Molecular Gastronomy

Inventive Cooking…with the Help of a Little Science

Molecular Gastronomy

In our fast-paced world filled with meals-on-the-go via fast food chains and restaurants touting the “get in and get out” method of food preparation, cooking has taken the turn of quantity instead of quality. While quick and easy meals are certainly convenient, there is something to be said for the meals that take the time to seal in the flavor of its ingredients while forgoing the route of expediency. Surely everyone can recall the grandmother that cooked their signature dish for a holiday, hoping to hear her guests exclaim “this is the best _____ that I’ve ever had!” This style of food preparation gave the cook a sort of celebrity status that encouraged them to cook it again, and also lent itself to reproduction by others that wished to accomplish the same results.

In the effort to advance the practice of flavorful cooking, food science has joined culinary artistry with physical and chemical transformations in food. This newest evolution is called molecular gastronomy. Using this methodology to prepare and process ingredients, chefs utilize food’s individual molecular components to make dining a complete sensory experience. The emphasis is to excite as many of the senses as possible. This is accomplished by not only heightening flavors of the individual ingredients, but creating pleasing textures to the touch and/or visually striking presentations. One popular example of molecular gastronomy is the process of cooking meat via sous-vide.

The sous-vide method of cooking begins with sealing the meat into a vacuum sealed plastic bag and immersing it into temperature regulated circulating water. At a controlled temperature of 130 degrees for 45 minutes, a perfect medium rare steak results, cooked evenly, tip to tip, inside and out. Unfortunately, perfection doesn’t come without a cost, which is the complaint for many people who want to delve into this new method of cooking but can’t afford the hefty price tag of a sous-vide machine.

Fortunately, thanks to DIY sites like instructables and conventions like Maker Faire, people have been developing methods for everyone to enjoy the sous-vide method of cooking without having to break the bank on five-star restaurants or machines that cost an upward of $1000. At lowereastkitchen, Lisa Qui has developed a kit for turning a coffee urn into a sous-vide; at, user abefetterman shows how you can turn anything (an ice bucket, a Styrofoam beer cooler, a Crockpot) into a sous-vide by building a universal controller. Even Popular Science has weighed in on the sous-vide craze with a step-by-step guide on how to build your own right down to the Op Amp PID Controller.

These low-cost methods enable average people to experiment with sous-vide cooking and become gourmet chefs in their own homes. Many rave about the flavor of the food despite the greater time required to cook. Perhaps with the new upswing on experimental, scientific cooking, we have come full circle and back to the days when good food takes time. Your grandmother would be proud.

Image courtesy of aSIMULAtor, used under Creative Commons license.