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Modernist Cuisine Volume 5: Plated-Dish Recipes

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We have been on a very modern journey over the past few weeks. We have explored food history and fundamentals in Volume 1, techniques and equipment in Volume 2, animals and plants in Volume 3, and very modern ingredients and preparations in Volume 4. We wind this series up with Volumes 5 & 6; Plated-Dish Recipes and the Kitchen Manual.

The recipes you'll find in Volume 5: Plated-Dish Recipes are quite different from those you see in most cookbooks. The point of Modernist Cuisine is to look at cooking from new angles, with a distinct interest in subjects not commonly covered in culinary books. So it stands to reason that the recipes are somewhat different. The goal is to break down recipes in such a way that the reader better understands not just the what (ingredients) and the how (methods), but also the why.

To accomplish that, MC needed a new format for presenting recipes. In Volume 5, the recipes are broken into chapters: Tender Cuts, Tough Cuts, Poultry, Fish, Shellfish, Eggs, Starches and Fruits and Vegetables. Think of MC as a textbook, with recipes used in the way that other textbooks might use example problems or case studies. The compact, modular form in which recipes are presented makes them a broader resource for instruction and inspiration. They're meant to help the reader both understand the practical applications of culinary principles and visualize how they might apply those principles in other contexts.

"You might be surprised to learn that although many people equate Modernist cooking with something akin to laboratory science, the majority of recipes can be made with tools available in most standard kitchens. Even the recipes that involve sous vide techniques can be made without specialized gadgets; you can just use a simple pot on the stove and a thermometer. On the other end of the spectrum are the recipes that do require a centrifuge, combi oven, freeze dryer, or other specialized tool."

In volumes 1-5, you'll find a huge variety of recipes and foods. Although the authors are telling the story of Modernist cuisine, their recipes are not limited to cutting-edge dishes. Instead, they cover everything from American regional barbecue to innovative flavored gels. The point is not to tout modern approaches or science for its own sake but to illustrate how the principles of Modernist cooking can, and should, be applied across a wide range of recipes.

Almost like a bonus volume, Volume 6: Kitchen Manual is a spiral-bound edition, which reprints recipes and reference tables from the major volumes on water-resistant paper for use while cooking.

Author Nathan Myhrvold says, MC is nothing to be afraid of. Most of the tools in the typical home kitchen once were technological breakthroughs, and many traditional ingredients, including baking powder and baking soda, are no less synthetic than certain staples of the modernist kitchen, such as the calcium salts in gelling ingredients. Myhrvold hopes the ultimate legacy of the book is to help some of the new methods trickle down into broader use.

Myhrvold said in a recent interview, "I didn't believe it made sense to tell part of the story. It seemed to me there was a huge value in having all of this material all in one big work, all cross-referenced, so that, sure, if you want to do a recipe, you can just do a recipe. But if you care about why something happens, you can figure that out, and if you want to know the why behind the why, by God we can point you at that too."

And while Modernist Cuisine remains one of the most expensive "cookbooks" ever printed, Nathan thinks it's important to remember, "Modernist Cuisine costs less per pound than Parmigiano Reggiano." So grab a chunk of parm and Volume 1 and settle in for the culinary read of your life.


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