Heading to the Seahawks game this Sunday? If you're tailgating beforehand, pack up the cooler with 140-degree water before you leave for CenturyLink Field; toss room temperature steaks in individual zip-top bags into the warm water, close the lid, and they'll be ready by the time you're cracking your first Rainier. Oh, just pack along a blowtorch to get a nice sear on the exterior of the meat before you eat them. That's not camp cooking, that's modernist cuisine.
Modernist Cuisine at Home is the lightweight, more accessible version of the five-volume, 40-pound epic Modernist Cuisine released in 2011. Author Nathan Myhrvold contends however that, "Although we kept Modernist Cuisine in the title, this new book is not a condensed version of its predecessor. If you want to learn about food safety, microbiology, the history of foie gras cultivation, or hundreds of other topics, Modernist Cuisine is still the book to turn to." Nope, you'll still have to shell out about $500 for that. That being said, Modernist Cuisine at Home, or MCaH, still gets you dozens of innovative techniques and cooking tricks, hundreds of amazing photos--including cutaways of equipment--and recipes for using standard equipment like the microwave and pressure cooker.
Much of what people scoffed at in the original: That you'd need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to cook many of the recipes, hasn't entirely been solved in MCaH. They still suggest a $2,000 Pacojet for making silky smooth ice cream in minutes, but also contend that the $60 Cuisinart model will work, but the resulting product will be coarser in texture. And Sous Vide Supreme now offers a smaller version, called the Sous Vide Demi, for $100 less, so you can get one for home for a little less money. But not all the 400 recipes in MCaH require a sous vide machine. Like the cooler-cooked steak mentioned earlier, and homemade pizza, roast chicken, and mac and cheese. That's not to say that this book is filled with basic techniques. You'll still need a sous vide machine and an hour to make a green salad. And 5 ½ days to make a pork belly BLT.
It's the basic dishes using modernist techniques and equipment that keep me coming back to this book and will likely tempt me to cook more from it however. I have a microwave, a pressure cooker and a cooler though, so I'm already partway there. The other equipment recommended: a sieve, a digital scale, microplane zester, silicone baking mats, and an immersion blender, are pretty standard in most well-equipped kitchens. The basic recipe for vegetable soup or puree cooked in a pressure cooker and it's eight variations using other vegetables will get a lot of use this winter, and the microwaved black cod with scallions and ginger is a gourmet meal that takes just 15 minutes to cook.
Each recipe includes make-ahead tips and notes about special ingredients or equipment needed. This takes the fear out of many recipes, because you can quickly scan and see which are within your scope and which are more aspirational. Most ingredients are given in weight, but approximate volume equivalents are given for convenience. And there are total cooking times listed as well, so you know that a cheeseburger will take you 6 hours to make, so you're sure to get an early start. Unlike Modernist Cuisine, which is as much textbook as it is cookbook, MCaH is more likely to have a place in my kitchen than at my coffeetable.