Harold McGee, curious cook and kitchen scientist extraordinaire, debunks raw foods and the five-second rule. And advocates for electric ovens, a little gassiness with beans, and frozen vegetables.
Good cooking relies on proven science and few scientists are more capable of dispensing well-researched advice that cuts through centuries of old wives’ tales, muddled instructions, and kitchen fallacies than Harold McGee. He’s the author of The New York Times’s Curious Cook column and previously compiled On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, a treasure trove of information for any serious cook. His latest book, The Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best Foods and Recipes, is a crash course on better cooking.
In the 1990s, McGee's explorations into the science of food helped pave the way for molecular gastronomy and while that iteration of scientific cookery conjures up images of flavored smoke and spherified mangos, cooking scientifically doesn’t have to equate with Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz. McGee believes that most home cooks only want to understand applied physics and molecular biology in a way any meathead could understand before going out to buy an immersion circulator or a thousand-dollar kitchen scale. His latest book makes the everyday science accessible—even for those who think PubMed is a bar for doctors and the Journal of Separation Science has to do with divorces.
So whether it’s how to make the perfect soft-boiled egg, whether flipping or salting can ruin a burger, or why so many of us hate cilantro, McGee’s latest book offers curious bits of wisdom that demystify food science for the home cook. It’s something that can be both startling and satisfying, much like making a good meal itself. Here are 10 excerpts from it:
Illustrations by Junyi Wu