Tag Archives: serious eats

The science of steak

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is my go to guy for food stuff on the internet. He’s amazing. He likes busting food myths with the power of science for the betterment of us all.

Last week he turned his powers to a subject dear to my heart.

Steak.

Delicious steak.

Busting seven myths including the “you should only turn a steak once” myth…

The reality is that multiple flipping will not only get your steak to cook faster—up to 30% faster!—but will actually cause it to cookmore evenly, as well. This is because—as food scientist and writer Harold McGee has explained—by flipping frequently, the meat on any given side will neither heat up nor cool down significantly with each turn. If you imagine that you can flip your steak infinitely fast, then you can see that what ends up happening is that you approximate cooking the steak simultaneously from both sides, but at a gentler pace. Gentler cooking = more even cooking.

While it’s true that it takes a bit longer over the hot side of the grill to build up the same level of crust in a multi-flipper steak, the fact that it cooks more evenly means that you can cook over the hot side a bit longer, without the risk of burning the outside before the center cooks. You can also avoid creating a harsh temperature gradient inside the meat, as you would if you were to cook it entirely over the hot side without flipping.

Build a better Big Mac

I love Serious Eats. Especially the work of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who has single-handedly brought the secrets of McDonalds into the hands of the masses. Here he turns his attention to the Big Mac.

Here’s the recipe.

Here’s the story. He even figured out the perfect number of sesame seeds.

And cracks the recipe for the Big Mac’s special sauce.

Essentially, it’s a mix of mayonnaise, relish, and mustard with sugar, onion, turmeric colorings, and a bit of hydrolyzed vegetable protein thrown in. It’s this last bit that might throw you for a bit of a loop.

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is made by breaking down proteins into their constituent amino acids, resulting in a product with a distinctly savory flavor. Indeed, it’s very similar to bottled yeast extracts (which are made by autolyzing yeast) such as Marmite, Vegemite, or Maggi seasoning. Any of those will do.

Yum.

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How to take photos of food

Some very useful photography tips, not just food photography tips, from Serious Eats here (there’s a Serious Eats cook book coming out at the end of the year – fantastic news, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon
).

I take a lot of food photos, more coffee photos though… for my coffee blog. Here are my tips.

1. Buy an iPhone.
2. Download Instagram.
3. Take a photo of your food with Instagram from a cool angle.
4. Choose a filter.

Science Says: “Don’t freeze your coffee”

Serious Eats is your favourite food blog. You just may not know it yet. They conducted a blind taste test (with the help of my food hero J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

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The table was littered with tiny paper cups numbered one through eight, each representing a different method for storing coffee beans:

  • 1. Whole beans stored at room temperature in a Ziploc bag (Ziploc bags are not hermetically sealed—air can still escape and enter the bag)
  • 2. Whole beans stored at room temperature in a one-way valve bag (from which CO2 can escape but stale-making air can’t get in)
  • 3 and 4. The same beans stored in the freezer
  • 4, 5, 6, and 7. Ground coffee stored in the same 4 manners

The grinds and whole beans all came from the same batch. The coffee was stored for two weeks before we cracked it out, to get the full effect.

The taste test followed an earlier, less scientific, test, which came up with the following conclusion (which I agree entirely with)…

“Looking at the results with an open and caffeinated mind, my recommendation is to treat fresh-roasted coffee just as you would fresh-baked bread: Better to buy a little bit, use it up while it’s fresh, and buy more when needed. And, just as with fresh-baked bread, the second-best—though by a mile—option is to prepare it into individual servings and store them air-tight in the freezer (in the case of bread, that means slices; for coffee, that means premeasured doses you’d use to make a certain size batch of joe at a time), using only what you need at any time and never letting them thaw and refreeze.”

When beans thaw they sweat and their chemical make-up changes. It’s bad. Mmmkay.

Happy Meals? Happy times… a study of burgers over time

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt does cool stuff with food. And he’s just done it again. He set out to debunk a popular myth about McDonalds – the idea that their burgers not decomposing is somehow a damning indictment on their food. How? Well, he cooked some home made burgers and recorded similar results.

Here’s where he describes his experiment, and here are the findings.

His conclusion:

“… the burger doesn’t rot because it’s small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast. Without moisture, there’s no mold or bacterial growth. Of course, that the meat is pretty much sterile to begin with due to the high cooking temperature helps things along as well. It’s not really surprising. Humans have known about this phenomenon for thousands of years. After all, how do you think beef jerky is made?

Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t have a dog in this fight either way. I really couldn’t care less whether or not the McDonald’s burger rotted or didn’t. I don’t often eat their burgers, and will continue to not often eat their burgers. My problem is not with McDonald’s. My problem is with bad science.”

DIY Sous Vide

I don’t know what Sous Vide tastes like – but I like the cut of this jib – apparently sous vide cooking is all the rage (using temperature controlled water to cook stuff). I think I’ve seen similar methods on MasterChef. Anyway, Sous Vide cookers will set you back lots of money. A better alternative is to use a beer cooler and little sealable baggies.

So says Kenji Lopez-Alt – the guy who reverse engineered Maccas fries. Here’s an appetite whetter:

“Here’s how it works: A beer cooler is designed to keep things cool. It accomplishes this with a two-walled plastic chamber with an air space in between. This airspace acts as an insulator, preventing thermal energy (a.k.a. heat) from outside to reach the cold food inside. Of course, insulators work both ways. Once you realize that a beer cooler is just as good at keeping hot things hot as it is at keeping cold things cold, then the rest is easy: Fill up your beer cooler with water just a couple degrees higher than the temperature you’d like to cook your food at (to account for temperature loss when you add cold food to it), seal your food in a plastic Ziplock bag*, drop it in, and close your beer cooler until your food is cooked. It’s as simple as that.”

Read the whole thing at Serious Eats.