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Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

Hi HarryHarry,

You are not alone. Sperhification can very challenging, even for experienced cooks.
Unfortunately, spherification is a technique that is extremely sensitive to the proportion of hydrocolloids, as well as other factors such as pH and the calcium content of your liquid. We recommend sticking to specific recipes for spherification, as improvisation can be very frustrating. Without knowing the rest of your recipe, I can’t confirm if your proportions are correct. Modernist Cuisine (the big one) devotes a large chapter to the subject of spherification and modern gelling agents. If you have access to a copy, that’ll be your best resource for exploring the technique. Aside from that, our best recommendation is to fastidiously follow the recipe that came with your kit, but even then, a little bit of practice and a lot of luck can be a big help.

Nov 25, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

Happy you asked!
1)Yes, if you look at page 317, you see the generic technique for scaling. The more liquid you add, the less viscous the final cheese sauce will be.

2) We love baked mac & cheese also! Our recipe is on page 312.

3) Heating on the stovetop, or in a sous vide bath if you have one, is best.

Nov 25, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

Adding iota carageenan was an optimization to have some additional control over the final texture, but we thought it was unnecessary for the at-home version of the recipe.

Nov 25, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

As sbp asks, it's really a matter of what you're trying to accomplish. If the goal is to clarify stock, for instance, there is a section in Modernist Cuisine that describes a whole set of clarification methods, such as gelatin clarification, vacuum filtration, traditional raft clarification, etc.

If your goal is to make pea butter, though, I'm afraid we haven't found a substitute for good 'ol G-force. The centrifuge in our lab produces 27,000Gs while spinning at 10,000RPMs. That's a HUGE amount of force. Smaller, benchtop centrifges can also separate foods by density, but they require longer spinning times. Even then, they reach limits of clarity that more powerful centrifuges exceed.

Some foods, such as pureed tomato, will separate quite easily, even in a small, tabletop centrifuge. Unfortunately, the volume of those centrifuges is quite small, so plan to spin lots of batches if you're in the mood for a tomato water cocktail.

Other foods, such as the carotene butter we use in the pressure-cooked caramelized carrot soup recipe, will naturally separate overnight in the refrigerator.

Best of luck!

Oct 26, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

Hi Thimes,

Sorry to hear that your previous attempt was less than succesful. Unfortunately, spherification can be a little tempermental - it's a technique that is extremely sensitive to exact measurement and timing, and can even be affected by the mineral content of your tap water.

So, here are the three techniques from MC/MCAH that I'd recommend trying first:
1. Sous vide. We love it, and we think you will too. I always recommend that folks start with salmon (or another fish you love), steak (NY strip, for instance) and whole eggs. You can find all the recipes and info you need in the books.

2. Siphons. We love our iSi whipping siphons, and we've found them to be incredibly versatile tools for creating textures that you just can't get any other way. Try using them for carbonation (see my carbonated grapes video on CHOW), or, a new favorite of mine, the Siphon Scrambled Egg recipe for MCAH.

3. Pressure cooking. Just make the carrot soup (video on MDRN KTCHN). You'll understand right away why we consider such an old piece of technology to be an invaluable Modernist tool.

I hope this helps - let me know how it goes!

Oct 26, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Modernist Cuisine at Home

The level of forgiveness depends entirely on the food you're cooking and how much temperature fluctuation it experiences. 10 degrees F in internal temperature can make a huge difference in delicate foods like fish or eggs. But, in most cases, it's the peak temperature that makes a difference in doneness. On a skillet or in an oven, the internal temperature of your food is (almost) always climbing and can overshoot the desired doneness temperature in the blink of an eye. With sous vide, because the food heats more slowly, and because the temperature of the water bath is usually the temperature you want the food to reach (+/- a degree or two) the risk of overshooting the desired temperature is much lower.

We actually recommend the camping cooler method. Heat a large pot of water to the right temperature for the recipe you're making. Then, fill an insulated camping cooler with the hot water. Add your bagged food, close the lid, and walk away. As long as the ratio of water to food is high, the water will cook the food and you don't need to adjust the temperature much, if at all.

Oct 19, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking

Modernist Cuisine at Home

Scott from the Modernist Cuisine team here. First, I wanted to thank you for posting this. There are lots of folks who have made up their minds about Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home before they've ever opened the books, so it is incredibly meaningful to see that you're really giving the book a shot before making up your mind. We appreciate that greatly!
Now, let's see what we can do to address the issues you mentioned.
1. Special equipment. Yes, you are correct that, to really cook the book cover-to-cover, you'll likely need to add some gear to your arsenal. There are several recipes that require a pressure cooker or a whipping siphon, and even more that benefit from a sous vide machine. Although we include lots of alternative methods and improvised setups, it’s true that the recipes work best with the right gear.
But, even in the absence of all of the equipment called for in the book, we think it’s interesting just to know about those techniques. In the original Modernist Cuisine, for example, there are whole sections dedicated to the centrifuge, the rotary evaporator, the spray drier, etc. Very few people own or cook with those tools. But, lots of folks still think it’s neat to understand how they work, even if they’ll never buy one.
In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we had the same philosophy, but we wanted to pick a set of tools that _could_ reasonably be found in most home kitchens. Sure, sous vide baths and pressure cookers are not as popular as microwave ovens and slow-cookers (at least not yet). However, if we were to remove those tools from our repertoire, we would also have to eliminate many of the most interesting, unique, Modernist techniques from the book, and that’s no fun. So, for us it was a balance. Should we include sous vide? How about centrifuges? Ultimately, we drew the line at tools that were available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma or similar stores. We do hope, though, that we can show the value of investing in additional tools, and guide you in the right direction when making a purchasing decision.
2. Preciousness. I think we’ll have to take this one as a compliment . Our chefs are natural-born food stylists, which is a very handy thing when making a cookbook. We believe that most people “eat with their eyes” first, so we do like to make our plateups look nice... perhaps even precious, at times. It’s one of the hallmarks of Modernist cooking – embracing the aesthetic aspects, the “art” aspect, of cooking. However, we hope that our presentation can serve as an inspiration, as opposed to a standard of success or failure. Trust me, your dinner guests will love the mac and cheese regardless of how nicely the topping is coiffed.
3. Not quite ready to embrace sous vide. Sous vide can be a very polarizing thing. Although the current body of scientific research assures us that cooking sous vide with the proper types of plastic is perfectly safe, some folks are opposed to plastics for other reasons. In those cases, we advocate cooking foods sous vide in mason jars, topped off with oil to seal the food. The cooking time will be longer, but no plastic is involved. Alternately, home combi-ovens can approximate the precision of sous vide cooking, but without any plastic whatsoever.
You’re correct that cooking sous vide without a sous vide machine can sometimes be a tedious endeavor. In those setups, you’re playing the role of the human thermostat, monitoring the temperature of the water and adjusting it up or down accordingly. Interestingly, you’re even more of a human thermostat in traditional cooking methods – cooking a fillet of salmon in a skillet, for example. However, with traditional cooking, the consequences for getting your heat or timing wrong are typically more severe. Salmon can go from undercooked to obliterated in just a few moments on the high heat of a skillet, but sous vide, even improvised, is much more forgiving. Although you may not want to go to the trouble for every meal, we think it’s worth knowing how to produce those results, even if you choose to use that method infrequently.
4. Are the recipes worth the trouble? Generally speaking, yes. It’s probably painfully obvious that Modernist Cuisine at Home doesn’t offer the “easiest way” do make those recipes. In fact, we’re just plain uninterested in the easiest way. What we care about is the method that achieves the best results, even if it requires more effort. However, I can attest to the fact that the extra effort is not in vain. If you take the time to follow them, the recipes from Modernist Cuisine at Home produce results that outshine simplified methods in just about every instance. Part of this is evident in our attitude about purity. Take the mac and cheese sauce recipe, for example: we leave out everything that isn’t cheese, such as cream, butter and flour. The result is a cheese sauce that is intensely cheesy. The same principle applies in throughout the book: the home jus gras recipe, the pistachio gelato recipe, the caramelized carrot soup recipe… these foods do require a little more effort than their traditional counterparts, but in return, you get an unparalleled intensity of flavor.
5. Sous vide takes a lot of time. Yes, sous vide cooking is almost always slower than traditional methods. But, a) it produces better, more reliable results, and b) it involves very little _active_ cooking time. Although a steak may take an hour to cook sous vide, only a few minutes of that time require your attention. And, should your partner or dinner guests happen to be running late, in most cases, your food doesn’t suffer if it sits in the bath a while longer. Personally, I find sous vide cooking to be extremely liberating. However, it’s a very different approach to cooking. It rewards planning and patience over the ability to juggle a stove full of skillets. I don’t use sous vide all the time (it makes terrible toast) but it can be a hugely valuable and rewarding method for home cooks.
Again, we really value your thoughts and feedback. We know that Modernist Cuisine at Home is a very different book than most cookbooks, and that’s exactly the point. Even if you don’t decide to take the plunge with new equipment, we hope that the insights from our recipes will work their way into your everyday cooking.

Oct 17, 2012
ModernistCuisine in Home Cooking