December 19th, 2008
If you’re taking any science labs in school or work in a lab every day, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the one to prepare Christmas dinner this year.
Just remember to budget lots of time, thawing your turkey can take days in the refrigerator and not all of this stuff will fit in your oven at a time. It’s no harder than following the instructions of your chemistry lab manual or experimental procedure of a paper…
A 3% salt solution dissolves parts of the protein structure that supports contracting filaments in the muscle. Tender! Additionally, the salt and protein interactions result in greater water-holding capacity in the muscle cells. Juicy! This is very important since cooking meat removes a large percentage of its moisture, so balancing this with the moisture intake of the brine is key. Moisty?
In order to crisp the skin of your turkey, the cook must dissolve the leathery collagen into tender gelatin in the skin’s water, and then vaporize the water out of the skin. This is the purpose of the high-heat 500 degree portion of the cooking procedure.
This recipe is very careful about preserving moisture. Alton Brown, and many great cooks before him have recommended that you let your meat rest after the stressful cooking procedure. By allowing your muscle proteins to relax, they re-absorb a lot of the moisture that were squeezed out during cooking.
To create delicious gravy it’s essential to deglaze browning reaction products from your pan. Corn starch and flour are excellent thickeners. Read a blog post on the science of gravy here.
Heston Blumenthal‘s restaurant was voted the best in the United Kingdom last year, and the dude has a TV show called In Search of Perfection where he cooks classic dishes with scientific gusto. It may seem laborious to rinse your potatoes for 20 minutes and changing the water every 5, but this dude doesn’t kid around. I don’t have access to Heston’s book, but according to this article on the science behind perfect potatoes:
Potatoes harvested early in the season have high starch content, which limits browning. Early potatoes may have starch on the surface, which covers the sugars that brown faster. But rinsing the potatoes several times can eliminate this problem.
Harold McGee, lord of all that is good in food science, claims that since cranberries are rich in pectin, macerating (letting them soak) in alcohol may cause your alcohol to gel. In other words, enjoy giving your family jello shots.
Great side dish here. Blanching is the process of boiling a food substance and then plunging it in ice water to halt the cooking process. Typically it is useful for halting enzymatic breakdown of vitamins and pigments but it has an added benefit of keeping your beans chlorophyll a luscious green. Supposedly, it also enhances flavor by releasing bitter acids.
For more food science, check out Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking.