I absolutely loved this book, Cooked, by Michael Pollan. Of course, it's Michael Pollan, it's about food, of course it's going to be good, but just like most other Pollan books, I learned a whole bundle. There's something about breaking cooking down to chemical reactions that makes what you need to do so much more clear. I'm definitely going to have to incorporate some of his chemical explainations into our homeschooling, but for now I'm just going to share some of the things I've learned.
1.) Season your meat at least 8 hours before....or don't even bother. Salt pulls water out of meat, so when you put it on right before you brown it, the meat will become dry, hard, and chewy. However, when you season it early, with generous amounts of salt, the water is pulled out of the meat but then begins to dissolve the salt, and the meat pulls the water and salt back in. The salt and water continue to work on the inside, helping to break down the muscle and pull out flavor. I will never forget one of the times we went to Boi Na Braza, which serves Brazilian style meats on skewers, big cuts which they take around from table to table and slice for you. Each cut of meat tasted so different and when my mother asked what kind of seasoning they use the manager said "just salt." "Just salt?!?!" We were in shock. Each piece was so distinct in it's taste, so flavorful. But it was just salt.
2.) This applies to poultry as well. You should use a brine at least 12 hours before.
3.) Everyone cooks onions too quickly. Onions shouldn't be quickly sauteed but simmered in oil or butter on low for a least an hour. Yes, an hour.
4.) In fact, most foods are cooked too quickly. Try using a crock pot for cuts of meat that are called to be cooked in the oven. All of those braises and roasts will be "correct" if you let them cook slowly over a long period of time.
5) A dough starter can be made at home. Here's a good guide.
6) To get large bubbles in your dough you need to add less flour. The stickier the dough the more the gluten that is there will expand.
7) Sourdough has a lower glycemic index than other breads. It is also good for people with gluten sensitivities.
8) Fermented foods are very very good for your digestive health. All of those good bacteria will help to combat the bad bacteria in your gut. In fact, bacteria in your body outnumber your own cells 10-1. Research is starting to show that these good bacteria help quite a bit in keeping you healthy. Unlike your own cells, bacteria can replicate quickly and do these like exchange DNA, and they have just as much interest is staying alive as you do. Hence, when your body is invaded, these good bacteria work to attack the bad bacteria just like our own immunities do, but they often have a better success rate.
9) One of the best stories from the book was about this little Nun in New England who makes raw cheese in an old wooden barrel with an old wooden paddle. Her wooden instruments have a constant film of milky product on them, and she doesn't bleach or sanitize them because they are full of helpful bacteria. When health inspectors wanted her to update to stainless steel appliances she made a batch of cheese with her wooden instruments and a batch of cheese in sanitized stainless steel tubs. She then purposefully added E. Coli to both batches. By the time the cheese had finished she had them both tested. The one in the stainless steel tubs was full of E. Coli bacteria. Her own cheese from her wooden tubs had none. This is a great example of how beneficial healthy good bacteria can be. By the way, this little nun has a PhD in microbiology.