Modernist Cuisine: French-Influenced, Of Course (Hint: “Cuisine”)

Culinary History Has To Be Analyzed Like Art History

~~ Nathan Myhrvold

Modernist Cuisine is a six-volume, 2,438-page set that is des­tined to rein­vent cook­ing. The lav­ishly illus­trated books use thou­sands of orig­i­nal images to make the sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy clear and engaging.”

That tantailizing passage refers to the first edition of a book that costs as much as a new washer-dryer set or a computer or a scintillating diamond ring.

Old news, yes, since the book took its first steps in early March 2011 to the usual media storm and blather.

But not really old news, because in food, well some things rarely really change, just like Escoffier’s classic work,  Ma Cuisine, never really counted as old news. And cookbooks sometimes go through edition after edition, century after century.

I first saw Modernist Cuisine, an amazing multi-volume work, underwritten by Nathan Myhrvold when I attended Barbara Wheaton’s seminar, “Reading Historic Cookbooks” at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library in June 2011. It’s an amazing and artistic piece of work. Of course, we plebeians couldn’t touch a single page, so guarded is this treasure at the Schlesinger. But the photography is enough to bring you to your knees in awe and nudge you back into kitchen – fast. Is it worth $625.00? You could do the math, and you’d still be buying a second edition as the first sold out almost immediately.

But – another “but” – you’d still own one of the most ground-breaking culinary books ever published. You’d be among the elite who owned books during the Middle Ages. You’d be like Thomas Grey, annotating  William Verral’s  Complete System of Cookery  (soon available as Recipes from the White Hart Inn, part of Penguin’s Great Food series). The photography alone makes the book a prize-winning item. Culinary history indeed must be analyzed like art history. I agree.

Modernist Cuisine – it’s like nothing you’ve seen, believe me. It brings back the sense of awe incumbent in  books. The visual thrill, the tactile pleasure, the soul-shaking wrought by the turning pages – the slight whisper of air as each page settles down, snug against its mate. Not unlike the beauty  of medieval illuminated books.

And whither went the monk-scribed book? Is that the fate of books, even if they come no closer to Modernist Cuisine than a cheap news-print edition of recipes from General Mills in 1933?

The TOC says it all, but be sure to check out the .pdf of the Index, too.

I am thrilled to add that the Carol M. Newman Library at Virginia Tech recently received their copy of this modern magnum opus and I plan to spend many hours salivating over the pictures and learning from the text. And, oh yes, they say I can touch the pages over there …

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Ferran Adrià
  • Foreword by Heston Blumenthal
  • Our Culinary Journeys

Chapter 1: History

  • Origins of Cooking 6
  • Evolution and Revolution 14
  • The Seeds of Modernism 32
  • The Modernist Revolution 52
  • The Story of this Book 82
  • About the Recipes 92

Chapter 2: Microbiology for Cooks

  • Microbes as Germs 106
  • Foodborne Illness 110
  • Parasitic Worms 120
  • Protists 126
  • Bacteria 130
  • Bacterial Growth 142
  • Bacterial Death 148
  • Viruses 152
  • Prions 156

Chapter 3: Food Safety

  • The Complex Origins of Food Safety Rules 166
  • Common Misconceptions 174
  • Understanding the FDA Rule Book 182
  • Simplifying Food Safety with Science 190
  • Hygiene 196

Chapter 4: Food and Health

  • Dietary Systems 214
  • Medical Dietary Systems 222
  • Nonmedical Dietary Systems 240
  • Modernist Ingredients 250

Chapter 5: Heat and Energy

  • The Nature of Heat and Temperature 264
  • Energy, Power, and Efficiency 272
  • Heat in Motion 277

Chapter 6: The Physics of Food and Water

  • Water is Strange Stuff 296
  • The Energy of Changing States3 00
  • Freezing and Melting 304
  • Vaporization and Condensation 314
  • Sublimation and Deposition 326
  • Water as a Solvent 330
  • Water Quality and Purity 335

Chapter 7: Traditional Cooking

  • Grilling 6
  • Broiling 18
  • Roasting 28
  • Panfrying a la Plancha  36
  • Sautéing 44
  • Stir-Frying48
  • Covered Sautéing 58
  • Boiling 62
  • Steaming 70
  • Canning 74
  • Pot-Roasting and Stewing 92
  • Baking 100
  • Cooking in Oil 114
  • Smoking 132

Chapter 8: Cooking in Modern Ovens

  • Cooking with Moist Air 154
  • Cooking with Microwaves 182

Chapter 9: Cooking Sous Vide

  • Why Sous Vide? 198
  • Packaging Food for Sous Vide 208
  • Sous Vide Equipment 228
  • Strategies for Cooking Sous Vide 242
  • Strategies for Chilling and Reheating 252
  • Blanching and Searing for Sous Vide 266

Chapter 10: The Modernist Kitchen

  • Extracting Flavors 288
  • Infusing Essences 318
  • Juicing 332
  • Filtering 350
  • Concentrate! 378
  • Cutting ’Em Down to Size 398
  • Drying 428
  • Cryogenic Freezing and Carbonating 456

Chapter 11: Meat and Seafood

  • How Muscle Works 6
  • Converting Muscle into Meat 36
  • Cutting 48
  • Cooking Meat and Seafood 74
  • Cooking Skin and Innards 120
  • Salting and Drying 158
  • Marinating 196
  • Smoking 214
  • Restructuring 224

Chapter 12: Plant Foods

  • Plants as Food 262
  • Cooking Sous Vide 286
  • Pressure-Cooking 298
  • Microwaving 310
  • Frying 314
  • Preserving 344
  • Modifying Textures 374

Chapter 13: Thickeners2

  • How Thickening Work s12
  • Strategies for Thickening 14
  • Starches 20
  • Hydrocolloids 38

Chapter 14: Gels

  • How Gelling Works 70
  • Egg Gels 74
  • Dairy and Tofu Gels 102
  • Gelling with Hydrocolloids 124
  • Fluid Gels 176
  • Spherification 184

Chapter 15: Emulsions

  • How Emulsification Works 200
  • Methods of Emulsifying 206
  • Modernist Emulsions 214

Chapter 16: Foams

  • How Foams Work 244
  • Forming Foams 252
  • Kinds of Foams 262

Chapter 17: Wine

  • What Makes a Great Wine 322
  • Tasting Wine 334

Chapter 18: Coffee

  • From Cherry to Bean 358
  • Brewing 364
  • Espresso 372
  • The Art of Milk and Coffee 390
  • Achieving Consistency 396

MODERNIST CUISINE: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF COOKING IS A BEAU­TI­FUL WORK BUT HIGHLY PRAC­TI­CAL, TOO. AS AN ADDED BONUS THE SET INCLUDES A SPIRAL-BOUND 350-PAGE KITCHEN MAN­UAL PRINTED ON HEAVY-DUTY, STAIN-RESISTANT PAPER. THE MAN­UAL FEA­TURES EASY-TO-USE, CON­DENSED VER­SIONS OF THE PARA­MET­RIC, EXAM­PLE, AND PLATED RECIPES FROM THE BOOK.

  • About the recipes

Chapter 19: Tender Cuts

  • Beef Rib Steak
  • Mushroom Swiss Burger
  • Autumn Harvest Pork Roast
  • Rack of Lamb with Garlic
  • Blanquette de Veau
  • Choucroute Royale

Chapter 20: Tough Cuts

  • Braised Short Ribs
  • Modernist Pot-au-Feu
  • Hungarian Beef Goulash
  • Osso Buco Milanese
  • American BBQ
  • Cassoulet Toulousain (Autumn and Spring)
  • Historic Lamb Curries
  • Sunday Pork Belly

Chapter 21: Poultry

  • Foie Gras à la Vapeur
  • Poularde en Vessie
  • Duck Apicius
  • Pigeon en Salmis
  • Guinea Hen Tajine

Chapter 22: Fish

  • Fish and Chips
  • Hamachi Maltaise
  • Monkfish with Mediterranean Flavors
  • Skate in Black Butter
  • Salmon Rus
  • Malaysian Steamed Snapper
  • Black Cod “Frédy Girardet”
  • Hawaiian Poke

Chapter 23: Shellfish

  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Lobster Américaine
  • Thai Crab Miang
  • Pulpo a la Gallega
  • Shellfish Omakase
  • Oyster Stew

Chapter 24: Eggs

  • The Breakfast Egg
  • Mushroom Omelet
  • Oeuf en Meurette

Chapter 25: Starches

  • Cocoa Tajarin
  • Spaghetti alle Vongole
  • Russian Pelmeni
  • Paella Valenciana
  • Astronaut Ramen
  • Shanghai Soup Dumplings

Chapter 26: Fruits and Vegetables

  • Onion Tart
  • Lentil Salad
  • Sweet Pea Fricassee
  • Strawberry Gazpacho
  • Crispy Cauliflower
  • Watermelon Bulgogi
  • Glossaries of Technical And Culinary Terms
  • Reference Tables, Sources, Credits
  • The Modernist Cuisine Team and Acknowledgements
  • Index
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