I tend to improvise a lot when I cook. After mastering a few beloved recipes from favorite cookbooks, and learning that just about anything tastes good with a solid base of fried onions and garlic, I’ve found that I rarely need to measure ingredients while cooking. Sometimes though, it’s fun to take a closer look at what I’m preparing and think about what might be happening on a molecular level.
Luckily, the library has many fine books on not only cooking, but the science of cooking. A recent interview on NPR’s Splendid Table turned me onto the new book Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. If you’ve ever wondered not only how to make the perfect scrambled or poached egg, but also why cooking it a certain way yields varying results, then this is the book for you. Consider for a moment all of the wonderful joys the egg brings us—pasta, custards, cakes, quiches, cookies. If you are interested in learning more about all the wonderful foods that are dependent on the humble egg, then this is the book for you.
Of course, if you are interested in the science behind cooking, you have to check out one of Harold McGee’s books. Both Keys to Good Cooking and On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen should give you plenty “molecular gastronomy” to ponder while working in the kitchen.
And for those cheese enthusiasts out there (of which I’m one) there is a new book just for you, titled simply The Science of Cheese. If you are not content to simply eat cheese, this book will teach you everything from the history of cheese to how new cheeses are created.
If you would like to move beyond the science happening in your kitchen to the science happening in your belly, then by all means check out Mary Roach’s latest book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal about that most taboo of topics: digestion. Like her other great reads, Ms. Roach is able to take a somewhat unsavory subject and spin it into a series of fascinating, informative, and often very funny reads.
So how about you? What books on cooking (or science) are you savoring right now?