March 2011

Science of Cooking Recipes

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

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