On food and cooking…and alcohol

Harold McGee rocks. I always feel this way after delving into his On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. This time, it was a question about how much alcohol remains in a dish after cooking that sent me to the big red book. Of course it had the answer: about 5% of the alcohol used in a stew or other long-simmered dish is still there at the end, briefly cooked foods retain 10-50% and as much as 75% remains if you flambé.

But McGee writes about so much more. The molecular structure of alcohol. What fluorescent light does to bottled beer. The Chinese and Japanese approaches to brewing alcohol from rice. McGee’s explanations are scientific, yet approachable and appealing to the lay reader. In writing about the effect of Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, on wine grapes, he describes the resulting aroma compounds as “maple-sugar-like sotolon” and “mushroomy octenol.” Yum.

The chapter on wine, beer and distilled spirits is just one of 15; the rest are devoted to pretty much anything else you might care to consume. So, he’s an expert. McGee’s also a nice guy. I interviewed him once, years ago, and then met him at an International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. You can find him online, or in The New York Times, where he recently cited star bartenders Tony Conigliaro and Audrey Saunders in a piece about how water intensifies the aroma of cocktails and coffees. His new book, Keys to Good Cooking, is due out in October. I can’t wait to see where his curiosity took him this time.

Harold McGee, the Curious Cook (photo via Thor Swift for The New York Times)
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~ by fooddrinklife on September 9, 2010.

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