March 2011

Science of Cooking Recipes

Below are some recipes Provost uses in his science of cooking class along with his science-behind-the-food discussion points.

Image courtesy of Stephen Bain.Hot sauces

Science behind the food

• Discuss the cell signaling of pain and where capsaicin is found in the chili pepper
• Use the avocado dip, milk and water to help demonstrate the solubility of capsaicin
• Explain the role of lemon or lime juice as an acid to create sour taste and inhibit enzymatic browning of plant matter

Mango pineapple hot sauce

2 cups peeled chopped mangoes
1 cup pineapple, crushed and drained
6 habernero peppers, blanched in vinegar and deseeded
4 jalapeño peppers, blanched and deseeded
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon black cumin 
1 teaspoon salt

1. Strain peppers and discard seeds.
2. Blend all remaining ingredients until smooth. Adjust taste with lemon juice.

Alton Brown salsa

6 roma tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 seeded and minced jalapeños
2 roasted, skinned and chopped jalapeños
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 dry ancho (poblano) chilies, seeded, cut into short strips and snipped into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lime, juiced
Chili powder, salt and pepper, fresh scallions, and cilantro or parsley, to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
2. Place in refrigerator for up to 12 hours for flavor infusion.
3. Serve with tortilla chips.

Alton Brown guacamole

3 avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced

1. Place the avocado pulp and lime juice in a large bowl. Toss to coat.
2. Drain and reserve the lime juice after all of the avocados have been coated.
3. Add the salt, cumin and cayenne. Mash with a potato masher.
4. Fold in the onions, tomatoes, cilantro and garlic.
5. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lime juice.
6. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and serve.

Shirley Corriher’s lemon pan sauce chicken breast

Science behind the food

• Discuss how the browning reaction on the surface of the meat is needed to get the flavors. Browning will still occur with a nonstick pan, but the timing will be different.
• Explain that the wet breast will stick to the hot pan until the browning reactions create new surface molecules that no longer bind to the metal pan.
• Show that reducing (evaporating water and leaving other compounds behind) will intensify the flavor of the pan sauce.

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and white pepper
2 tablespoons very mild olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (cooking wine will do)
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
Finely grated zest of one lemon

1. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place each breast between two pieces of waxed paper and lightly pound the thick end to make the breast more equal in thickness. It should be about 1/2-inch thick.
2. Over medium-high heat, heat a heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet until the upper edge of the pan feels hot to a quick touch. Remove from heat; pour in the oil and tilt to spread over the pan. Return to the heat and immediately drop the breasts into the pan with the rib side up. The breasts will sizzle, and they will be stuck.
3. This is a Zen moment. Think happy thoughts. Twiddle your thumbs, but don’t touch the chicken. After about 90 seconds, which will seem like an eternity, the breasts will brown and release all by themselves. When the chicken easily releases from the pan, turn each breast over. Again, they will be stuck. Wait again until they brown and release, and then remove them to a platter.
4. Pour the wine and stock into the hot pan. Scrape the pan to loosen any stuck-on particles. Add the bouillon, thyme and bay leaf. Boil on high heat and reduce until only a few tablespoons remain. Stir in the heavy cream and continue to reduce until the sauce thickens. Stir in the lemon zest. Remove the bay leaf.
5. Slice each breast at an angle into three pieces. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.


Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce

Science behind the food

• Use this recipe to explain the science of browning and caramelization as well as how the flavor receptors in the nose work (smelling the toasted almonds).

Poached Pears

1 quart water
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and quartered
Possible Additions: One cinnamon stick; 2 teaspoons whole cloves, black peppercorns or allspice berries; 1 lemon half; 1 split vanilla bean; 2 – 3 whole star anise; or 6 – 8 slices fresh ginger

1. In a large saucepan, heat the water and sugar until warm and the sugar is dissolved.
2. Add any of the additions you want.
3. Slide the pears in and cover with a round of parchment paper with a small hole cut in the center. Keep the liquid at a very low boil and simmer the pears until cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the pears.
4. Remove from heat and let the pears cool in their liquid.

Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go – the cream and the butter should be next to the pan, ready to put in. Making caramel is a fast process that cannot wait for you to hunt around for ingredients. If you don’t work fast, the sugar will burn. Also make sure there are no children under foot, and you may want to wear oven mitts; the caramelized sugar will be much hotter than boiling water.

1. Heat sugar on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2- or 3-quart saucepan. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want from this point on. Note that this recipe works best if you are using a thick-bottomed pan. If you find that you end up burning some of the sugar before the rest of it is melted, next time add a half cup of water to the sugar at the beginning of the process – this will help the sugar to cook more evenly, although it will take longer, as the water will need to evaporate before the sugar will caramelize.
2. As soon as all the sugar crystals have melted (the liquid sugar should be dark amber in color), immediately add the butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter has melted.
3. Take the pan off the heat. Count to three, and then slowly add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. Note than when you add the butter and the cream, the mixture will foam up considerably. This is why you must use a pan that can hold at least 2 quarts (preferably 3 quarts).
4. Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Let it cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass mason jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. (Remember to use pot holders when handling the jar filled with hot caramel sauce.) Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Warm before serving.


Shirley Corriher’s carrots with raspberry-Chambord sauce

Science behind the food

• Use this recipe to show the caramelization of candy and increased sweetness of carrots when cooked

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 packages frozen raspberries, thawed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chambord or raspberry or orange liqueur
4 tablespoons (1/4 stick) lightly salted butter
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Finely grated zest of one lemon

1. Boil the carrots in water (just enough to cover them) with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. When they are fork-tender (about 10 minutes), drain well.
2. To prepare the sauce, drain the juice from the thawed raspberries into a medium saucepan. Stir in cornstarch and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the juice thickens. Stir in the liqueur.
3. When ready to serve, reheat the carrots by sautéing in butter in large skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, white pepper and lemon zest.
4. Mound the carrots attractively on a platter, leaving a border around the edge. Spoon the bright red raspberry sauce into the border around the carrots and serve hot.

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