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Modernist Cuisine : Animals & Plants

BEFORE IT IS MEAT, IT IS MUS­CLE. In the liv­ing ani­mal, mus­cles con­vert chem­i­cal energy into mechan­i­cal activ­i­ties such as run­ning, swim­ming, or fly­ing. In the kitchen, these activ­i­ties have come to an end, but their influ­ence lives on in sur­pris­ing ways. The chef’s pri­mary goal when serv­ing a meat or seafood dish is to max­i­mize juici­ness, ten­der­ness, and fla­vor. But what is juici­ness and what are the fac­tors that deter­mine it? What exactly is meant by fla­vor and where does it come from? As we will see, there are many com­mon mis­con­cep­tions based on an incom­plete under­stand­ing of the unique bio­chem­i­cal and mol­e­c­u­lar nature of meat that can lead cooks astray, or at least pre­vent them from mak­ing the most of a cut or fillet.

Chapter 11 on Meat and Seafood ded­i­cates more than 250 pages to explain­ing the fun­da­men­tal nature of mus­cle and other edi­ble ani­mal parts, how they are trans­formed into food, and what hap­pens as they are cooked, cured, marinated, or smoked. Dozens of para­met­ric recipes, exam­ple recipes, and step-by-step "how-to" fea­tures guide cooks through the best strate­gies for cook­ing and help them avoid com­mon mis­takes and improve their tech­nique, thus empow­er­ing them fur­ther to exper­i­ment and innovate.

Chapter 12 on Plant Foods is ded­i­cated to poor, defense­less plants. Without hides or bones for for­ti­fi­ca­tion and anchored in the soil, it seems they’re no match for those of us who would make their ten­der shoots into a light lunch. But because they’re so vul­ner­a­ble, plants have evolved elab­o­rate phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal block­ades to dis­suade us and other fauna from serv­ing our­selves. They say it was a brave man who tried the first oys­ter, but who do you sup­pose first had the notion to try an arti­choke? Or cyanide-laced cas­sava root? The very cells of most plants—bolstered by stiff, indi­gestible fiber, or pro­tec­tive toxins—put up a fight.

Fruits are the excep­tion. There’s a rea­son they’re sweet and ready to eat: they evolved so that ani­mals will eat them, then dis­perse their undi­gested seeds. But usu­ally peo­ple alter the foods that we clas­sify as veg­eta­bles, starches, and grains before they serve them, whether by steam­ing or boil­ing them, salt­ing or pick­ling, fry­ing or microwaving—or even giv­ing them a quick plunge in liq­uid nitrogen. All these meth­ods of prepar­ing and pre­serv­ing pro­duce and grains are cov­ered in this vol­ume, which includes instruc­tions for:

1. cook­ing pro­duce and meats sous vide;
2. form­ing sausages and other forcemeats;
3. mak­ing risot­tos and pastas;
4. mak­ing bat­ters and breadings;
5. salt­ing, pick­ing, fer­ment­ing, dehy­drat­ing, smok­ing and freeze-drying produce;
6. brin­ing and cur­ing meats and seafoods;
7. mak­ing puffed snacks, crispy skins, and fruit and veg­etable chips;
 
and much more.