Friday, December 11, 2009

12 'Beer' Books for Christmas, #11: How to Read a French Fry

The 11th Book for Christmas

How to Read A French Fry
How To Read a French Fry and Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science
Russ Parsons
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, USA: 2001

At its heart, making beer begins with cooking: kilning sprouted grains, then stewing them and boiling their juice. Understanding the science of cooking —the chemical reactions that occur— is essential for success for both professional chef and brewer.

If you were a pro, you'd be studying scientific sources. If you're not, reading How to Read A French Fry by Russ Parsons —the food editor and columnist of the Los Angeles Times— would be an enjoyable introduction to some of that science.

This is not a textbook; it's a short non-technical overview to the principles of various methods of cooking food. Parsons provides recipes to accompany each. (Try the recipe for Butternut Squash Puree. I'd never thought of using vinegar with the gourd.)

Why the title?
Everyone loves deep-fried foods, as a glance at any fast-food menu will prove. Yet most people would sooner tune their own car or perform minor surgery on a family member before they would try to fry in their own kitchen. <...> Perhaps no other type of cooking involves quite as many variables or requires as many decisions on the part of the cook.

If an aspiring brewer, you might want to turn to page 229 where Parsons writes about the Maillard reaction. The browning of food is one of the more important flavor developments when barley is kilned, and there's a lot of science involved. Parsons, of course, talks about this not in relation to beer, but to solid food.

Although browning bears some resemblance to both burning and caramelization, it's neither. It's actually more closely related to what happens when bread bakes than to anything else <...> attributed to something called the Maillard reaction, named after the nineteenth-century French scientist Louis-Camille Maillard. He found out that the brown of roasted meat and the brown of the crust of bread are both due to a chemical reaction that occurs when you heat amino acids and sugars.


This is the second in a a series of 12 recommendations for beer-themed books —one per day, until the Winter Solstice, 21 December.

This is not a Top 12 list. It's my list of 12 books, personal delights. On Christmas Day: put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Better yet: give a friend the gift of a beer and a book.

12 'Beer' Books For Christmas: the entire list here.

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