Exploratory Cooking, or, R&D

Cooking Laboratory

Ive pondered what might be missing from Food Nirvana besides recipes for a wider variety of foods. One possibility occurred to me and that was a section about exploratory cooking or research and development. Recipes under development or variations to cooking methods or use of alternative cooking equipment all qualify for consideration in a section like that. There may perhaps be other useful categories as well but that consideration belongs to the future. Thus this section was born in my imagination and now, due to an unexpected result in cooking French Fries and Hot Wings at camp, I am formally adding the first exploratory entries to Food Nirvana.

As I described above three likely categories for this section I am proceeding to title them now. Each time I make a new entry in this section I will cross reference it, if possible, with an earlier part of Food Nirvana for comparison purposes. Independent entries will be made as well within the overall heading "New Recipes and Research," outside this "Exploratory Cooking" section as appropriate to cover larger subjects. For example, there is already an independent research article and recipe for Perfect French Fries that is too large to be considered in this section.

Alternative Cooking Methods

Many months ago I wrote about pressure frying and vacuum frying in the "Equipment You Need" chapter of Food Nirvana, as commercial means to make juicy fried chicken and lightly and evenly colored crisp potato chips, respectively. Some months later I looked online for small vacuum pumps that might be used for an experimental home method for making the lightly colored crisp potato chips we typically buy. I found one likely candidate and saved the link to the web page, figuring that sometime in the future I might pursue the purchase and use of a vacuum pump for alternative cooking methods for the home chef.

This morning, August 17, 2012, I was refining my yet to be tried recipe for V-8 Vegetable Juice and I got an idea. Thus, the following material is about making a high quality tomato juice with optimized flavor. And yes, I ordered the pump online for a total cost, including shipping, of $104.

We know that overcooking things like delicate vegetables results in flavor changes that can be undesirable. At the least, overcooking to evaporate excess water will risk flavor changes. Why not consider low vacuum processing of the tomato juice during the "boiling and simmering" processes to reduce the volume of the mixture and thus concentrate the juice to make it most like commercial tomato juice, or even better? I am saying that commercial juice extractors that are most likely used by Campbells® in making tomato juice and V8® juice can be bypassed by introducing a low vacuum environment to cause boiling/liquid reduction to occur well below the normal boiling point of water.

The trick to this process is to create a pot and lid environment that will allow hookup of a vacuum line from the vacuum pump to the lid of the pot. I noticed that I have glass lids with small holes provided to allow steam to escape. I then realized quickly that I can insert a rubber gasketed sleeved tube from the underside of the lid to provide a hookup location for the vacuum line. I further realized that a soft and inert and heat resistant silicone gasket can be used between the lid and the pot to provide a viable vacuum seal.

I am now setting out to make/purchase the parts for the lid and the sealing gasket for the pot and lid. I figure I can cause boiling to occur at temperatures at or below 150 degrees F. That will be most impressive if I succeed, as extracting juice and evaporating excess water will happen easily and with essentially no flavor loss or modification whatever.

I will report back with my results and likely modifications and improvements. If my ideas are viable this alternative cooking method will be easy for anyone to use. This will be true because I will provide all the necessary information to create what I use for your kitchen.


Recipes Under Development

French Fries Fried at Low Frying Temperatures:

The recipes provided earlier in Food Nirvana for making French Fries or Batter Dipped French Fries call for the use of peanut oil for frying and a frying temperature between 350F and 365F. The question is, what happens if we make French Fries at lower frying temperatures, in the range of 250F to 330F? I have always been told that the fries would come out greasy and not crisp. I even read that in The Joy of Cooking© and that is why I never considered frying at lower temperatures. Why the large temperature range? The reason is that frying too many potato pieces at one time for a given amount of oil causes chilling of the oil, such that a starting temperature of 365 F will fairly rapidly drop to the range of 250F before stabilizing. Then it is a long slow climb to get the oil temperature back to about 325F.

The first thing I want to note is that the fries I made using oil in the range of 365 F that dropped all the way down to 250F were delightfully crisp and certainly not greasy or oily. This was quite a revelation to me. Second, the frying time was vastly increased compared to frying in the temperature range given in the other recipes in this book. Third, I found that during the frying it was easy to tell when the fries were done enough to be removed and cooled prior to the second and final frying.

Janet and I thoroughly enjoyed the French Fries done via the lower frying temperatures as they were crisp and done very well. We found that the control provided to the cook regarding doneness was far more important than the speed of frying achieved by using higher oil temperatures. Thus, in the future we will start the oil temperature at 365F but we will put enough potato pieces into that oil to cause the oil temperature to drop to 300F or less.

I recommend you try this cooking method variation to decide what you like best.


Fried Chicken Wings for Hot Wings Using Pre-cooking on a Gas Grill:

The experiences noted in making French Fries at lower than normal oil temperature above were related to this cooking method variation for Chicken Wings destined to become Hot Wings. The idea is that we had too little oil to make the wing batches very large, to keep the oil temperature fairly high, in the range of 350F to 365F. I didnt want to delay dinner so I decided to pre-cook the wings on/in a gas grill, so that the later frying only had to make the wings crisp on the outside.

The procedure worked very well indeed. The gas grill was on a medium temperature and I turned the wings three different times in the span of about fifteen minutes and then removed them from the grill. Soon after the oil was up to temperature and I did the wings in two batches and I didnt care that the oil temperature dropped from 365 F down to 260F. The exterior of the wings was crisp after ten minutes, while the interior remained quite moist and tender yet properly cooked. But I did wait for the oil to return to 365F before starting the frying of the second and final batch of wings.

I am considering using this method exclusively going forward in time because the interior of the wings was better, more tender and juicy, than what I normally obtain with high temperature frying.





Alternative Cooking Equipment