Cookbook Review: The Food Lab

I’ll admit it, I’m a cookbook addict. I prefer books that address a particular regional food, cooking technique, or go in depth on a type of ingredient. I’ve got a huge stack of cookbooks in my library. Some of them have been read, while others are waiting to be read.

One cookbook that I’ve read and that I go back to regularly is The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. The book is an offshoot of the column that Lopez-Alt writes for SeriousEats.com called, unsurprisingly, The Food Lab.

In the column and the book, Lopez-Alt puts recipes and cooking techniques under scientific testing, to determine what actually works and what doesn’t. Each section of the book discusses his testing methodology and results in detail, and is followed by one or more recipes.

The intro sections are absolute gold, and I recommend reading every word for those that want to improve their cooking techniques.

I’ve also tried a number of his recipes, and I’ve yet to find one from the book that I didn’t love. (Note: I did find one recipe of his online for sous vide beef that grossly overcooked the meat. I should have read the comments before trying it.)

Here are a handful of the things I’ve learned from The Food Lab:

1. That letting a steak come up to room temperature before grilling makes no appreciable difference in the amount of time a steak must be cooked. It was literally seconds.

2. That you should use the reverse sear method to cook your steaks. I’ve since seen this idea gaining popularity, and while I’m not convinced it’s worth changing my steak grilling processes, it does seem to work.

3. That soups and the like should be cooked in the oven, not the stove. Use an over safe soup pot that fits in your oven, set yet oven to 225 degrees F, and place the soup in the oven with a lid slightly ajar. This way, instead of over heating the bottom of the pot, while under heating the top, the soup is surrounded with an even amount of heat, and stays at a perfect 180 degree F simmer.

4. The Umami Bomb. Oh my, I use this in so many restaurants. The idea is to take small amounts of three umami ingredients (soy sauce, anchovies and marmite) and add it to recipes that would benefit from additional umami. The individual additions should be small enough that you can’t taste the ingredients, but the umami flavor triggers have an addictive effect. It just makes things like soups, pan sauces, and casseroles taste more “meaty”.

If you haven’t read The Food Lab, go get it and place it on the top of your “to be read” stack. It’s a big read, but absolutely worth the time investment.

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