HOW TO READ A FRENCH FRY AND OTHER STORIES OF INTRIGUING KITCHEN SCIENCE

By Russ Parsons (Houghton Mifflin paper, $14)

Cooking is applied chemistry, and if you like to cook, you are going to like this book, even if you flunked chem in high school. The author was for a number of years the food editor of the Los Angeles Times, and his writing has the easy, breezy, but firmly factual tone of a first-class reporter turned feature writer. When he explains what happens when a dull knife slices into an onion, you understand for the first time why cooks insist their knifes be razor sharp; when he describes all the nasty things that happen when salt dissolves in hot fat, you understand for the first time the folk wisdom behind things like "salt the chicken before you batter it and after it's fried; Don't salt the batter." At first it seems like the dozens of recipes in How to Read a French Fry are just so much padding but, in fact, they are full of startling and useful nuggets of knowledge. Often, they have specific applications of the general ideas explored in the separate chapters on the emulsifying magic of eggs, what heat does to meat, and why meat cooked slowly in moist heat will not only be more tender but also have a more complex flavor than the same meat quickly grilled or sautéed. After reading Parsons' book, you'll feel more in charge every time you walk into the kitchen. ROGER DOWNEY rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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