Put simply, molecular cooking is a culinary technique combining the knowledge of scientific chemicals with food ingredients to create various versions of foods or cuisine. For example, chefs have been known to create foams or powders that taste like foie gras, peanut butter or marshmallows by using molecular techniques and equipment.
Because there are so many things you can do with molecular cooking, it can get very complicated. But for the beginning molecular gastronomist, molecular cooking kits can teach you a few simple techniques that you can master and then use to wow your family and friends with your sophisticated culinary skills. To get started, read a few books about molecular cooking.
Three excellent molecular cooking books are:
The first two books begin with a general scientific knowledge of food and cooking and then later dive into chemical additives. Both books work on the premise that you must first have a sufficient scientific knowledge of cooking before you can begin using chemicals.
Molecular gastronomy dynamo Grant Achatz's cookbook Alinea boasts 600 recipes from his Chicago restaurant Alinea, each scaled down for the home cook. Although the recipes may look complicated, if you follow them step-by-step you will have impressive results. Also, Alinea is the perfect book to become familiar with the ingredients, equipment and technology of molecular cooking.
Once you have done some reading and are ready to try your own molecular cooking, order a complete beginner's kit with all the necessary ingredients and equipment. One of the best kits available is ThinkGeek's Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit, which has all of the basic ingredients you will need to create amazing foams, powders and gels, along with some basic equipment and, of course, recipes to get you started.
The equipment for molecular gastronomy is reusable, so the next time you want to try new recipes, all you will have to do is purchase new ingredients, which can be bought at select health food stores, well-stocked specialty food stores, or online. Willpowder.com is a great resource for chemicals from molecular gastronomy super chef Will Goldfarb. Simply doing some research online will yield many more results.
As far as new recipes, your best bet is a comprehensive book such as those listed above. In addition to instructions, molecular cooking books will give you helpful hints and elaborate on molecular gastronomy ingredients and equipment. To further aid you in your molecular cooking endeavors, many kits and books have step-by-step and finished product photos.
Molecular cooking is not just about taste, but also about presentation of your final product. Molecular gastronomy entails trial and error, so don't get discouraged if you need a few tries to get the techniques, taste and presentation just right. The most important point is to have fun with this interesting style of cooking and enjoy whatever results you get.
As a beginner, using molecular gastronomy techniques are fairly safe, although caution should be used whenever you are cooking in the kitchen and especially when using ingredients and techniques with which you are unfamiliar. As you learn and advance, exercise extreme caution whenever cooking with chemicals, heat and new equipment. Read all directions and, if possible, even consult an expert on safe techniques and how to handle everything properly. Cooking is a pleasure and using molecular gastronomy makes it even more so, but you want to be sure to practice molecular cooking techniques in a safe way.
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