May 06, 2011

Video of the Week: Slow-Mo-Jello and Joyful Popcorn

I've been meaning to mention the world-most-expensive cookbook, Moderniste Cuisine, and the fascinating articles written about it since it was released last fall.  6 volumes, 2,400 pages, and costing over $600--Moderniste Cuisine was created by a team of 36 scientists and chefs in a specially designed laboratory kitchen.  It describes itself as a handbook of a food revolution--"a work designed to reinvent cooking"--and in this sense it is really only for professionals The New Yorker's review examines this aspect of the book:
Science suddenly seemed to be in the forefront of what was happening in advanced kitchens. Everywhere you went, there were newfangled foams, gels, “airs,” and “soils,” and ingredients doing impossible things.
Intertwined with this novelty-obsessed culinary movement was the field of kitchen science, which sought to figure out the chemistry of even the most ordinary forms of cooking. ...When modernism arrived in the arts, it marked a dual break: a rupture within the history of the art form and a splitting off between advanced practitioners and the general public—between the popular and the serious. That’s what is happening in cooking, and the idea of it as a modernist revolution is a clarifying one.

But its mission has a more practical essence, from which us laymen can learn: to examine in detail the science of cooking.  Katy McLaughlin writing for The Wall Street Journal shares some of the things she learned from the book that can be incorporated into our daily cooking:
PROBLEM #1: Your pan-fried food comes
out soggy and greasy.
SOLUTION: 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.
WHAT'S GOING ON: 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.
How clever is that?

And now for the videos: shot at super high speeds (6,200 frames per second)--the Modernist Cuisine team is exploring in high definition the way different foods react.  The first video, of Jello cubes dropping on a counter-top, is oddly mesmerizing.  The second, of a single kernal of popcorn, is 12 seconds of bliss.  Honestly, I never thought I could be thrilled and charmed by a single kernel of popcorn.  But, there you have it.  (And there's lots more cool stuff on their website--including amazing photographs.)


  1. I heard this talked about on Freakonomics' podcast (Waither, There's a Physicist in My Soup ... and also part 2.

    This is where my cynicism and jadedness about applying science to cooking comes out. We saw this with El Bulli too and it left me cold then also.

    I understand the interest in science and food intersecting, but what they are doing is like kids with science kits, not cooks. :-)

  2. I agree one hundred percent, Julie. What I wish they would do with all this science and technology is apply it to the way we actually cook (which is why I found the WSJ article so interesting.

    Alternatively, I think this would be a great way to get kids interested in science. The only chemistry labs I remember were the ones that dealt with food, because they applied to my life.

    The videos, on the other hand, are just mesmerizingly fun.

  3. Yes, cooking is how I would consistently get my girls to roll their eyes as I shared real-life chemistry application, as well as math conversion lessons (now that I think of it).

    Agreed on all points! :-)