Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to "Cryosear" a Duck Breast


Via the New York Times, we get a PDF of how YOU can be a molecular gastronomist... with your very own wire dog brush, block of dry ice, and water vapor oven you can allegedly create the most perfectly cooked duck breast known to man. Yay? You'd think since I'm an engineer, fairly tech savvy, and a big fan of Harold McGhee/Alton Brown's more scientific approach to cooking, that I'd be all over the molecular gastronomy of Nathan Myhrvold... but I just don't feel it. I mean, yeah, this kind of thing is interesting:
For example, confit, the French technique of cooking slowly in fat, is supposed to impart a unique taste and texture as the fat penetrates the meat.

But Dr. Myhrvold said: “There’s no way it could penetrate. The molecules are too big.”

He said double-blind taste tests proved that the same tasty results could be achieved by steaming and then rubbing some of the fat on the outside.

While I still intend to cook my confit in fat, it's nice to dispense with the pseudo-mystical hearsay that gets bandied about as justification for various cooking methods... so that kind of challenge to "kitchen wisdom" is quite welcome... but making "stewed prunes that look like coal"? Or "breaking apart a fat and a liquid into tiny droplets and mixing them together into something that had the fluidity of heavy cream"? I mean, most of it seems like such a silly gimmick... is it really so hard to cook a duck breast? I mean, yes, it's challenging, but do we really need all these industrial cooking methods to get it right? I tend to think of molecular gastronomy as tech geeks armed with their pretty little hammer picturing everything as nails.

Granted, most of the field is squarely aimed at restaurant cooks, not the home cook, where maybe it makes sense for a chef to invest in some piece of equipment and a gimmicky technique, to simply set themselves apart from their competitors. In some sense you could say that molecular gastronomy is no more a gimmick than "locally grown organic" as a way to draw diners in... though on the substance, I would argue strenuously for the merits of the latter over the former.

But then, I seem only to ever embrace new ideas well after they've been brought into the mainstream and thus discarded by the hip and edgy... so oddly conservative for an alleged progressive, I am... so maybe in 5 years when molecular gastronomy is passé and forgotten, I'll think it's the best thing EVAH... but until that day, get off my lawn with your crazy cooking techniques... I'll cook my confit however I want!