Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine” is a visual feast that includes 3,200 photos, many of them cutaway shots that involved actually cutting cooking surfaces in half. Here’s a small sampling of the book’s fantastic visualizations of the cooking process.
The center piece of the grilling section in Traditional cooking, this highlights the qualities, heat zones, and flavor creation that occurs when one grills hamburger patties on a barbecue.
Adapted from Ferran Adria, the mussels are trapped in the shucking juices from the mussels themselves. Reverse spherification is used to form the spheres.
To do this mix calcium lactate into the mussel juice and sodium alginate into a setting bath of neutral water. The mussel juice is combined with a whole shucked mussel in a tablespoon measure and quickly dropped into the setting bath. The calcium reacts with the alginate to form a delicate gel membrane and encapsulates the whole mussel in its juices. The spheres are allowed to set for a minute or so and then drained and rinsed in a bath of fresh water to stop the reaction. The same method can be used for making flavorful fish roe, constructed egg yolks and so on.
Homemade ice cream is delicious, but slow to make—unless you have some liquid nitrogen handy. At 321 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-196 °C), a little liquid nitrogen blended in a mixer with your ice cream base will freeze the concoction into ice cream so fast that the ice crystals stay tiny, which give the dessert a supremely fine texture. Because liquid nitrogen is so cold, it’s important to take certain precautions when using it.
Liquid nitrogen has many uses other than making instant ice cream. After a plunge of just a few second in the ultracold liquid, berries are easily shattered into individual drupelets, perfect for scattering over a salad or stirring into a sauce.
You don’t have to invest in ultraexpensive pans to get even heat distribution. Just have your local machine shop make an inch-thick slab of solid aluminum and put that between any cheap pan and the burner. The aluminum plate will eliminate hot spots better than most expensive copper pans do.
Most cookbooks describe steaming as a much faster cooking method than boiling. Because steam can be hotter than the boiling point of water and can carry large amounts of latent energy, this makes intuitive sense even to those unfamiliar with the underlying physics. But in this case, intuition misleads. In many cases, steaming takes longer than boiling to cook food to a target temperature. This cutaway shows what is occurring inside a pot of broccoli that is steaming to show what is occurring with the film condensation, vapor, and core temperature as the food cooks.
Heat moves from hot objects (such as a cup of coffee) to cooler substances (like the air) at a rate proportional to the difference in temperature between them. So if you take cream but can’t drink your coffee right away, go ahead and put the cream in immediately. It will reduce the temperature difference between the beverage and the air, so the drink will stay warm for longer than if you add the cream later.
This dish is inspired from an Alain Senderens classic which is in turn inspired by the ancient Roman author Apicius. The duck breast is cryo rendered: the skin is pierced with a dog brush to render the fat and is alternatively seared on a very hot plancha and on dry ice to result in a very crispy skin without cooking the meat at all.
Apicius, one of the earliest cookbooks on record, is the title of a collection of Roman recipes from the late 4th century. Roman food at the time was heavily spiced and distinguished for using garum (fish sauce) as their main condiment. Senderens adopted these flavors to make a roast duck glazed abundantly with spices.
The Modernist Cuisine team originally set out to get a photo of a bullet going through a block of ballistics gelatin for a table describing gels that the average person is familiar with in the GELS chapter. After getting the gelatin shot finished; they had a bit of daylight, a .308 sniper rifle, and a half dozen eggs.
Egg gels are the basis for many classic dishes and they are covered in great detail in the book, however, these shots are really just gratuitous shots that they were able to capture with great photography and decided to share with their readers.
Have you ever tried to peel grapefruit segments by hand? Life is too short, when science offers speedier alternatives. Soak the segments in water with a dab of enzymes (Pectinex Ultra SP-L and Pectinex Smash XXL, made by Novozymes) overnight, and the membrane slough right off.
Soda siphons are useful for more than just making bubbly beverages—you can use them to make fizzy fruits as well. Carbonated grapes are especially entertaining.
Iodine vapor stains the starch granules red in a slice of potato; the blue structures in this micrograph are cell walls. Mashing potatoes frees the starch from the cells and gives the mixture its pleasantly sticky quality.
Chefs have invented all kinds of tricks for making excellent French fries, but the authors of Modernist Cuisine came up with a couple new approaches. One is to vacuum seal the raw potato sticks with potato-starch. The process infuses extra starch into the fries, which greatly improves their interior texture.
A second approach, which can be used in combination with starch infusion, is to run the fries through an ultrasonic bath (like those use by jewelers and dentists to clean small items) before frying. The high-intensity sound waves cause tiny ruptures to form in the outside of the fries, which then bubble and frizz into an ultracrispy exterior when deep-fried.
One way to get the clear, flavorful liquid from a puree is to strain or filter it, but that process is slow and wasteful. A centrifuge is much faster and produces far higher yields. The source mixture, such as the carrot puree shown here, goes into flasks that spin in the machine so quickly that they experience centrifugal forces equivalent to 25,000 times the force of gravity. When the spin cycle is done, not only do you have highly clarified carrot juice, but the layer above consists of a deliciously sweet carotene butter.
Although the object in this image may look like a nebula photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, it is actually a cyst of trichinella—the pathogen that causes trichinellosis—shot by Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold using a high-powered microscope. These days farm-raised pork presents almost no risk of trichinella contamination, which occurs almost exclusively in wild game such as bear and boar.
Vitamin C forms intricate—and beautiful—crystalline patterns that polarized light reveals under a microscope.
Although you don’t have to be able to use the heat equation, shown here rendered in fire, in calculations to cook well, a solid intuition for how heat flows into, through, and out of food is invaluable in the kitchen.