Molecular gastronomy - the art of treating cooking as science - was once the realm of high-end chefs who fancied themselves chemists as much as cooks. But this fringe of element of the culinary world has started to make its way into mainstream kitchens with the introduction of consumer-model versions of the once-unobtainable tools used by these kitchen scientists. If you’re looking to step up your gastronomic game, you’ll want to consider some of these options.
Unleash Your Inner Scientist
The Molecule-R Cuisine R-Evolution kit ($59) comes with some of the most popular, transformational food additives today, such as agar-agar and xanthan gum, as well as the tools you’ll need to create gelées and emulsions just like your favorite stars from “Top Chef.” It also includes a DVD demonstrating the cutting-edge techniques used by culinary all-stars. If you’re serious about topping your dishes with thin wisps of flavored foam, also pick up an iSi Creative Whip ($90), which uses pressurized nitrogen cartridges to quickly produce any manner of foam or cream.
With an immersion circulator, you cook food in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch, which is then placed in a temperature-controlled water bath. The process - known as “sous vide,” or “under vacuum” - gives you total control over the cooking temperature, so you can land the perfect medium-rare tenderloin without risk of overcooking. The plastic pouch ensures that you retain flavor and nutrients, but it also keeps your food in constant contact with whatever herbs or marinades you add, allowing the flavors to permeate better than with any other cooking method. And, much like a slow cooker, it is safe to leave on all night, so you can achieve the melt-in-your mouth pleasure of a beef short rib cooked at low temperatures for 18 hours.
While you can spend $1,600 and more for the units used by the pros, there are also more basic models available for $300. You can also cheaply mimic this effect with some Ziploc bags and a digital thermometer in a pot of hot water. It won’t be as precise, but it’s a good place to start if you’re not ready to drop a bunch of cash on a new kitchen appliance.
Induction cooking works by rapidly passing a magnetic field through a metal pan, which causes just the pan to heat up, not the cooking surface. Since all of the heat goes directly into the pan, it’s far more energy efficient than a gas or electric stove, and it can bring water up to a boil twice as fast as a regular cooktop.
On the downside, not all pots or pans will work with an induction cooktop. But if a magnet sticks to your cookware, you’re good to go. While an entirely new induction range can be a little pricey, more modest hotplate-style models start around $60.
Brew a Better Cup
While the legendary Clover Coffee Machine is the ultimate coffee brewing machine, allowing you to precisely control every variable, its $11,000 price tag puts it out of the reach of regular folks.
The Chemex pot ($32), on the other hand, is surprisingly low-tech, although its beaker design looks like something out of a mad scientist’s workshop. This is fitting, as the Chemex method was dreamt up by a chemist looking for a better way to brew a cup. The Chemex method avoids the muddy sediment of the French press, and the over-extracted flavor of a traditional filter-based coffee maker. By using heavier filters and a method that involves slowly adding 200-degree water to the grounds, the Chemex produces a sweeter and cleaner flavored brew.