Maybe it’s no longer particularly cutting edge, this “molecular gastronomy” lark, with the likes of Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Pierre Gagnaire and Hervé This (amongst probably many, many others) letting their creative juices flow in this area for a number of years now. But for me it remains pretty much a mystery.

So, I decided to read up on the topic – and why not start with one of the “references” from the champion of la cuisine moléculaire here in France….Hervé This ? I popped down to the Fnac (huge outlet for all media and technology in France, Spain and maybe elsewhere, but not the UK yet, I don’t think), asked the advice of the guy who looked after the cookery section, and ended up with “Casseroles et éprouvettes“.

Casseroles et Eprouvettes

I’ve only read 2 or 3 articles so far, but thought that I’d share my summaries with you as I get through the book… let’s start with

The discussion here concerns whether or not, inorder to create a good stock, meat should be put into cold or boiling water. Does the temperature affect the ability to extract the juice of the meat into the water ?

start in Cold Water : Antonin Carême (1847) and Brillat-Savarin (1825) said that if meat is placed in hot or boiling water then the outside of the meat will be sealed (by the heat) meaning that the water cannot enter into the heart of the meat and thus its flavour / juices cannot be extracted into the stock. Seemingly, meat placed initially in cold water results in a stock which is clearer as well (less particles floating in the stock, no need to clarify and thus no dillution of the flavour). Even Mr. Liebig (German chemist who created the famous stock cube brand) said that one had to put meat in cold water. Seems to make sense.

start in Hot Water : no one supported placing meat in hot or boiling water. Everyone said that this meant that the juices were “locked” inside the meat and that the stock would be alot cloudier.

Hervé This : tests show that, be it cold or boiling water, the final stock is no different.

Is it true that gnocchis float to the surface only when they are cooked ?

First of all, what is there to cook in a gnocchi ? Egg, flour and potato (asuming a potato based gnocchi). Egg is cooked at +68°C. Potato is already cooked before preparing the gnocchi. In the flour is gluten and starch (amidon) – starch when mixed with warm water “lightens”, gluten (being protein) is cooked in the boiling water.

Secondly, why do gnocchis float ? Well, seemingly because, when the water heats up, small bubbles of vapour are created which attach themselves to the outside of the gnocchi (in the crevaces of the irregular surface).

So, does floating indicate that a gnocchi is cooked ? Seemingly not. Gnocchi of different sizes, once floating, had their internal temperature tested and it was shown that not all had the same reading. Basically, different sized gnocchi have different cooking times – floating or not !

How to make sure that the yolk is perfectly centred ? Place the egg in cold or boiling water ?

Seemingly the answer lies not in the initial temperature of the water, but in moving and turning the egg intermittently (if the egg is left static the yolk – being less dense than the white of the egg – will rise), which means that it remains centred.

One final point – if an egg is boiled for too long, not only will it be hard, it will also be “dry” or powdery. In Jewish cuisine the “hamine” eggs are cooked slowly at temperatures of between 50 and 90 °C, which means that the proteins are cooked but the water in the white of the egg does not evapourate…..which ensures a hard egg which is still tender.

Never thought that cooking an hard boiled egg would be so complicated !

Une réponse

  1. Thank you for all that.
    Only one detail : as Molecular Gastronomy is a science, it cannot be done by Ferran, Heston or Pierre (among others). What they do (or don’t, they have to tell) is “Molecular Cooking”.
    On the other hand, I do not do any Molecular Cooking, because, being a scientist, I am not a chef, and I can do only Molecular Gastronomy, i.e producing new knowledge by studying the mechanism of (culinary) phenomena.
    kind regards

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