How Cooking Works
This recipe is adapted from an American cookbook, How Cooking Works – The Indispensable Kitchen handbook (1981). It was proudly given to us by my Dad.
As and electronics engineer, Dad would have responded to the logic of a kitchen ‘handbook’. He would assume it included matrices and tables and explanations on the physics and chemistry behind the formulas we know as recipes. In fact, the authors must have been over-awed by their self-imposed educational task; disappointingly the book resorts to the usual collection of recipes (though all very good). Prue Leith’s ‘handbook’, The Cook’s Handbook (1981) does include tables – but unfortunately the rigidity of tabular content detracts from its practical usefulness. Does cooking not suit scientific analysis?
Indeed it does. These days, there are many books on the science of cooking. My Dad would have devoured Peter Barham’s The Science of Cooking (2000), or Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, An Encyclopaedia of Food Science, History and Culture (2004). These books, and their kind, became indispensable for many modern chefs. The principles they espouse formed the bedrock of many pinnacles of fine dining – The Fat Duck, Noma, El Bulli et al.
I’ve always been practically minded and interested in science. I also enjoy applying new scientific knowledge to my cooking – it’s one of the reasons I enjoy cooking. But Mrs WDC (who often quotes my well-worn mantra: ‘cooking is chemistry’), would also say that I had good ‘hands’ for cooking. She must feel that cooking has as much to do with human touch as it does with chemistry. More recently my family have said (as said to most home cooks), that I ‘cook with love’. Although flattered, I was sceptical of using such a non-rational concept as a measurement of quality. I asked to explain what they meant. They simply meant that they can ‘taste’ the love in my cooking…
These observations seem to prove that a recipe cannot be an equation: there is enough intuition, creativity, tradition, personal influence, cheating, adapting and muddling through to ensure that cooking does not become a rational mechanical process. I’m sure even my Dad would have agreed that there is more to cooking than understanding ‘how cooking works’.