There’s something quaint about the idea of the secret family recipe. The idea that generation after generation, family members teach each other how to create something special in the kitchen invokes a sense of responsibility, mystique, and tradition.
However, if you’ve ever been heir to such a recipe, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What if there’s a better way?”
The truth is, just because people say it’s been done one way for a long period of time doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. And that’s why the modernist cooking movement was born.
To learn more, Cilantro spoke with Jason Logsdon, author, photographer, and web developer at Modernist Cooking Made Easy.
What is modernist cooking?
To me, modernist cooking is simply looking at what you’re trying to accomplish in the kitchen and using the best tools to do that. There are so many pieces of food “knowledge” that just aren’t true but have been handed down through generations of cooks as “the way it’s always been done.” Modernist cooking isn’t afraid to challenge those time-honored beliefs. Using modernist techniques in your cooking means trying to learn what actually works and what doesn’t work. This includes exploring new ingredients and cooking methods, applying techniques across cuisines, and embracing different forms of technology in the kitchen.
Many of the techniques used in modernist cooking are cutting edge and can seem intimidating at first. However, the expert chefs and food scientists can push the boundaries and uncover how to put new techniques to best use. Then, we can take what they learn and focus on applying it to everyday cooking. Modernist methods are really no more confusing than traditional methods; they’re just new to us. But as the pros demystify those methods, we can embrace modernist cooking along the way.
Think about the serious cook – someone who is no stranger to the kitchen. If you wanted to challenge their skills but also provide an end result that they could be proud of, what pasta recipe would you recommend they try?
I would highly recommend making your own pasta from scratch. It’s much easier than it seems and the end result is something completely different than using dried pasta. I also think it’s amazing that combining only two ingredients, flour and egg, can create such a wonderful dish.
So make some fresh pasta and set it aside. Brown some butter in a pot with some minced sage. Cook the pasta for 5 to 10 minutes in salted boiling water, drain the water, and toss the pasta with the browned butter. Then grate some high-quality, fresh parmesan reggiano cheese over it all. Squeeze some lemon over the top, and you’ll have a fantastic dish that uses only a handful of ingredients.
What about a dessert recipe?
I’m not a huge dessert guy, but one thing I love to make at home is marshmallows. They are super easy and result in a soft, flavorful treat that is nothing like the store-bought ones. Marshmallows are really just gelatin and hot sugar syrup whipped together then left to set. You can add flavor extracts or essential oils to create a wide variety of flavors. They’re always a crowd favorite and one of those dishes that people can’t believe you can make at home.
What type of kitchen tools/utensils would be important to these recipes?
To make great pasta, you really only need a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a rolling pin. If you get into it more and want to experiment with different noodle shapes, you can get a pasta roller. I use the one for my KitchenAid mixer.
Marshmallows require a standing mixer because they have to be whipped for 10 to 15 minutes. A candy thermometer is also helpful when heating the sugar.