Monday, December 3, 2012

The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated)

The blurb:

What makes pie dough flaky one day and tough the next?  Why do roasts often overcook?  What causes mashed potatoes to become gluey and heavy instead of creamy and light?  For something so basic, cooking can seem complicated.  The problem is that good recipes only get you so far.  Successful cooks seem to operate on intuition.  They have a sixth sense that switches on in the kitchen.

It turns out that all great cooks possess something more than culinary ESP.  They understand the fundamental principles of cooking - the unspoken rules that guide their every move in the kitchen.  These principles can be picked up through years and years of practice.  But there really is a secret to good cooking, and anyone can learn it. 

The editors of Cook's Illustrated, the magazine that put food science on the map, have spent the last two decades exploring the fundamental principles of cooking.  The Science of Good Cooking is a culmination of all this research, the distillation of tens of thousands  of kitchen tests into 50 practical concepts every good cook should know.  

These concepts cover the entire range of home cooking - from simply scrambling a perfect pan of eggs to making a souffle. Basic techniques like sauteing and roasting are covered, as well as baking and breadmaking.

These 50 concepts sound suspiciously simple: Gentle heat retains moisture.  Salty marinades work best.  Starch helps cheese melt nicely.  Sugar changes sweetness and texture.  Trust us; not only are these ideas easy to understand, but they are also easy to master once you understand how they work.  Use the concepts explained in this book and you will become a great cook - guaranteed.

The Science of Good Cooking doesn't just explain the science - it shows you the science with unique experiments performed in our test kitchen.  These experiments range from simple to playful to innovative -- showing why, exactly, you should fold (not stir) batter for chewy brownies, why you should grind your own meat for the ultimate burger, and why it's best to cover vegetables with aluminum foil before roasting them on high heat.  

And what's theory without good recipes? The concepts in the book are brought to life by more than 400 classic Cook's Illustrated recipes - the kind of recipes every cook struggles to get right, such as juicy roast beef, classic holiday turkey, creamy macaroni and cheese, and chewy chocolate chip cookies.  When these recipes are coupled with the simple science explaining how and why they work, the results are illuminating.

The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated) differs from the usual cookbook because it gives clear and scientific explanations of different cooking techniques and why they work.  I hadn't expected this level of analysis or detail and was pleasantly surprised. While I usually flip through most cookbooks looking for specific ingredients or recipes, I found that this is a book worth reading cover to cover first.  Other reviewers have listed all of the 50 main "teachings" that the book develops in depth.
I won't go into all 50 principles.  But as someone who is comfortable in the kitchen, I'm happy to say that I learned a great deal from the book.  I learned things on my own from favorite cookbooks and family recipes and The Science of Good Cooking pointed out quite a few "basic" rules that I hadn't learned and am happy to put to use.  I expect that the book would be helpful and interesting to cooks of all levels.

ISBN-10: 1933615982 - Hardcover $40
Publisher: Cook's Illustrated (October 1, 2012), 504 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Authors:
Guy Crosby has been the science editor at Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen since 2005.  After earning a BS in chemistry from the University of New Hampshire and a PhD in organic chemistry from Brown University, he worked as a scientist, research director, and a vice president in R&D in the agricultural-products and food-ingredients businesses for more than 30 years  Crosby has taught at Stanford University, Harvard University and Framingham State University.  Today he is an external adviser for the University of New Hampshire and an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.  Crosby is a professional member of the Institute of Food Technologists, the American Chemical Society, and the American Society for Nutrition.  He lives in Weston, Mass., with his wife Caroline.

America's Test Kitchen is a 2,500 square foot kitchen located just outside of Boston.  It is the home of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines and is the workday destination for more than 3 dozen test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists.  Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version.   We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance.  Their shows are aired on public television - America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country from America's Test Kitchen.  Learn more at and  More information is available at www.americas

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