Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Food Lab

There are so many great food blogs out there.  It's easy to lose hours and hours reading the threads of different flavour profiles and then the great blogs that other great blogs love themselves.  My favourites usually have a focus on whole foods and fresh seasonal ingredients, often with a vegetarian bent, illustrating the type of food that I'd like to cook more often (alongside cuts of meat that have been lovingly braised for hours, don't get me wrong). Some of these are:

All complete with gorgeous photography, they are always a joy to scroll through.  But today, I want to share a blog that I think is even better than pretty photos and lovely recipes: The Food Lab.  Part of Serious Eats (which is a great online food resource in itself, especially if you live in the States as they have city-specific forums), The Food Lab is committed to "unravelling the mysteries of home cooking through science".

Screen shot of The Food Lab homepage

While J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is also the Chief Creative Officer at Serious Eats, on The Food Lab he creates all of his recipes from laboriously testing every element, with the home cook in mind.  He investigates simple foods like grilled cheese sandwiches and crispy smashed potatoes to more complex recipes like taco al pastor and traditional Vietnamese Pho (or the best Pho possible within an hour) providing evidence of what each key step of the recipe means for the resultant dish.  Recently, he has also opened up his blog to reader's questions on cooking and preparation techniques, which he answers by similarly  testing the theories through a clear scientific methodology.  For example, recently he's answered: "Can I start my pasta in cold water?" or "Do I need to preheat my oil?"

Understandably, not everyone is interested in the why or how or what (making Kenji's early "Get Recipe" links at the top of the page very convenient) but I love learning about the chemical processes and cause-and-effect of the techniques used in our every day cooking. Gaining this kind of deeper understanding about food is what I think makes me a better home cook, and probably the reason why I spend more time reading cookbooks than cooking recipes word-for-word out of them.  For me, it's not about doing what I'm told but figuring out the principles so I can tap into these when I'm cooking, often with whatever is lying around.

Knowledge is power!

And I hope you'll get as much out of The Food Lab as I do.  If not, Kenji's dogs may keep you amused:

From 'This Week at Serious Eats headquarters', photograph by Robyn Lee.

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