cover image WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS COOK: Kitchen Science Explained

WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS COOK: Kitchen Science Explained

Robert L. Wolke, . . Norton, $25.95 (350pp) ISBN 978-0-393-01183-8

Wolke, longtime professor of chemistry and author of the Washington Post column Food 101, turns his hand to a Cecil Adams–style compendium of questions and answers on food chemistry. Is there really a difference between supermarket and sea salt? How is sugar made? Should cooks avoid aluminum pans? Interspersed throughout Wolke's accessible and humorous answers to these and other mysteries are recipes demonstrating scientific principles. There is gravy that avoids lumps and grease; Portuguese Poached Meringue that demonstrates cream of tartar at work; and juicy Salt-Seared Burgers. Wolke is good at demystifying advertisers' half-truths, showing, for example, that sea salt is not necessarily better than regular salt for those watching sodium intake. While the book isn't encyclopedic, Wolke's topics run the gamut: one chapter tackles "Those Mysterious Microwaves"; elsewhere readers learn about the burning of alcohol and are privy to a rant on the U.S. measuring system. Sometimes the tone is hokey ("The green color [in potatoes] is Mother Nature's Mr. Yuk sticker, warning us of poison") and parenthetical "Techspeak" explanations may seem condescending to those who remember high school science. However, Wolke tells it like it is. What does clarifying butter do, chemically? Answer: "gets rid of everything but that delicious, artery-clogging, highly saturated butterfat." With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices. (May)