Modernist Cooking

Former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold has food down to a science. Modernist cooking, AKA Molecular gastronomy, gets down to the nitty gritty of cooking techniques and ingredients via scientific measurements. Click here for recipes. Food By: Anjana Shanker and Maxime Bilet

The Science of Making Food

Photo: Scott Heimendinger

The Science of Making Food

On the occasion of this magazine’s birthday, we asked Nathan Myhrvold’s modernist-cooking crew to dream up some dishes using their lab-nerd techniques and awesome machines. Myhrvold, with his five-volume Modernist Cuisine cookbook (and, this fall, a book for home cooks), has done more than anyone to document the modernist school of chefs that includes Ferran Adrià and Wylie Dufresne. He and his collaborators are serious, flavor-focused cooks, not tricksters, pulling the essences out of pure ingredients. The food is vibrant and inherently healthy, with small portions delivering a big payoff.

Precise Temperature Control

Photo: Scott Heimendinger

Precise Temperature Control

Low-Temperature Cured Halibut, Pistachio & Spring Garlic Emulsion 

Cooking fish at a precise, low temperature works wonders. Fish is routinely cooked to a much higher temperature than necessary, causing the flesh to dry out and fish oils to oxidize and produce unpleasant fishy aromas. Here, we have cooked the fish sous vide in a water bath to a core temperature of just 113°F.

First, however, we quick-cure the halibut with a salt-sugar rub, which helps to preserve the juicy firmess of the fish. For the sauce, we make a sake reduction and then add a bit of beautiful green pistachio paste to add layers of flavor and a creamy mouthfeel. Any bright-green herb or lettuce with some acidity adds a delightful contrast of color and flavor to the pearly white of the fish and the light green of the sauce.

Monitoring Chemical and Physical Reactions of Food

Photo: Scott Heimendinger

Monitor Chemical and Physical Reactions of Food

Cryo Shucked Shigoku Oyster, Sunchoke Cream, Rose Hip Lemon Jelly, & Picked Rose Petals

When a whole oyster is immersed in liquid nitrogen, something amazing happens. The ultracold nitrogen flash-freezes the adductor muscle, which then releases as it quickly thaws. Shucking becomes a breeze and leaves the texture and shape of the oyster pristine and beautiful.

For this dish, we wanted to accentuate the natural essence of the Shigoku oysters. The sunchoke oyster cream—a dairy-free emulsion—gives a  satisfying depth to the nutty brininess of the oysters. The pickled rose petals and rose-hip jelly add the top notes and the sharp acidity to create a very satisfying bite.

Experiment with Different Flavor Combinations

Photo: Scott Heimendinger

Experiment with Different Flavor Combinations

Cherry Tomato & Cherry Salad, Parsnip Vanilla Pudding & Lemongrass

We love to explore new flavor combinations that may sound strange but actually make a lot of sense as soon as you taste them together. The sweet and savory qualities of this cherry and cherry tomato salad remind me of some of my favorite elements of Southeast Asian food, yet it feels Italian or French in its composition.

If you look very closely at the picture of this salad, you can see the thin veil over the dish, which is gelatinized tomato water. Making a gel of this kind is not as difficult as you might think, and the technique opens the door to a lot of fun textures.

The tomato water in the gel is made by cold infusion, which is yet another powerful but straightforward technique—basically, steeping herbs in chilled tomato water for several hours. This approach extracts the delicate top notes and avoids cooking them off, so that the veil tastes vibrantly of tomatoes and the aromatics.

Enlighten All Senses with Flavor, Smell, Texture, and Look

Photo: Scott Heimendinger

Enlighten the Senses with Flavor, Smell, Texture, and Look

Vegetable Ravioli, Pressure Caramelized Allium Broth & Lemon Oil

There is something magical about making a dish look like a piece of art. The diner may be reluctant to even touch the food, but once the tasting begins, the flavors, aromas, and textures combine with the aesthetic to create a complete experience of food.

This vegetable ravioli dish looks snazzy but doesn’t require a crew to prepare. The wrappers are made from very thin cross sections of beet, rutabaga, celery root, and turnip, which we then steam. What vegetable you choose for the wrappers, as well as for the fillings, can shift with the seasons.

The ravioli sit in an allium broth of leeks, onions, garlic, and shallots, which we pressure-cook in canning jars until they brown. This pressure-extraction technique allows us to obtain a concentrated jus with much less water than used by the conventional methods.

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