What Does Science Have to Do with Good Food?

Salmon Fish Fillet With Fresh HerbsBetter cooking through chemistry

Perhaps you’ve seen the smoke of liquid nitrogen or the spoonfuls of agar agar used as a thickener. We’re not necessarily here about molecular gastronomy. What we are talking about is chemistry, because cooking is chemistry and the culinary arts are, well, a science. How acid interacts with fat. The effect of a shocking ice bath on blanched vegetables. At Just Catering, we bring the art and science of excellent food and science to you and your guests. Here is a sampling of scientific facts about making great food.

Salt can be your friend

Low-sodium diets aside, salt is an essential ingredient of cooking. There are several varieties of salt (e.g., table salt, kosher salt, sea salt) and several ways to apply it. Many chefs marinate poultry, for example, in a brine solution before cooking. This is a popular approach for that Thanksgiving turkey. You could also apply salt through a dry rub to a cut of meat. Salting can affect the food’s texture, flavor, and juiciness.

Cut through the fat with a lemon

A burst of acid—supplied by ingredients like citrus, vinegars, or vinegar-infused foods like pickles—can brighten a dish. That’s why lemon juice tastes so good on salmon or pickles with a corned beef sandwich. Try rubbing a slice of lemon on your next sushi order. You’ll taste the difference.

And if you’re not into sweet desserts, cut the degree of sweetness with a little acid. Add lemon, lime, or orange zest to cut-up fruit, for example. Or add the zest to crème fraîche for a little unexpected tang to your dessert.

Why blanching works

When you throw fresh vegetables in a pot of boiling water, you are rendering the enzymes inactive and through an ice bath afterward, halt the cooking process. Blanching is a necessary step in freezing vegetables. But it’s also used to preserve nutrients and efficiently removing dirt and grime.

Cooking with wine

Many foods are enhanced by cooking with wine or other alcoholic substances, such as bourbon, whiskey, liqueur, or sherry. The alcohol cooks out during preparation—combined with other liquids, such as broth, it is usually brought to a boil and is the first to evaporate. Yet, as the sauce reduces, its flavors concentrate in a thickened version of the sauce. The liquor lends flavor to the sauce and the final dish.

These are just a few examples. Contact the professionals at Just Catering and ask how chemistry is at the heart of food preparation.