Today’s post comes with an ulterior motive, I’ll confess. It’s easily the smallest Culinary Compendium post we’ve had on the site. But I’m hoping that, by confronting and cataloguing these terms, I can personally improve myself.
As you may have read in that Frenchman’s post on Monday, the chocolate mousse we intended for Valentine’s Day didn’t go quite right. Why? Because I, personally, forgot what a word meant. See, I’ve made that chocolate mousse recipe quite a few times. At least 6 or 7. And given how simple it is, that means it FELT like I had it down pat. But, well, an unused mind rusts. I haven’t made the stuff since I moved back home, which is 3 months before the site was born. So well over 2 years now. Heck, thinking how long it had been before I moved since I made it, I probably haven’t made that recipe in over 3 years. So, when I glanced at the recipe and saw “chill for several hours”…I made a mistake.
At the time, I thought “Does ‘chill’ mean the freezer, or the refrigerator?” And I decided to trust my instincts. When I checked my instincts, I heard only angry screeches reverberating through my mind, as if from some great flying beast startled from its nest. Apparently, this situation was so distracting, I completely failed to hear EVERYONE IN THE ROOM say “just pop those in the fridge, and we’ll check them out later.” Fleeing the exposing kitchen window, I rushed downstairs, where hopefully the mind bird couldn’t find me, and dropped the mousse off in the freezer.
You will not escape me for long, host.
Now, as we noted in the post, this isn’t a hugely great loss: as the ice crystals cut the air pockets, our mousse became, in essence, a frozen chocolate custard. As such, I swore, I would spend a post elucidating the varying kinds of coldness, and their relevant uses, found in cuisine…which turns out to be not much, without veering into the absurd. SO, let’s have a quick day, hammer this thing out, and I can do the mental work necessary to figure out why my mind appears to be infested with flamboyant pteranodons .
1. (v) To COOL in areas with lower than ambient temperatures, e.g. a cooler with ice, or a refrigerator.
2. Distinct from FREEZE due to the physio-chemical reactions implicit in the latter, JON.
3. (adj) just, like, you know, a cool thing, but, MORE cool. You know? Like, sure, Mike’s a cool dude, but Jesse is CHILL, you feel me?
Dude, what DAY is it?
1. (v) to render below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so that the water in the product freezes into ice, preserving the components of the dish, and rendering them solid.
2. PHYSIO-CHEMICAL EFFECTS OF ~: So, why do you only chill some foods and freeze others? What harm does freezing do? The answer is: quite a bit, on the microscopic level. See, water expands when it’s freezing, while also becoming more rigid. This creates, well, obviously, ruptures: cell walls try and harden, and then get forced apart by the expanding ice. Further, ice, depending on how it forms, can build sharp edges, inflicting microscopic tears. An easy way to see this would be to pat a steak dry, and freeze it, then thaw it on a plate in your fridge. The resulting puddle of water didn’t magically appear: it’s moisture from the steak leaking out.
This is also why most foods not intentionally designed and calibrated to BE frozen end up with a somewhat mealy texture when thawed. At the industrial scale, companies have access to chemicals and procedures that home cooks don’t that let them make the process less damaging. (dousing foods with liquid nitrogen, for instance, which, with its -300 degree temp, causes food to ‘flash-freeze’, solidifying before crystals can form)
Let's be clear: I was only ever going to make one joke about "Flash-frozen".
1. (v) allow a food which has been raised above room temperature to reduce to a more natural state.
2. This is typically done to maintain consistency. For example, I recently made turkey burgers with sautéed chopped mushrooms mixed into them. But, before the two could be combined, the mushrooms had to be allowed to cool, because otherwise, they would A: really suck to mix together by hand, and B, they would start affecting the turkey’s composition, slightly cooking the meat, or melting the fat.
1. (v) to place in the refrigerator. Duh.
2. REFRIGERATOR: (n) a device that maintains food at a temperature around 38 degrees, which is low enough to kill most bacteria and maintain freshness, but high enough to (preferably) NOT freeze foods, with the resulting loss of quality.
Also called a “Fridge”, which is a weird example of a word GAINING letters when abbreviated, since there is no d in refrigerator. (Interestingly, the word was “frig” when first used, but it developed into ‘fridge’ over time, mainly around the 1920’s-30’s. Etymologists assume this either from it simply feeling more correct (since it rhymes with “bridge” and not “pig”) or maybe as a result of the popular Frigidaire brand creating an implicit D.)
Did somebody ask for an implicit D?
Teens, you know what I'm talking about!
Wait.Was it weird that I talked to the teens there? I mean, they're the emoticon wizards, but...You know what? let's move on.
1. (n) a temperature roughly equal to that of the ambient air, typically (in a modern home) sitting between 58 and 79 degrees.
2. Room temp is useful for foods you want in, well, natural states. As noted, cold causes food to tense and firm up, while heat generally causes them to either harden (typically by activating protein structures for crisping) or melt. In some cases, the differences between starting a food cold and starting it at room temp can be very palpable, particularly in proteins such as eggs or steak. This is why there is such a wide range on opinions whether steaks should be allowed to come to room temp before cooking: depending on how you cook your steak, a different starting temp may produce different results.
And there we go, a basic breakdown of the brisk temps of cooling cuisine! Hopefully helped you as much as it will hopefully help me. That's a lotta hope right there, so maybe we can just solemnly nod our heads, and pray we don't screw it up next time.
MONDAY: JON SHOWS YOU HOW TO PUT TOGETHER AN IMPRESSIVE DINNER FROM MOSTLY ALREADY MADE PARTS, BECAUSE WE ALL BLEW OUR MONEY ON VALENTINE’S, SO IT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT FOR A WHILE.
THURSDAY: YOU DON’T KNOW JACK ABOUT THIS NEW FRUIT JON FOUND IN THE MOUNTAINS. WE TACKLE THE GIANT SPIKE BALL JACKFRUIT.