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Old 01-03-2008, 12:59 PM   #1
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The most important ingrediant in your kitchen

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/dinin ... ref=slogin

OF all the ingredients in the kitchen, the most common is also the most mysterious.



Illustration by Stephen Doyle

Related
Taking the Temperature of Dinner (January 2, 200

Stefano Buonamici for The New York Times
HARD TO HANDLE Even cooks who do not prepare paella in an open hearth may find heat to be a great challenge.
It’s hard to measure and hard to control. It’s not a material like water or flour, to be added by the cup. In fact, it’s invisible.

It’s heat.

Every cook relies every day on the power of heat to transform food, but heat doesn’t always work in the way we might guess. And what we don’t know about it can end up burning us.

We waste huge amounts of gas or electricity, not to mention money and time, trying to get heat to do things it can’t do. Aiming to cook a roast or steak until it’s pink at the center, we routinely overcook the rest of it. Instead of a gentle simmer, we boil our stews and braises until they are tough and dry. Even if we do everything else right, we can undermine our best cooking if we let food cool on the way to the table — all because most of us don’t understand heat.

Heat is energy. It’s everywhere and it is always on the move, flowing out as it flows in. It roils the chemical innards of things, exciting their molecules to vibrate and crash into each other. When we add a lot of heat energy to foods, it agitates those innards enough to mix them up, destroy structures and create new ones. In doing so it transforms both texture and flavor.

There are, however, uncountable ways to misapply heat. In most cooking, we transfer energy from a heat source, something very hot and energetic, to relatively cold and inert foods. Our usual heat sources, gas flames and glowing coals and electrical elements, have temperatures well above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Boiling water is around 212 degrees.

Cooks typically heat food to somewhere between 120 degrees (for fish and meats that we want to keep moist) and 400 degrees (for dry, crisp, flavorful brown crusts on breads, pastries, potatoes, or on fish and meats).

At the bottom of that range, a difference of just 5 or 10 degrees can mean the difference between juicy meat and dry, between a well-balanced cup of coffee or tea and a bitter, over-extracted one. And as every cook learns early on, it’s all too easy to burn the outside of a hamburger or a potato before the center is warm.

That’s the basic challenge: We’re often aiming a fire hose of heat at targets that can only absorb a slow trickle, and that will be ruined if they absorb a drop too much. Are you ever annoyed by pots that take forever to heat up, or frustrated by waiting for dry foods to soften? A kitchen that becomes hot enough to be a sauna? Big jumps in the utility bill when you do a lot of cooking? The problem, as you will notice if you pay more attention to your kitchen’s thermal landscape, even in terms of what you can feel, is how much heat escapes without ever getting into the food.

Among the major culprits here are inefficient appliances. According to the United States Department of Energy, a gas burner delivers only 35 to 40 percent of its heat energy to the pan; a standard electrical element conveys about 70 percent. Anyone thinking about kitchen renovation should know that induction cooktops, which generate heat directly within the pan itself, are around 90 percent efficient. They can out-cook big-B.T.U. gas burners, work faster, don’t heat up the whole kitchen, and are becoming more common in restaurant kitchens.

Maximizing the transfer of heat from burner to pot produces better food. In deep frying, the faster the burner can bring the oil temperature back up after the food is added, the quicker the food cooks and the less oil it absorbs. In boiling green vegetables, a fast recovery time means better retention of vibrant color and vitamins.

No matter how efficient an appliance is, the cook can help simply by covering pots and pans with their lids. Some of the heat that enters through the bottom of the pot exits through the top, but a lid prevents much of it from escaping into the air. This is especially true when you’re bringing a pot of water to the boil. With the lid on, it will start bubbling in as little as half the time. Turning water into steam takes a lot of energy, and every molecule that flies away from the water surface takes all that energy with it into the air. Prevent its escape, and the energy stays with the pot to heat the rest of the water.



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Old 01-05-2008, 01:45 PM   #2
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Great narrative there Cappy. Reminds me of little mentoring I got from Joe Ames one time on spices herbs and other food flavorings. He say the more it smells good as it cooks..the more the flavor is being wasted by allowing the flavors/aromas to escape from the pot and into the atmosphere.

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Old 01-06-2008, 06:54 AM   #3
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Heat or fire has also been around since the begining of time. And man still has trouble using it Amazing aint it.
I'll bet yall learned not to put you hand in a fire pretty quick....
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