Book Club – Oct 8th, 2009 Edition

This is a guest post by Naveen Sinha. Also present: Mac Cowell, Steve Hershman, and Ozge Guzelsu.

The meal this evening explored the full temperature range available with modern cooking methods: 900 F down to -321 F.

High (900 F): Flat crust pizza, final version: At a previous Book Club event, the glass on the oven door was missing due to a previous attempt to “over-clock” the oven to 900 F (see previous post). We improvised that time using two cast iron skillets on the stove, with decent results (note: non-stick pans can off-gas at much lower temperatures, around 450 F). This time, with a new Pyro-Cream fortified shield, we were able to make a proper pizza. The high temperature solidifies the dough on the surface in about a minute, leading to a thin curst with a slightly chewy interior. On a related note, the dough is made from Jeff Vasano’s recipe, which is given by weight, not volume. Some simple experiments showed that the difference in mass of one cup versus another cup of flour can differ by up to 30%!

Low (-321 F): LN2 + Seared Tuna: At the other end of the temperature spectrum was the liquid nitrogen used to prepare the tuna. Unless you’re getting something like sashimi grade fish, it should be kept in the freezer for several days to kill any parasites. However, this process can be sped up enormously by taking it down to -196 C (-321 F). As a simple mnemonic for the conditions that affect foodborne pathogens, remember FAT TOM: Food, Acidity, Temperature, Time, Oxygen, and Moisture. I’m starting to worry about leaving my lunch in the “danger zone” (40 °F to 140 °F) for several hours every weekday. [2 to 4 hours is considered safe for bacteria levels; note that some species of fish, when undercooked, has the additional concern of parasitic infection. -Jeff]

Middle (410 F): Tofu and Steak, roasted: Many recipes are a balance between temperature and time. The objective is to heat the center to the desired temperature without over-cooking the exterior. Sous vide cooking takes one approach by holding the food at the target temperature for a long period of time, which can lead to perfectly-cooked steaks when done correctly. The other, more common approach, is to heat the oven above the target temperature and take the food out as soon as the interior reaches (or is slightly below) the desired done-ness. The time-temperature curves can be found in several books, but Jeff wanted to verify this with actual experiments. We were happy to eat the results, as seen in the photos.

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