Let the bugging end: olive oil does not raise the smoke point of butter! The milk solids begin to brown and then burn at exactly the same temperatures. Harold
Flavor is a wonderful and endless subject—which is why I want to write a book about it! Very briefly, the surprising aromas in wine are mostly the product of the yeasts that convert grape sugars into alcohol. Yeasts are amazing chemical workhorses, and they transform all kinds of grape components into new molecules. There is in fact a big business in flavor chemistry, and many flavors can now be bought off the shelf, some extracted from real ingredients, others totally...
I wrote a long chapter about the supposed aluminum-Alzheimer’s link in 1990 in The Curious Cook. It still looks as though aluminum is not a causative factor—people who for various reasons have a high aluminum intake (from antacids, drinking water) don’t have higher rates of the disease. Still, it’s true that acidic foods dissolve aluminum from both cookware and foil, and aluminum is not an essential nutrient, so I think it’s prudent to avoid that kind of corrosion. The...
The usefulness of basting depends on what you baste with. A water-based baste can be helpful, for the same reason that repeated door-openings can be: slowing the heating means that the breast meat in particular cooks more gradually and gently, so you have a larger window of time in which to pull it before it gets dry. At the same time, it re-moistens the skin and so prevents it from crisping. Basting can certainly contribute flavor—I like to include a little butter for...
I like to use my non-contact thermometer to check pan temperatures, the temperature of the milk I use to make yogurt every week (using a culture that came originally from India), and the water i use to make coffee and various teas; foods that I’m reheating in the microwave, poaching liquids, areas in the refrigerator . . . . It's handy. Harold
It’s true that sugar can help balance and to some extent replace salt in a brine, and it does add its own flavor and can enhance browning (though glucose or honey do better at this than table sugar). However, sugar doesn’t penetrate meat as easily or quickly as salt, and it doesn’t have the fiber-disorganizing, tenderizing effect that salt does. Harold
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