Best Cookbook Review- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore Of The Kitchen
Watch Video: Harold McGee (Food science writer) On Food and Cooking
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Science and Cooking: A Dialogue- Lecture 1- Harold McGee, Ferran Adria, José Andrés
On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen is a book by Harold McGee, published by Scribner in the United States in 1984 and revised extensively for a 2004 second edition. It is published by Hodder & Stoughton in Britain under the title McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture.
The book provides a reference to the scientific understanding and preparation of food. It has been described by Alton Brown as "the Rosetta stone of the culinary world", Daniel Boulud has called the book a "must for every cook who possesses an inquiring mind", while Heston Blumenthal has stated it is "the book that has had the greatest single impact on my cooking".
The book is simply interesting to amateur foodies and culinary professionals. This is the serendipity principle. If you prospect in a rich land, you will invariably find something of value. The `lore' in the subtitle is not an afterthought. The book includes history, linguistics and cooking practice in addition to simple science. In over 800 pages of densely packed narrative, one will invariably find something of interest, especially since the book covers such a broad range of topics, including:
1) Milk and Dairy
4) Fish and Shellfish
5) Fruits and Vegetables
6) Seeds, Cereals, and Doughs
8) Sugars and Chocolate
9) Alcohol (Wine, Beer, and Distilled Spirits)
10) Cooking Methods
11) Cooking Utensil Materials
12) `The Four Basic Food Molecules'
13) Basic Chemistry
The work is separated into sections that focus on the ingredients, providing the structure for the author to speculate on the history of foodstuffs and cookery, and the molecular characteristics of food flavours, while the text is illustrated by charts, graphs, pictures, and sidebar boxes with quotes from sources such as Brillat-Savarin and Plutarch. The book advises on how to cook many things (e.g., for pasta use abundant water, avoid hard water, add salt and a little oil to water, use slightly acidic water, with reasons and the science behind everything, OFaC 2nd ed. p576) and includes a few historical recipes (e.g., Fish or Meat Jelly, by Taillevent in 1375, OFaC 2nd ed. p584), but no modern recipes as such.
You should be aware that this book is more an encyclopedia than a recipe book or a collection of essays. If you're looking for a fun discussion of food science, then Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the food" may be a better choice. If you're looking for recipes that are optimized by principles of food science, I'd recommend Shirley O. Corriher's "Cookwise." (Actually, I'd recommend both of those books anyway.) Some readers may find "On Food and Cooking" a little bit too dense and technical to read from cover to cover, but as a reference book, it's unmatched.
The second edition is a great improvement over the first, and I'd strongly recommend it not only to new readers but to anyone who read the first edition. (Just the new section on fish makes this book worth purchasing.) This is really a totally new book: it's been completely reorganized, new illustrations have been added, and it's 66% longer than the old version. I'm guessing that the only reason that this book has the same title is for marketing value: the first book was very well known by cooks.
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