Monday 24 July 2017

Why Cooking Is A Science?

 (Not your cliché add yeast to the dough kind of science)

Cooking has always been a fascination of mine since I was about 11. Back then, all I knew was instant noodles and sunny side ups… I recalled making a “special soup” with an exotic ingredient… SUPER RINGS! Alah you know, that ring-shaped, artificial cheese flavored childhood snack that would smother your fingers with orange hued powder… (you’re eating it wrong if you don't lick your fingers afterward).

What would a naïve mind associate something with deliciousness after all? Chickadees of course! The broth simmered with colors that looked as if it were contaminated with an oil slick. But my parents tested it with a twisted grin…

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Eating is a necessity, but cooking is an art. Over the years, my passion bloom. With every mirepoix that had been sautéed to perfection, to every three sekawan that had been 'tumis' till 'pecah minyak,' I owe it all to my family, especially the sous chef of the household, my skillful grandmother. She could tell apart 'gulai kampung' from 'gulai Mamak'! My parents, thankfully, never thought of my expenditure on foods as a waste, but an investment of some sort… and that's how parents should be. Nurture your child(ren) in their mold!

Below are Makwan’s cooking tips and hacks:

1.    If a soup or stew was made salty, simply add cuts of potatoes.
2.    Too spicy? Add sugar.
3.    Tumis your sambal with a teaspoon of sugar results with a sweeter and glossier finish.
4.    Onions = sweetness
5.    Out on the bazaar and can't choose Tepung Pelita? Pick the ones with less shiny/matte surface.
6.    Add salt as you ‘menumbuk dalam lesung'.

7.    Slice your meats against the grains.
8.    Wants your beef to tender ASAP? Add a metal spoon… (?!)
9.   Can’t keep up with bruising apples? Sprinkle salt on the cut surface(es). *Also works with lemon juice.
10.    Remove the odor of shellfish and seafood or even chicken with tamarind paste (asam jawa) or flour.
11.    Sear your chicken!
12.    Use freshly squeezed 'santan' or coconut milk for your rendang.
13.    Know your oils!

Now, on what purpose do I share this tips and tricks? 

Ahhh (French accent)…of course, this has something BIG to do with the title of this piece of writing.

You see, here are the reasons as to why these are done through the lens of science!

1.    Boiling starches such as potatoes absorb salt very well. Which is why adding chunks of potatoes to a salty stew or soup or even Rendang perhaps will lessen the apparent saltiness of the dish.

2.    Adding sugar or cinnamon to spicy foods helps tone down the spiciness

3.    Onion contains sugars when raw, but they are pretty much indigestible and tasteless. 

4.    With caramelization, complex sugars in onion split into simpler ones, which are the ones we can taste, by the action of heat. Therefore, fried onion tastes sweeter, and so does tomato, etc.
When sugar cane crops are ready to be harvested, dry leaves are burnt in situ to increase the yield of sucrose by the same effect: a fraction of the existing complex sugars are turned into sucrose (saccharine).

5.    *just a tip to help you out next Ramadhan ;)

6.    By adding salt as you grind your mortar and pestle increases the friction, results in a faster and finer product. Often, a layer of cloth or rag is placed underneath the mortar to absorb the shock or friction. (so your tile or counter won't crack LoL). In physics, we apply this principle in reducing momentum. By adding something (such as cloth, or spring) that will elongate the time of impact, thus reducing the force of momentum.

(p=mass x velocity…if velocity decreases, so does the momentum)

This is also why we see cars with lengthy bumpers, which is to spare the lives of passenger(s) in the case of an accident. 

7.    By cutting the meat this way helps shorten the muscle fiber. Also, by cutting your meat into bite size pieces, you would also increase the surface area for reaction. Thus, making it react (cook) faster. 

8.    Fact or fiction? Ye to be debunked… Although in Cambodia, where the lack of anemia is a real epidemic that causes lethargy and many more disease, a small fish made of iron in cooking to dilute the iron or 'zat besi' into the dish as to provide sufficient and optimal nutrient intake. 

9.    When an apple is being cut or dropped, the cells are ruptured thus releasing enzymes that would react with air (oxygen) to produce melanin, a substance also found in the human body that makes up the colors of the complexion. This process is known as oxidation. By adding salt or acidic substances (that have lower PH levels) reverses the process, thus making the apple stay fresh... (in chemistry reverse oxidation is known as reduction).

10.    The Japanese deserve much respect in their food preparation. They are so meticulous and put hygiene at the paramount of importance. Even the guts of a Fugu, a blowfish (happens to be one of the deadliest yet an epitome of opulence in Japanese cuisine) will be rinsed and cut to pieces before finally being discarded. In most of the Japanese food preparation videos on YouTube like cooking with the dog and iron chef, they rinse their chicken meat and seafood in starch solution… this is because starch also possesses the property of absorbing the 'hanyir' and 'hamis'. As a substitute, you could also use lemon juice and salt.. unless you have a traditional Malay kitchen where 'asam jawa' or 'limau nipis' is a staple; you may use them instead!

11.    I recalled last year, as my grandmother attended a traditional Malay-styled wedding, she helped out in the kitchen to prepare Gulai Ayam, a traditional stew of chicken braised in coconut milk. She was furious as she saw the cook only drop the raw chicken cuts straight into the bubbling pot of 'kuah' Gulai. It is best to firstly sear the chicken along with the aromatics before finally adding water/coconut milk. This is to make the chicken more fragrant, -she said.

12.    Opt for freshly squeezed coconut milk instead of the ones sold in boxes or cartons..this is because the latter might not have more fat content.. this is essential as to make the rendang creamier and last longer. (if you want to make rendang, you might as well do it right!)

13.    Some people use olive oil to deep fry. This is improper as olive oil have a low-smoke point –which means they burn quickly (unlike palm or sunflower oil) thus, it is better to consume them as dressing on salad or for a light sauté. Besides, this Mediterranean oil is also savored for their sweetness.  There is also peanut oil (perfect for frying), sesame oil (seasoning in a majority of East Asian cuisine ), grape seed oil ( despite having a high smoke point, they are mainly used as dressing for their light and clean flavor ) coconut oil (moisturizer in cosmetics ) and much more!

In conclusion, never let it be said that cooking is not science! (This goes out the Middle Eastern lady that said “cooking is not science” to my mother at the science festival) Also, science is a way of thinking much more than it is the body of knowledge- Carl Sagan. So we should all appreciate science as a branch of understanding to make this world a better place.

Shared by Syafiq Zamri
Guest Blogger

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