Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food

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Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food

Jeff Potter


Laurel Ruma


Brian Sawyer

Copyright (c) 2010 Jeff Potter

Cooking for Geeks

by Jeff Potter

All rights reserved.

Published by O'Reilly Media, Inc., 1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472.

O'Reilly books may be purchased for educational, business, or sales promotional use. Online editions are also available for most titles ( For more information, contact our corporate/institutional sales department: (800) 998-9938 or

Editors: Brian Sawyer and Laurel R.T. Ruma
Production Editor: Rachel Monaghan
Copyeditor: Rachel Head
Proofreader: Rachel Monaghan
Indexer: Lucie Haskins
Cover Designer: Mark Paglietti
Interior Designer: Edie Freedman
Illustrator: Aaron Double

Printing History:
July 2010: First Edition.

The O'Reilly logo is a registered trademark of O'Reilly Media, Inc. The Cooking for Geeks cover image and related trade dress are trademarks of O'Reilly Media, Inc. The phrase "Cooking for Geeks" is a trademark of Atof Inc.

Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and O'Reilly Media, Inc. was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed in caps or initial caps.

While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

Back cover photograph by Matthew Hrudka.


O'Reilly Media

Recipe Index


The 30-Minute Scrambled Egg

The 60-Minute Slow-Cooked Egg

Hard-Cooked Eggs, Shock and Awe Method

Oven-Poached Eggs

Buttermilk Pancakes

Eigen Pancakes: The Hello, World! of Recipes

Whipped Cream

Tim O'Reilly's Scone Recipe

Yeast Waffles


The Easier, Cheaper Version of "The $10,000 Gin and Tonic"

Ginger Lemon Soda

Hot Chocolate

Fat-Washing Alcohols: Butter-Infused Rum, Bacon-Infused Bourbon

Oaxacan Drinking Chocolate

Regan's Orange Bitters No. 5

Sage Rush: Gin, Sage, and Grapefruit Juice


Bread--Traditional Method

Bread--No-Knead Method

Pizza Dough--No-Knead Method

Pizza Dough--Yeast-Free Method

Appetizers and Sides

158degF / 70degC: Vegetable Starches Break Down

158degF / 70degC: Vegetable Starches Break Down

Reading Between the Lines

Quick-Steamed Asparagus

Seasonal Method

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Salmon Gravlax

Sauteed Carrots

Sauteed Greens

Scallop Ceviche


310degF / 154degC: Maillard Reactions Become Noticeable

Squid Bruschetta


Seasonal Method

Tomato Basil Mozzarella Salad

Watermelon and Feta Cheese Salad


Simple Beef Stew

Butternut Squash Soup (Fall)

Butternut Squash, Apple, and Vadouvan Soup

Drip-Filtered Consomme

Reading Between the Lines

Gazpacho (Summer)

Reading Between the Lines

Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot's Sweet Corn and Miso Soup

White Bean and Garlic Soup (Winter)

Reading Between the Lines

Sauces and Marinades

Bechamel Sauce (White Sauce)

Foamed Scrambled Eggs


Simple Greek-Style Marinade

Simple Japanese-Style Marinade

Soy Ginger Marinade

Veloute Sauce

Simple White Wine and Cheese Sauce


48-Hour Brisket

Beef Steak Tips

Butterflied Chicken, Broiled and Roasted

Simple Cheeseburger

Duck Confit Sugo

Duck Confit

Lemony Quinoa and Asparagus with Shrimp Scampi

Mac 'n Cheese

Oven-Cooked Barbeque Ribs

Pork Chops Stuffed with Cheddar Cheese and Poblano Peppers

Rice Congee

Salmon Poached in Olive Oil

Salt-Roasted Fish

Seared Scallops

Simple Seared Steak

Seared Tuna with Cumin and Salt

Slow-Cooked Short Ribs


30-Second Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Port Cake

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake

Pumpkin Cake

Candied Orange Rind

Caramelized White Chocolate

Caramel Sauce

Chocolate Almond Bars

Baking Soda

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Panna Cotta

A Mean Chocolate Chip Cookie

Gingerbread Cookies

Meringue Cookies

Reading Between the Lines

Quinn's Creme Brulee

The Best Tool in the Kitchen?

French and Italian Meringue

Simple Ginger Syrup

356degF / 180degC: Sugar Begins to Caramelize Visibly

Cocoa-Goldschlager Ice Cream

S'mores Ice Cream

French and Italian Meringue

Lemon Meringue Pie

Pear Sorbet

Simple Pie Dough

Poached Pears in Red Wine

Strawberry or Raspberry Souffle

Michael Chu's Tiramisu

Zabaglione (Sabayon))

Components & Ingredients

Green Olives

Simple Lime Marmalade

Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella spheres

Preserved Lemons


Sugar Swizzle Sticks

Vanilla Extract

Basic White Stock


List of Interviews

Brian Wansink on Cooking Styles

Lydia Walshin on Learning to Cook

Adam Savage on Scientific Testing

Buck Raper on Knives

Adam Ried on Equipment and Recipes

Jim Clarke on Beverage Pairings

Gail Vance Civille on Taste and Smell

Virginia Utermohlen on Taste Sensitivity

Xeni Jardin on Local Food

Harold McGee on Solving Food Mysteries

Doug Powell on Food Safety

Michael Laiskonis on Pastry Chefs

Martin Lersch on Chemistry in the Kitchen

Jeff Varasano on Pizza

David Lebovitz on American Cooking

Herve This on Molecular Gastronomy

Linda Anctil on Inspiration

Ann Barrett on Texture

Douglas Baldwin on Sous Vide

Dave Arnold on Industrial Hardware

Nathan Myhrvold on Modernist Cuisine


Hackers, makers, programmers, engineers, nerds, techies--what we'll call "geeks" for the rest of the book (deal with it)--we're a creative lot who don't like to be told what to do. We'd rather be handed a box full of toys or random electronic components, or yarn, or whatever, and let loose to play.

But something happens to some geeks when handed a box full of spatulas, whisks, and sugar. Lockup. Fear. Foreign feelings associated with public speaking, or worse, coulrophobia. If you're this type, this book is for you.

Then there's another type of geek: the uber-nerd, who's unafraid to try anything...maybe a bit too unafraid, but hasn't had that Darwin Award moment (yet). The type of geek who is either "all on or all off," who addresses every aspect of the perfect cup of coffee, down to measuring the pressure with which the grinds are tamped into the espresso machine's portafilter. This kind of geek is always on the search for the next bit of knowledge. If you're this type, this book will inspire you.

And then there's everyone else: the everyday geek, normal, inquisitive, and looking to have more fun in the kitchen. Maybe you're comfortable in the kitchen and would like new ideas, or perhaps you're not quite sure where to start but are ready to give it a go. This book will show you easy ways of trying new things.

Regardless of which type of geek you are, as long as you have "the courage of your convictions" to pick up the spatula and try, you'll do fine. The goal of this book is to point out new ways of thinking about the tools in that box full of kitchen gear.

Of course, I have plenty of tips and secrets to share ("spill the beans," as they say), so I hope you'll buy this book and take it home with you. Scribble notes in the margins about bits that you like (or just star--upvote?--those paragraphs). Write in questions on things that leave you perplexed or wondering. Learning to cook is about curiosity, learning to ask questions, and figuring out how to answer those questions.

When you're done with the book, pass it along to a friend (although my publisher would rather you buy that friend a new copy!). If you've received this book from a friend, I hope it's because they think you'll enjoy it and not because your cooking is lousy. Cooking is about community, and sharing knowledge and food is one of the best ways to build community.

If you're the (N+1)th person to have received this book--if it's dog-eared, worn, and beat up, and by the time you're done with it there aren't any more spots left to write comments in the margins--then I have a favor to ask of you: send me the marked-up book when you're done. In return, I'll send you back something random (possibly only pseudorandom). See the book's companion website for information on how to do this:

How to Use This Book

This book is designed for use in a couple of different ways.

If you want to "just cook," flip to the recipe index, pick a recipe, and skip straight to that page. The surrounding text will explain some aspects of the science behind the recipe. While the recipes in this book are chosen to complement and provide examples of the science, they're also recipes that are fantastic in and of themselves. Most of the recipes are for single components--say, beef short ribs--without accompanying sides. This allows the various components of a meal to be covered in appropriate science sections, and also keeps each recipe short and easy.

If you're more interested in curling up with a cup of $favoriteBeverage, pick a chapter based on your interests and tuck in.

The first portion of this book covers topics you should think about before turning on the oven: how to approach the kitchen and how to think about taste and smell. The middle portion covers key variables in cooking (time and temperature) and baking (air), as well as some secondary variables. The final two chapters address some of the more creative things you can do in the kitchen, either with "software" (chemicals) or "hardware" (blowtorches!). Recipes and experiments are sprinkled throughout the book, along with interviews of scientists, researchers, chefs, and food bloggers. Here's a taste of what you'll find in this book:

Chapter 1

What does success in the kitchen mean? How do you pick a recipe, and then how do you interpret it correctly? This chapter considers these questions and also touches briefly on nutrition (really, the all-pizza diet has got to go).

Chapter 2

This chapter covers the basic must-haves, but it is ultimately up to you to experiment, adapt, and modify these suggestions to fit your needs and tastes. Use common sense. In addition to the essentials, this chapter also touches on storage tips, kitchen organization tricks, and things to keep in mind if you're new to cooking.

Chapter 3

This chapter explains the physiology of taste and smell and shows how to improve your understanding of flavor combinations, giving ideas on how to stir up new ideas.

Chapter 4

This chapter explains the chemical reactions that occur when heating foods, so that you'll know what to look for when cooking. We start with a discussion of heat, looking at the differences between various ways of cooking, how the temperature choice impacts the outcome, and what chemical reactions are taking place. The rest of the chapter then examines a range of temperatures, starting with the coldest and ending with the hottest, discussing the importance of each temperature point and giving example recipes.

Chapter 5

This chapter takes a brief look at gluten and then examines baking's key variable, air. It covers the three primary methods of generating air--mechanical, chemical, and biological--giving common techniques for creating air and notes on how to work with the associated ingredients.

Chapter 6

This chapter takes a look at cooking techniques that use food additives, both traditional and modern. Some recent culinary techniques, falling under the genre termed molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine, rely on chemicals. Some of these chemical-based techniques are covered in the second portion of this chapter. Even if you're not the type who wants to use food additives, understanding the chemistry and purposes of various food additives makes recovering from kitchen errors quicker and decoding ingredient lists at the grocery store easier.

Chapter 7

Here we cover some of the commercial and industrial tools used in preparing foods, such as sous vide, and throw in a few, uh, "crazy" (and fun!) things that one can do in the kitchen as well. Modern commercial kitchens, most likely including the high-end ones in your area, use a variety of tools that consumers rarely encounter but that can help create some absolutely stellar meals.

As is so often the case with science, what we don't know about cooking seems to be increasing at a faster rate than what we do know. And then there's the difference between theory and practice (in theory, they should be the same; in practice, hahaha). One research paper will find that myosin (a protein in muscle) denatures in fish at 104degF / 40degC, while another reports 107degF / 41.7degC, and yet another at an entirely different temperature. Maybe it's the type of fish that matters (lean versus fatty does make a difference), or maybe it's just that fish. Biology does not confine itself to simple models, so when you're trying to combine the various pieces of information into a uniform picture, some discrepancy is unavoidable.

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Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconNutraceuticals, nutrigenomics, Public Health Nutrition, Clinical and Therapeutic Nutrition, Institutional Food Administration, Food Science, Food Safety, Food Toxicology and Quality Control

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconMaster of science department of Food Science University of Manitoba Winnipeg © 2009 by Blanca Gómez Guerrero

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconJim collins good to Great
Почему одни компании совершают прорыв, а другие нет джим коллинз от хорошего к великому
Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconDepartment of Food Science

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconIntroduction to Food Science and Technology

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconOutline of Introduction to Food Science and Technology

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconDepartment of food science and technology handbook

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconFood science mock apple pie sensory lab

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconA Welcome to Food Science Theory Session 2006/7 Semester autumn Details of the Staff teaching team

Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food iconPredoctoral Research Assistant: Agricultural University of Athens, Department of Food Science and Technology, Athens, Greece. (1988-1991 & 1992-1993)

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