I’m the kind of person who really likes to understand why, especially when cooking. If you tell me something like “lettuce doesn’t turn brown when you cut it with a plastic knife” I will probably ask you about the science behind it. It’s just the way I am.
One day in high school, I was at a friend’s house and she had to cook something for Spanish class. I don’t remember what it was, but I know that we had to dice an onion and that there was oil involved.
For some reason my friends wanted to get rid of the hot oil we had in the pan and someone suggested adding water. I had no idea why we shouldn’t do that, just that my parents had warned me against it.
Well, someone did it anyway. In case you are like me and don’t know what happens when you add water to hot oil, it explodes. Essentially in your face. It didn’t catch on fire or anything, but it popped in a fairly terrifying way.
Next time someone asks me why they shouldn’t put water in their hot oil, I will definitely have a good answer for them.
One of my favorite food-sciencey books is Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher. If you’ve ever seen Good Eats, you know the author as the food scientist host Alton Brown invites onto the show. And if you have never seen Good Eats, I definitely recommend it. Alton Brown is pretty hacky, including making a smoker out of flower pots. One of the things that stuck with me most about the book is her discussion of flour in various parts of the country–apparently it’s different. Who knew?
Other cooking-science books I have read or want to read:
Bakewise also by Shirley O. Corriher
What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter