Cooking with SCIENCE
September 1, 2020 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend texts (books or websites) that explain the physics and chemistry of cooking.

Especially interested in why different cooking techniques are (or aren't) effective.
No videos / tv shows please. Could maybe be a podcast. Diverse cooking cultures would be great.
posted by signal to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The classic book on this is "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee (although it's not all science; there's also some history). I also like Jeff Potter's "Cooking for Geeks". If you want a cookbook that spends a lot of time talking about science in between the recipes, see Kenji Lopez-Alt's "The Food Lab".
posted by madcaptenor at 11:36 AM on September 1, 2020 [22 favorites]

All of Alton Brown's cookbooks do this to some extent. Seconding "The Food Lab" as another cookbook example of this.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:38 AM on September 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Serious Eats (in the Food Lab section) was the first that came to mind for me too. Cooks Illustrated also explains the what and why behind their techniques and all the other options they tried out, though usually in the context of giving you a particular recipe.
posted by exutima at 11:41 AM on September 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Modernist Cuisine or, if you don't want to spend $800 on cooking textbooks (if you are interested though, keep an eye on your craigslist/buy&sell sites, I got my set for $300 secondhand), Modernist Cuisine at home!

Or, if you'd like less of a commitment, I've heard good things about What Einstein Told His Cook
posted by euphoria066 at 11:52 AM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Serious Eats (blog) and On Food and Cooking (book) are my go-to resources.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:01 PM on September 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding On Food and Cooking and The Food Lab.

Dave Arnold, co-owner of the late lamented Existing Conditions bar and former head of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute, has a blog called Cooking Issues and a podcast of the same name. The blog is old but there's a lot of quality content. The podcast is not always on topic but they answer a lot of call-in + write-in questions and there's almost a decade of backlog to catch up on. Harold McGee is a frequent guest, you could do alright by just going through those episodes.
posted by Maecenas at 12:12 PM on September 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Physicist Peter Barham's slender volume The Science of Cooking is written without cutting corners or condescension, and at a reasonably high technical level that I think you would appreciate, signal.

I don't remember whether this is in the book, but in an NPR interview after its publication, Barham addressed the question of the degree to which salt raises the boiling point of water by observing that enough salt to make your rice inedible would not raise the boiling point of the water as much as removing pot and hot plate from the counter and placing them on the floor would raise it due to the increase in atmospheric pressure — which I found very surprising!

But good grief is that little book expensive. My partner gave me my copy, and I didn't realize that until this moment.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 PM on September 1, 2020

Nthing Kenji and The Food Lab, its really good shit (and changed forever how i make scrambled eggs).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:17 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't have this book, but The Science of Good Cooking put out by Cook's Illustrated looks to be another good resource along the lines of what you're looking for.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:19 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

How to Read a French Fry, which Kenji himself recommends.
posted by holborne at 12:22 PM on September 1, 2020

Cooking for Geeks
posted by oceano at 12:27 PM on September 1, 2020

I do like Harold McGee, but Kenji is probably best. Quite apart from his considerable skill in the kitchen, Kenji is a gifted and engaging writer. I know you said no videos, but he has a Youtube channel, too.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:30 PM on September 1, 2020

i generally hate on videos in general and dont do a bunch of YouTube but have to agree with others that Kenji's video content is pretty great (its got high end but home made production values, hes big on wearable go-pros or mounting them to things like the handle of his wok while he is cooking).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:40 PM on September 1, 2020

2nding Alton Brown / Serious Eats,

But another I haven't seen recommended is Adam Ragusia. Big fan. He does a few things different: 1: tries multiple methods, 2: shows every step of cooking a meal, no "I pre-cut this item" stuff. 3: Takes price and healthiness into consideration for many meals.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:58 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think the science-behind-cooking thing is basically Alton Brown's specialty (and as a bonus he's also pretty entertaining... most of the time). The show that really gets into this is Good Eats.
posted by splitpeasoup at 12:59 PM on September 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

For what's it's worth, used copies of The Science of Cooking can be had much cheaper at AbeBooks. I went looking because I am interested in this kind of thing for my daughter, who just moved into her own place two weeks ago.
posted by Orlop at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2020

Along the lines of the McGee book are Shirley Corriher's BakeWise and CookWise.
posted by HotToddy at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat with accompanying beautiful Netflix show. Samin Nosrat also does a food podcast called Home Cooking.

Yottam Ottolenghi, at the Guardian and books: the Ottolenghi Cookbook, Plenty, Plenty More.

The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit.
posted by k3ninho at 1:58 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, great answers.
posted by signal at 2:10 PM on September 1, 2020

Came to recommend BakeWise, but HotToddy beat me to it. I haven't got my hands on BraveTart yet, but suspect if it's anything like Stella Parks' videos, there should be lots of "why" in there.
posted by snoboy at 2:34 PM on September 1, 2020

I think the above comments cover a lot of the main English language books on the subject. There's also The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking, the work of Hervé This explores some of this, Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa & Alexander Talbot (they also have a blog) and of course Heston Blumenthal.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nik Sharma has a cookbook coming out in October, The Flavor Equation: "I finally get to tie in my background as a molecular biologist and show you how it helps me as a cook at home. By applying the foundations of science to cooking using more than 100 recipes and a few fun experiments, this book will take you on an exciting journey of flavor. In The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking, I explore the different components that make up flavor: our emotions that come into play when we cook and eat, how sight interacts with colors and shapes in our food, how sound affects our perception of flavor, the importance of textural elements in food and ways to build them, how aromas work in the kitchen, and finally, taste. "
posted by ChuraChura at 4:38 PM on September 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Modernist cuisine has a lot of this stuff, as does modernist bread
posted by lalochezia at 2:18 PM on September 2, 2020

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