Saturday, July 03, 2021

Thoughts on López-Alt's Food Lab: Useful Facts about Food

We enjoyed reading The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt. This book illustrates the appreciation of the science behind everyday objects in the kitchen. We particularly liked the explanation of why a water drop speeds around on a very hot pan but boils on a slightly cooler one (because of the Leidenfrost effect), the explanation of why it is so difficult to properly melt cheese (because cheese is a tricky combination of oils, proteins, and other components that melt in different ways), and the discussion of why fish rots so much more quickly and smells worse than meat (because fish is accustomed to being kept at much colder temperatures than beef and placing it in a refrigerator keeps it somewhat warmer than its normal temperature). 

The book also includes many useful facts. For instance, below 38 degrees, which is the temperature of a refrigerator, bacteria stop moving around; above 300 degrees, the Maillard browning reaction occurs; and at 131 degrees, bacteria start to die off. There is also a nice listing of saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats and an explanation of what unsaturation means in terms of keeping the fat oily. The book also describes multiple ways to cook a single dish and why some ways work better than others (i.e., reverse searing steak). 

Aside from the interesting scientific facts and discussion in the book, the layout and structure of the book are easy to follow. For example, after informing the reader about the scientific relationship between heat and eggs, the author provides many egg recipes. In general, a wide variety of recipes are presented in the book, with attention given to a range of cuisines. The book also provides extensive descriptions of what kinds of kitchen appliances and tools are most useful, extending the breadth of topics covered. 

Overall, the book provides a very comprehensive perspective on many topics that would be interesting to those interested in the science of cooking or introductory level cooking recipes for the home.

Mark Gerstein (with Jason Liu) The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (9780393081084): López-Alt, J. Kenji

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