To food fanatics, the name Harold McGee tends to elicit fawning admiration. This for a man whose book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is usually considered the Holy Grail for innumerable restaurant chefs and home cooks who really want to get into the subject of where food comes from, what it is made of...I mean exactly what it is made of...and why it behaves the way it does when cooked. The whole sous vide/molecular gastronomy fad? It probably wouldn't exist if not for McGee. If FoodTV's Alton Brown is considered the irreverent teacher/scientist/prankster of the genre, then McGee would rightly be considered the Dean of Food University. His blog Curious Cook, and his regular NYT column of the same name, explores some of this territory in a, well, more user friendly way than in his in depth, sometimes exhausting book.
In Wednesday's NY Times he wrote a fascinating column on heat in the kitchen that touches on how heat works, cooks food, wastes energy, flavors food, etc. Every home cook should read this, as it is as fascinating as it is informative. Who would think to pre-soak dry pasta, turn steaks on the grill more often, because "steaks and chops cook more evenly on high grill heat — and faster as well — if you become a human rotisserie and turn them not once or twice but as often as you can stand to, even dozens of times, every 15 or 30 seconds." Or that most cooks are "...often aiming a fire hose of heat at targets that can only absorb a slow trickle, and that will be ruined if they absorb a drop too much." Every home chef will learn something from this short essay, and most likely come away a better cook for it.
image from New York Times