I’m in love.
I can’t stop talking about it; I want to tell the world. It’s pure, this love of mine. It’s true. It’s forever.
It’s a cookbook.
Some passions are fleeting. I’ve flirted with a Mediterranean cuisine cookbook. Batted my eyes at a cute little book about Indian food. Once I even sexted an ice cream book.
But this time, it’s lasting.
The book of my affections is called “The Food Lab,” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and its subtitle promises to deliver “better home cooking through science.” Lopez-Alt seems uniquely qualified to write such a book. Before he became managing culinary director for the website Seriouseats.com (which was after stints at the science-serious kitchens of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen), he worked in restaurant kitchens for 11 years, and he has a degree from MIT.
Admittedly, the degree is in architecture. But still. The man writes about the science behind cooking and how science can make cooking better, and he is smart enough to have gone to MIT.
The last book to make such a play for my attention in the same way was the hugely innovative, hugely influential and just plain huge (2,438 pages) “Modernist Cuisine,” by Nathan Myhrvold. But once I actually got a chance to look inside the six-volume book (it’s also hugely expensive, at $599), I was a bit put off by all the recipes for onion-fluid gel and confit egg-yolk puree.
It teased me, and then it let me down. But I don’t foresee any such capriciousness from “The Food Lab.” This is a book that mixes understandable science with recipes that actual, living people might want to make. No powdered olive oil, no tapioca maltodextrin.
Instead, we get a picture of 24 eggs that were removed from boiling water in 30-second intervals so we can see exactly how much they cook in anywhere from 30 seconds to 12 minutes. We learn that soft-boiled eggs should be cold when they are lowered into boiling water (so the white cooks faster than the yolk), and that hard-boiled eggs should also be lowered into boiling water, and then that the temperature should be lowered to just below boiling with some ice cubes and then kept at that sub-boiling temperature while the eggs cook.
Now, that’s some science I can get behind.
I'll admit, I’m still in that heady, getting-to-know-each-other stage, when everything about the book seems perfect. I haven’t even tried any of the recipes yet, but they all look promising: Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna; Ultra-Crisp Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder; Pan-Roasted Pearl Onions; Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad With Pine Nut Vinaigrette.
The only reason I haven’t yet made any of these recipes – or, frankly, all of them – is that I only received the book recently (it doesn’t even officially come out until Sept. 21) and I have spent the intervening time looking dreamily through its pages.
My heart fluttered when I saw directions for how to make a perfect roast prime rib (heat it in a very low oven until the temperature at the center reads 120 degrees for medium-rare or 135 degrees for medium, allow it to rest for 30 to 90 minutes, then return it to a very hot oven for 6 to 10 minutes until the exterior becomes brown and crisp). And when I saw the recipe for the best fajitas (lots of ingredients, marinate for 3 to 10 hours), I got a little weak in the knees.
The book even includes a recipe for homemade hot chocolate mix. You'll find it right after the recipe for homemade cinnamon sticky buns.
Looking for lighter pancakes? Whip the egg whites before folding them into the batter.
I’m enamored now, but I can see some problems down the road. I don’t think I can entirely endorse a spaghetti sauce that lists among its ingredients carrots and celery (and, for that matter, Asian fish sauce). And Lopez-Alt is a blogger, so he overwrites in that way that many food bloggers do. That is a small part of why it runs to 958 pages (for $49.95).
Even so, “The Food Lab” speaks to me. It peers inside my soul. It makes me want to cook some ultra-crisp-skinned pan-roasted salmon fillets with a basil-caper relish.
DLN y TFL 4ever.