Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work
by Aki Kamozawa, H. Alexander Talbot
Publisher: Clarkson Potter, Country: US
ISBN: 9780307717405, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

If a book’s worth can be measured by the number of dog-eared pages, then Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work could turn around the international financial crisis. In fact, my copy has so many turned page corners that I’m expecting a ‘Cease and Desist’ order to arrive at my home any day now. Well over 75 pages are marked as requiring my re-reading and note taking. And lest you think I’m a chronic book destroyer, a quick scan of my most favorite and used books show less than ten dog-eared pages in any one book.

This is one worthy book for anyone who cares about the inner workings of their food or for anyone who wants someone to do the homework for them so they can simply follow instructions and put out great dishes.

Full review

Aki Kamozawa and H. Alex Talbot are the pragmatic culinary uber duo from IdeasinFood.com and the Kitchen Alchemy column of Popular Science magazine. Their kitchen pedigree includes Clio in Boston and a slew of smaller kitchens and consultancies. In the modernist cyber kitchens, Alex and Aki are royalty.

The much anticipated Ideas in Food comes in at 320 pages with zero pictures, sketches, drawings or even graphical imagery. That’s right! This book, the sister of the blog, as know for its rich stimulating photography as its cutting edge techniques, has left the artistic creativity to the reader’s imagination. Instead, it hones in on the science of creating great food. And Aki and Alex bring the reader this science in such a friendly way that even the most sciencephobic among us will be able to understand why eggs cook the way they do.

But with Harold McGee and Hervé This books and the countless food blogs (paramount among them: CookingIssues.com) that examine food science, where does Ideas in Food fit in? Having read pretty much every food science offering, I can say that this is the most engaging and accessible of them all. McGee and This offer more lab sterile approaches to food science where their findings are undisputed and readily disseminated. You can’t go wrong with either. CookingIssues is more experimental and up-to-the-minute, but at the whim of its authors’ fancies. Ideas in Food starts with the basic principles but quickly races down roads guided by their own creativity. What good is it to learn the best way of making pasta if you don’t do anything interesting with it? Where McGee and This’s lecture circuit is the classroom, Kamozawa and Talbot’s is in the kitchen.

The book is divided into two sections: Ideas for Everyone and Ideas for Professionals. The Ideas for Everyone section includes seasoning and preserving, bread, pasta, gnocchi and risotto, eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and meat and seafood. The Ideas for Professionals section includes hydrocolloids, transglutaminase, liquid nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Possibly because I work with the professional additives that they cover, I did not find the professional section overly useful (with the exception of carbon dioxide which rarely gets coverage) with the exception that it provides a succinct summary of the various hydrocolloids. However, the Everyone section was ripe with new and refined ideas.

With no fuss, Aki and Alex throw out tip after tip. For example, they state that in frying “We use rice bran oil for frying because it has a high smoke point and a clean, neutral flavor, which means that fried foods tend to cook evenly without burning or absorbing any heavy flavors from the oil.” After reading this I switched my restaurant’s oil over to rice bran oil and we haven’t looked back. Really, rather amazing stuff – how did I not get the memo on this earlier!? And transfat free!

In regards to brining, “We don’t generally wash fish and seafood; instead we soak them in a 5 percent salt solution for ten minutes. This soak coagulates exterior proteins, firms the flesh, and extends the shelf life of the fish.” When considering the best way to have pasta cook quickly, “The answer was a cold-water soak. This technique almost completely separates the hydration and cooking processes. We know that starch needs water to cook properly. A cold-water soak, at a 4:1 ratio of water to pasta, allows the starch to slowly absorb the water that it needs to gelatinize.” Page after page of tips and techniques that are not esoteric, but down-to-earth useful.

Ideas in Food also offers 100 recipes ranging from scrambled eggs to root beer braised short ribs. Nothing crazy and fancy, just food that you’re likely to attempt at home. And while the authors may mention the use of the expensive professional gadgetry in the introduction to the recipes, none is required to attempt the recipes in a home kitchen.

Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work is a worthwhile book for your library. Putting aside the lack of photographs and the relatively scant Professional section, this book will get read and used in your kitchen. It is said that humans only use 10% of our brains, and if you only use 10% of this book, your meals will still be richer for it.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Okay
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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Ideas in Food, Aki Kamozawa | 2010 | US, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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