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Oct 22, 2012 03:04 PM

Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

We noticed a great thread developing on the new book "Modernist Cuisine at Home," so we figured we'd just invite Scott from the Modernist Cuisine team to hang out and answer your questions directly. For the next few weeks starting today, Scott will be responding to questions about Modernist Cuisine's new book "Modernist Cuisine at Home," the new webseries MDRN KTCHN that he's hosting on CHOW, and any food science and technology questions that you might have!

Scott is Modernist Cuisine's director of applied research, as well as the author of the award-winning blog In 2011, Scott left his job at Microsoft to join The Cooking Lab, creator of Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home, where he develops new products and services.

You can check out Scott and the Modernist Cuisine team's work here:

Watch Scott on MDRN KTCHN:
Order the Cooking Lab's new book "Modernist Cuisine at Home":
Read Scott's Blog:

Keep Scott busy -- start asking questions. Anything food, tech, science related is fair game!

Roxanne of CHOW

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  1. The thread that inspire this one is here:

    And for added context, here are the questions, and answers from Scott from that thread:

    By delys77 on Oct 16, 2012 02:16 PM

    Hi all
    My partner was kind enough to order the new Modernist Cuisine at Home for me as a surprise. I do most of the cooking at home and I have been quite curious about this book and Myrvhold grand opus Modernist Cuisine, but I have to say that even with the simplified approach of the at Home book I'm not actually sure I will cook from it.
    Typically I am not afraid of a challenge, but after perusing the book last night a few issues came up:

    1. Eventhough many of the recipes don't call for any special equipment, there are unfortunately a very large number that do. I have a well equipped kitchen with good quality, pans, pots, mixers, food processors, immersion blenders, and various other implements, but many recipes call for pressure cookers, air syphons, blow torches, juicers, and sous vide machines (more on this letter). While I would consider adding a pressure cooker and maybe even a blow torch they aren't traditionally that high on my list. To cook from the book however the pressure cooker is an absolute must, and a sous vide set up would be great also.
    2. It's all a little precious. I always try to plate food as best I can, being conscious of the composition of the plate, colours etc, and while the pictures are beautiful I don't think I am likely to ever plate as they are doing. Of course I think it is beautiful, and more power to anyone that is willing to take on the task of these presentations, but I'm not sure it is for me.
    3. Years ago I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, and while I don't want to seem too old fashioned (I am 35 after all), I'm not sure I like the idea of cooking in plastic bags and using certain additives (otolyzed protein etc...). In the past few years I've attempted to eat locally and organically as much as possible and to avoid foods that have been engineered or subjected to extensive processing. The author states clearly that cooking in plastic bags is entirely safe, but somehow I am more likely to trust the wisdom of a good old cast iron pan. Plus some of his suggested methods for jury rigging a sous vide machine at home would have you rewiring your slow cooker, or have you maintain a constant temperature for hours on your stove top, which simply don't seem practical.
    4. In my circle of friends and family I am often regarded as a very adventurous cook who isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and take on arduous preparations in the kitchen. That said, I think I have met my match. To me Modernist Cuisine at Home seems like it might still be just too much. It is undeniably a beautiful book that was meticulously researched, is full of interesting recipes and techniques, and would likely yield superior results, but will the braised Korean BBQ be noticeably better than the one I already make. I'm not so sure.
    5. Lastly, some of these recipes may be better, even perceptibly so, but to make a steak I may need to cook it sous vide for an hour and then remove from its bag to sear in a pan or use a blowtorch. Right now if I want to cook the steak (outside of BBQ season) I pull out cast iron pan and heat it till it is searing hot and then pop my steaks in for a few minutes a side. Then into the oven they go to finish, before coming out for a quick rest. End to end the steak will be in my plate in 15 minutes, it will have a beautiful crust and still be nice and pink inside. True, the doneness will not be perfect since the bottom and top of the steak will have been closer to the heat source than the centre, but again I'm not so sure this will make a big difference.

    The jury is still out for me, I plan to spend a few more days with it before I decide to return it or not, mostly because some of the slow cooker recipes just might be worth it to me, but also because my partner went to the trouble of getting me a nice gift. That being said, at over $100 and nearly 10kg it needs to be a book I am going to use.

    Has anyone else had any experiences with the book?

    Scott's Answer:

    Scott from the Modernist Cuisine team here. First, I wanted to thank you for posting this. There are lots of folks who have made up their minds about Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home before they've ever opened the books, so it is incredibly meaningful to see that you're really giving the book a shot before making up your mind. We appreciate that greatly!
    Now, let's see what we can do to address the issues you mentioned.
    1. Special equipment. Yes, you are correct that, to really cook the book cover-to-cover, you'll likely need to add some gear to your arsenal. There are several recipes that require a pressure cooker or a whipping siphon, and even more that benefit from a sous vide machine. Although we include lots of alternative methods and improvised setups, it’s true that the recipes work best with the right gear.
    But, even in the absence of all of the equipment called for in the book, we think it’s interesting just to know about those techniques. In the original Modernist Cuisine, for example, there are whole sections dedicated to the centrifuge, the rotary evaporator, the spray drier, etc. Very few people own or cook with those tools. But, lots of folks still think it’s neat to understand how they work, even if they’ll never buy one.
    In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we had the same philosophy, but we wanted to pick a set of tools that _could_ reasonably be found in most home kitchens. Sure, sous vide baths and pressure cookers are not as popular as microwave ovens and slow-cookers (at least not yet). However, if we were to remove those tools from our repertoire, we would also have to eliminate many of the most interesting, unique, Modernist techniques from the book, and that’s no fun. So, for us it was a balance. Should we include sous vide? How about centrifuges? Ultimately, we drew the line at tools that were available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma or similar stores. We do hope, though, that we can show the value of investing in additional tools, and guide you in the right direction when making a purchasing decision.
    2. Preciousness. I think we’ll have to take this one as a compliment . Our chefs are natural-born food stylists, which is a very handy thing when making a cookbook. We believe that most people “eat with their eyes” first, so we do like to make our plateups look nice... perhaps even precious, at times. It’s one of the hallmarks of Modernist cooking – embracing the aesthetic aspects, the “art” aspect, of cooking. However, we hope that our presentation can serve as an inspiration, as opposed to a standard of success or failure. Trust me, your dinner guests will love the mac and cheese regardless of how nicely the topping is coiffed.
    3. Not quite ready to embrace sous vide. Sous vide can be a very polarizing thing. Although the current body of scientific research assures us that cooking sous vide with the proper types of plastic is perfectly safe, some folks are opposed to plastics for other reasons. In those cases, we advocate cooking foods sous vide in mason jars, topped off with oil to seal the food. The cooking time will be longer, but no plastic is involved. Alternately, home combi-ovens can approximate the precision of sous vide cooking, but without any plastic whatsoever.
    You’re correct that cooking sous vide without a sous vide machine can sometimes be a tedious endeavor. In those setups, you’re playing the role of the human thermostat, monitoring the temperature of the water and adjusting it up or down accordingly. Interestingly, you’re even more of a human thermostat in traditional cooking methods – cooking a fillet of salmon in a skillet, for example. However, with traditional cooking, the consequences for getting your heat or timing wrong are typically more severe. Salmon can go from undercooked to obliterated in just a few moments on the high heat of a skillet, but sous vide, even improvised, is much more forgiving. Although you may not want to go to the trouble for every meal, we think it’s worth knowing how to produce those results, even if you choose to use that method infrequently.
    4. Are the recipes worth the trouble? Generally speaking, yes. It’s probably painfully obvious that Modernist Cuisine at Home doesn’t offer the “easiest way” do make those recipes. In fact, we’re just plain uninterested in the easiest way. What we care about is the method that achieves the best results, even if it requires more effort. However, I can attest to the fact that the extra effort is not in vain. If you take the time to follow them, the recipes from Modernist Cuisine at Home produce results that outshine simplified methods in just about every instance. Part of this is evident in our attitude about purity. Take the mac and cheese sauce recipe, for example: we leave out everything that isn’t cheese, such as cream, butter and flour. The result is a cheese sauce that is intensely cheesy. The same principle applies in throughout the book: the home jus gras recipe, the pistachio gelato recipe, the caramelized carrot soup recipe… these foods do require a little more effort than their traditional counterparts, but in return, you get an unparalleled intensity of flavor.
    5. Sous vide takes a lot of time. Yes, sous vide cooking is almost always slower than traditional methods. But, a) it produces better, more reliable results, and b) it involves very little _active_ cooking time. Although a steak may take an hour to cook sous vide, only a few minutes of that time require your attention. And, should your partner or dinner guests happen to be running late, in most cases, your food doesn’t suffer if it sits in the bath a while longer. Personally, I find sous vide cooking to be extremely liberating. However, it’s a very different approach to cooking. It rewards planning and patience over the ability to juggle a stove full of skillets. I don’t use sous vide all the time (it makes terrible toast) but it can be a hugely valuable and rewarding method for home cooks.
    Again, we really value your thoughts and feedback. We know that Modernist Cuisine at Home is a very different book than most cookbooks, and that’s exactly the point. Even if you don’t decide to take the plunge with new equipment, we hope that the insights from our recipes will work their way into your everyday cooking.

    By mrbitterpants on Oct 19, 2012 12:57 PM

    Hi Scott,

    To your point about sous-vide being more forgiving, when using the stovetop method, what is the tolerance level? Say if i only check the temp every 15 minutes and adjust +/- 10 deg will it still be OK? Would like to try it out before investing in a sous-vide machine.

    Got the book as a gift and love reading it so far but haven't had the time yet to actually cook something.

    Scott's Answer:

    The level of forgiveness depends entirely on the food you're cooking and how much temperature fluctuation it experiences. 10 degrees F in internal temperature can make a huge difference in delicate foods like fish or eggs. But, in most cases, it's the peak temperature that makes a difference in doneness. On a skillet or in an oven, the internal temperature of your food is (almost) always climbing and can overshoot the desired doneness temperature in the blink of an eye. With sous vide, because the food heats more slowly, and because the temperature of the water bath is usually the temperature you want the food to reach (+/- a degree or two) the risk of overshooting the desired temperature is much lower.

    We actually recommend the camping cooler method. Heat a large pot of water to the right temperature for the recipe you're making. Then, fill an insulated camping cooler with the hot water. Add your bagged food, close the lid, and walk away. As long as the ratio of water to food is high, the water will cook the food and you don't need to adjust the temperature much, if at all.

    1. Well I'll bite on this one . . . .

      I own both MC and MC at Home (just got it on Monday I think it was). I love MC and have been flipping through MC at Home. I am very comfortable in the kitchen but not all of my attempt at "Modern" cuisine have been what I would consider successful. Most notably was my first (and so far only) attempt at spherification. I tried Grand Marnier caviar and it tasted horrible, but I thought they'd be great in a cocktail, still do.

      What I'm getting at is that while I love to experiment, it is a little disheartening when things are a disaster. Also (to be honest) with MC I just don't know where to "dive in", it is awesome but overwhelming at the same time.

      So my question:

      What would be your top 3 techniques and related recipes from MC at Home to try and get someone hooked? I would imagine there were a few things that got you hooked both because of the "cool new technique" and/or because it tasted great.

      I'm game for any recommendations but if it helps, I have: sous vide, torch, whipper, soda siphon, ingredients for spherification (and a few others - agar agar is the only one coming to mind).

      4 Replies
      1. re: thimes

        This is a great question, I too would be very curious to see what might some "must try" recommendations from the Modernist team's perspective.

        1. re: thimes

          Hi Thimes,

          Sorry to hear that your previous attempt was less than succesful. Unfortunately, spherification can be a little tempermental - it's a technique that is extremely sensitive to exact measurement and timing, and can even be affected by the mineral content of your tap water.

          So, here are the three techniques from MC/MCAH that I'd recommend trying first:
          1. Sous vide. We love it, and we think you will too. I always recommend that folks start with salmon (or another fish you love), steak (NY strip, for instance) and whole eggs. You can find all the recipes and info you need in the books.

          2. Siphons. We love our iSi whipping siphons, and we've found them to be incredibly versatile tools for creating textures that you just can't get any other way. Try using them for carbonation (see my carbonated grapes video on CHOW), or, a new favorite of mine, the Siphon Scrambled Egg recipe for MCAH.

          3. Pressure cooking. Just make the carrot soup (video on MDRN KTCHN). You'll understand right away why we consider such an old piece of technology to be an invaluable Modernist tool.

          I hope this helps - let me know how it goes!

          1. re: ModernistCuisine

            Thanks for the recommendations.

            1. Sous Vide - total fan, check

            2. Siphons - eggs are on the menu for tomorrow morning

            3. Pressure cooker - actually the one thing I probably don't have in my kitchen but its on the holiday list, so carrot soup will be the first thing I cook in it.

            1. re: ModernistCuisine

              Siphon Scrambled Eggs - (I assumed that was French Scrambled Eggs pg 144)

              After the sous vide, the eggs are smoothed with an immersion blender and then placed in a siphon. I probably didn't think this recipe all the way through well enough - and I read after that you can hold the eggs in the siphon in a warm water bath to hold - and my siphon was probably much colder than I thought . . .

              Question: When doing this type of siphon/foam, do you warm your siphon before using to help the ingredients hold their temp? (e.g. fill with boiling water/etc) Does that impact the nitrous on the ingredients?

              Question: If I wanted to do this for a brunch (thinking Thanksgiving weekend) it sounds like I will need to gas the siphon right before serving (not a problem). How long will it keep in a warm bath once its gassed? Again curious about the temp/gassing interaction as I've only used my siphon for cold things before and at least with carbonation I always thought cold liquids held the gas better.


          2. I have a question about Wondra flour.

            I own MC and and it introduced me to alot of new and exciting ingredients all (or at least most) of which were available through sites such as Modernist Pantry. In MCAH the team decided to use Wandra flour in many of the recipes. As far as I can tell this ingredient is only available in the US (not where I live). I've done my research and there is simply no local equivalent in most countries and no-one (such as modernist pantry) sells this stuff online.

            So the question is: What can I use as a substitute for Wandra flour? Specifically in the Korean Wings recipe and the Blue Cheese dip recipe. I noted that in the book "Ultra Sperse" can be used as a substitute but it seems silly to dump 40g of Ultra Sperse in a chicken wing recipe every time you want to make it cause that stuff ain't that cheap (and I'd have to import that too!).


            3 Replies
            1. re: Merkinz

              email and ask ,Wondra .. enriched bleached flour with malted barley flour QUICK-MIXING
              a GoldMedal brand of GENERAL MILLS ,info under BETTY CROCKER division

              I haven't a clue what the comparative percentages are barley flour to a super fine enriched flour.
              It is very dry,almost a little bit granulated or gritty...UBER FINE.I also suspect a tiny bit pre-cooked.

              PILLSBURY also makes the same thing and calls it ? "shake and blend" ,(? memory issues).

              The real beneficial to WONDRA ,dissolves instantly,cooks in much less time than AP flour,does not need 30 minutes to "cook off" the raw flour,flour "taste".How to equal or come close with a home blend is a tough one for me,adding your "profile" provides no clue as to where you are.
              There are several partial pre-cooked malted flours in Latin America,Europe ? ,US imports several from South America,get my drift.

              rice flour,tapioca flour,potato starch and flour,sweet potato starch and flour,corn starch and flour
              ALL COOK FAST ,not 30 minutes to cook off the raw taste.

                1. re: Merkinz

                  I don't know if it would work in these recipes, but you can cook flour in the oven to make a dry roux that thickens sauces quickly without a raw flavor, sort of like Wondra. Look up oven roux, dry roux...

                2. Do you know of any way to approximate or fudge the effect of a centrifuge without dropping a few grand?

                  7 Replies
                    1. re: honkman

                      That way I can really work some of those pesky support muscles while I cook.

                    2. re: cowboyardee

                      What are you trying to accomplish? I suppose you could get a long sock (baseball sock), put your ingredients in a mason jar, stuff it in the bottom, the whirl it around your head for a while. That should work if what you need to do would fit in the jar.

                      1. re: cowboyardee


                        Still $200, but much less than the thousands we were looking at before. May be my xmas present to myself this year although it does only spin 4 ounces at a time!

                        Article/Test here on the french culinary institutes tech blog but the formatting is all screwed up right now

                        1. re: twyst

                          Thanks, Twyst. Hadn't seen those before.

                        2. re: cowboyardee

                          As sbp asks, it's really a matter of what you're trying to accomplish. If the goal is to clarify stock, for instance, there is a section in Modernist Cuisine that describes a whole set of clarification methods, such as gelatin clarification, vacuum filtration, traditional raft clarification, etc.

                          If your goal is to make pea butter, though, I'm afraid we haven't found a substitute for good 'ol G-force. The centrifuge in our lab produces 27,000Gs while spinning at 10,000RPMs. That's a HUGE amount of force. Smaller, benchtop centrifges can also separate foods by density, but they require longer spinning times. Even then, they reach limits of clarity that more powerful centrifuges exceed.

                          Some foods, such as pureed tomato, will separate quite easily, even in a small, tabletop centrifuge. Unfortunately, the volume of those centrifuges is quite small, so plan to spin lots of batches if you're in the mood for a tomato water cocktail.

                          Other foods, such as the carotene butter we use in the pressure-cooked caramelized carrot soup recipe, will naturally separate overnight in the refrigerator.

                          Best of luck!

                          1. re: ModernistCuisine

                            More pea butter/water than stock clarification. I'm a fan of ice/gelatin filtration myself.

                            I'd love to hear more about carotene butter and similar possibly delicious byproducts - not familiar with that one.

                            Thanks for the reply.

                        3. Why has Iota Carrageenan been removed from the processed cheese recipe? Did it serve any purpose at all in the original recipe from modernist cuisine, or was it just there because it was thought to be necessary at the time?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: twyst

                            Adding iota carageenan was an optimization to have some additional control over the final texture, but we thought it was unnecessary for the at-home version of the recipe.