Monday, May 19, 2008

Why a "Juicy" Roast Comes Courtesy of the Number 8 and the Letter B.

I was reading the Columbia University Press Blog and came across an interesting Top 10 List.

In a recent interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Hervé This discusses such matters as the difference between molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking, the relative importance of having the right equipment in your kitchen, and some of the scientific principles of making stock. He also lists his 10 basic elements of kitchen knowledge:

1. Salt dissolves in water.
2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.
3. Oil does not dissolve in water.
4. Water boils at 100 C (212 F).
5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).
6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.
7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.
8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 C (131 F).
9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).
10. Some chemical processes - such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) - generate new flavors.

These might seems simple, but if you think back to that tough steak you had a few months ago, check out #6 above.

This list reminds me of the short cooking primer Alton Brown gave at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago last March.
Generally, that:
a) water wets;
b) fats slide;
c) proteins tangle and
d) carbohydrates build.

That tough steak is easy to overcook.
Yet, a roast can braise in the oven for hours upon hours and only get better with time.
Why?

Well, take a gander at letter B of Alton's list - "fats slide."
Roasts are typically a less expensive hunk o' meat. Whether it's a beef roast or a pork butt (shoulder), chances are it's a mass of meat and connective tissue - mainly composed of the protein collagen.

Doesn't sound too appetizing?

Yet, given a few hours cooking low and slow, that connective tissue becomes gelatinized. That unctuous mouth feel - the lip smackin' goodness that it so moist and flavorful - is thanks to a heaping helping of...well, fat.

Why does it taste so moist?
Why does your mouth think it's tasting something miraculously moist in that roast? It's partially thanks to letter B and the number 8. "Fats slide" and "Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 131 F."

I might have to check out Hervé This' new book Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) Looks like it could be good reading.

I wonder how long it takes to truly understand those simple 10 basic elements of cooking and Alton's letters A-D?

Bet it could take a lifetime to master those.

My first homework assignment?
A nice vinaigrette (#1-3 & 5-9) with a juicy roast with a small portion of pasta (#4). You know, if I sear that roast (#10) before I braise it, I can take advantage of all 10!

I'd love to wax poetic about the Maillard Reaction mentioned in #10.
But...THAT's another show. Pin It

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Yeah, actually the collegen thing probably more important than the fat thing (and less well known.) In fact there are fairly low fat, low quality cuts of meat that can be just fine after slow cooking with water.

It is why you add water to a pot roast, and why it takes a lot of time for it to actually become tender. You can get fat to melt by cooking fast at a high temperature, but it isn't enough to make cheap meat tender. It takes time for the "other" connective tissue in a cheap cut of meat to break down, combine with the water (which partly comes from steam created by the water in the bottom of your roast pan, but mainly the steam keeps it from losing inherent moisture), and disperse some throughout your meat.

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--Dana

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