Harvard SEAS lecture, 11/21/11, Nathan Myhrvold

Random thought – I am jealous of the students who get to take this class. Last week, they got to attend a cooking panel starring some famous local chefs like Jody Adams (Rialto) and Joanne Chang (Flour).

Anyway!

For those unfamiliar with Nathan Myhrvold, he’s the driving force behind the “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” books. It’s a six volume book that retails at $625. The books set out to show 1) step by step instructions for cooks at all levels, 2) show technique, 3) be modern, and 4) explain some food science. It’s 1500 pages. One volume alone has four pounds of ink in it. It’s got food history, equipment explanations, and an insert of the recipes on washable paper. Nathan admits that 50% of the recipes are doable by your average home cook. Another 25% requires some high tech equipment, and the last 25% of the recipes cannot even be done at the more high tech, haute cuisine restaurants.

  • He recommends “hyper-decanting” wine. Sounds fancy, right? It’s just opening a bottle of wine and whizzing it in a blender before serving. He claims that in a blind taste test that a wine maker preferred the blender wine over wine that had been decanted the normal way.
  • He wants people to break rules, be creative, and surprise diners.
  • Recipe #1 – Asian Pear, Watermelon, and spicy pickle chips -> compressed with pre-gelatinized starch. Watermelon has no starch in it. So, slice them paper thin, and place them in a bag with a starch slurry. Vacuum out the air and cook in a sous vide machine. Deep fry to finish.
  • Recipe #2 – Pistachio and hazelnut gelatos -> frozen constructed creams. Since pistachio is mild in flavor, refrain from milk/cream/eggs which will just diluted flavor. Grind up pistachios to collect their oil. Make an emulsion of pistachio oil and sugar. Freeze the emulsion and serve.
  • Recipe #3 – Ricotta gnocchi, pea juice, and pea butter toast -> flourless gnocchi and centrifuged pea. Puree frozen peas. Then place them in a centrifuge. Three layers of pea products will be produced – top layer is pea broth, middle layer is pea butter (where most of the flavor compounds end up), and the bottom layer is pea “sawdust” (flavorless solid matter). The pea sawdust can be used in the gnocchi for color, but it’s really the pea broth and the pea butter that you want to serve. Nathan claims that the pea butter is intensely flavored.
  • Recipe #4 – caramelized carrot soup -> caramelized in a pressure cooker. Maillard reaction is not true caramelization, it’s browning. For the soup, carrots are quartered and the cores removed (cores are where the bitter flavors live). In a pressure cooker, the carrots are mixed with salt, baking soda, and water. The cooker is sealed and pressurized. After cooking 20 minutes under high pressure, the carrots are browned all the way through. This is pureed into soup.
  • Grilled meats taste good because the flare ups from dripping fat create the flavor. Since veggies aren’t fatty, there are no flare ups and therefore less flavor. Nathan recommends basting veggies in oil or butter for grilling.
  • Recipe #5 – cyrofrying bugers. So you take the best ingredients for a burger. You cook the burger meat in a sous vide machine. After that, dip the burger meat into liquid nitrogen briefly. Finish by cooking the burger meat in a deep fryer.
  • Darker foods cook faster than white foods because the white will reflect light/heat.
  • Their instant souffle recipe took 150 tries to get it right. The idea was to make a batter that could be kept inside a cream whipper. The nitrous-oxide charger would make it airy, and you could make souffles as you needed to. The trouble that they were having when making the book was getting the air bubble to behave correctly inside and outside the cream whipper. (When a souffle is baked, hot gas expands and makes the water vapor puff out. That’s what gives it structure when it is done. It is also why it sinks as it cools.)
  • And the lecture was finished with some Modernist Cuisine high speed videos: 1) a water balloon being popped, 2) zesting an orange next to a lit match (my favorite of the night), 3) a kernel of popcorn being popped, 4) a bullet going through ballistics gelatin, and 5) a bullet going through a row of eggs.

(image at top nicked from msnbc.  Sorry msnbc.)

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