Like chicken and waffles, food and science combine to form a surprisingly delicious dish. Whether you are wearing a lab coat or an apron, both employ the same rigorous methods of experimentation and process to come out with ground-breaking (and delicious) results, and both have been at the heart of our evolution as a species since we were gobbling nettle stew some 6,000 years ago.
When it comes to replicating scientific experiments, you have to follow a distinct set of rules to get the desired outcome, something that sounds suspiciously like a recipe. So, without further ado, here are five of the best recipe books that smash up science and food better than you could an avocado.
The Food Lab
How do you boil an egg? It’s a breakfast staple that we’ve probably all had a go at, but it’s almost certain that none of us will agree on the best method – the same can be said for searing a steak, or roasting a potato. These regular kitchen tasks all come naturally to us with a bit of practice, with recipes passed down from generation to generation, but does that necessarily mean they are the best recipes?
Take for example a delicious roast beef. Do you sear your fillet before putting it in the oven to seal in the juice? According to López-Alt, this complete nonsense, and a myth passed down from recipes and chefs since the mid-nineteenth century, and to prove it, just like a good scientist, he tests it (of course, the real reason to sear your meat is the Maillard reaction, which unleashes all manner of delicious caramelised flavours).
It’s this commitment to scientific method that takes the recipes in The Food Lab to another level in the pursuit of cooking perfection.
Mr Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder
School was the first place that most of donned our lab coats and slipped safety glasses over our eyes, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. There are plenty of fun experiments that we can do at home, and teacher Alom Shaha’s book is a packed to bursting with brilliant ideas for you and your family to try out.
Using regular items that you can find throughout the kitchen and the house, the book takes you through 18 different “recipes” (or experiments if you will), going into exquisite detail to show you what exactly is going on. For example, you can to turn a crisp tin into a camera to teach you about the behaviour of light, or rustle up some cupcakes with a healthy topping of chemistry served up on the side.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Emily Robertson, and each recipe suggests further questions to get inquisitive minds cooking.
The Flavour Thesaurus
Not a recipe book as such, but one that anybody serious about experimenting with food should have close at hand in their kitchen. We’ve all been in the situation where we’re faced with two ingredients that, for all intents and purposes, should never be thrown together for love nor money. But as it turns out, food is a funny old thing and some of the most delicious combinations can come from some of the most bizarre combinations.
For example, can you marry the sweet notes of vanilla with the salty scent of shellfish? As it happens, French nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Senderens did just that to compliment his Burgundy-filled cellar. On the other hand, you’d be a fool for baking your pears with nutmeg, as the key component of the spice is myristicin, a chemical also found in parsnip – a fine flavour for a roast, but not so a pudding.
If you are planning on turning your kitchen into a flavour laboratory, this is definitely a book to keep in you back pocket if you want something more Michelin than monstrous.
The Kitchen Science Book
Who knew you could make a candle out of an almond and a banana, or release your inner Rodin using milk to build sculptures? Turns out there are a load of interesting science experiments you can do using food or other kitchen staples, and The Kitchen Science Book by New Zealand scientist Dr Michelle Dickinson is packed full of them.
It’s not just your standard kitchen sciences of chemistry and biology either, there are instructions how to build (relatively) complex constructions to flex your engineering skills and even a few experiments to help you brush up on your Newtonian physics!
With clear indications of time taken, safety instructions and whether the experiment is good for eating, this is definitely one work through with the kids. Now excuse us while we go and rustle up some unicorn noodles…
If you’re the sort of person who demands gastronomic flair when it comes to cooking, you need to add a little chemistry to the kitchen, but if you want to take your dishes to another level, like any good chemistry lab you need your pantry filled with a few items well beyond your cupboard staples. Once you have stocked up on exotic items like calcium lactate, gellangum, kappa carrageenan and sodium alginate, you’re good to get stuck in with this very scientific take on a cookbook.
To get the most out of it you’ll first have to get your head around the processes of spherification, emulsification and gelification (as well as a few others), but there are sections devoted to the science behind all of these techniques, and once you’ve got your head around why calcium ions are so important to making balls of food, you’ll be whipping up mint caviar, dark chocolate spaghetti and curry wind in no time. The ingredients themselves don’t come cheap, but the recipe book itself is a free download, so you can easily see if you’ve got the guts to go gastronomic before you tuck in.