AndyTalk: Sugar Plumps Cellulose
Welcome to AndyTalk -- where Scottsdale-based chef and cooking instructor Andy Broder will share kitchen tips, recipes and musings on food and life. This week: "sugar plumps cellulose."
I say the words "sugar plumps cellulose" with the same rhythm as "rocks - scissors - paper." It's a catchy little phrase (at least for me) that brings to mind my favorite chef, one of my food mantras, and some basic kitchen science.
Knowing that sugar plumps cellulose - what that means as a practical matter - can make you a better cook. You don't need to understand the chemistry (I don't), you just have to know under what circumstances sugar may help or hinder the results you're after.
My sugar/cellulose awakening began with Chef Bing. He was my first chef/instructor in culinary school. His name wasn't really Bing. He asked us to call him Bing because that was the sound made by a kitchen timer. He said that if we needed help we should just call out "Bing" and he'd be there.
For the first few weeks our Basics class sounded like a percussion group - binging all over the kitchen. Our binging came to an end when the higher-ups told Chef Bing to revert to his given name, Jon-Paul Hutchins. Apparently our binging (and his being binged) wasn't professional or dignified. But he'll always be Chef Bing to me.
|Chef Bing (aka Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins)|
To illustrate I've doctored up the following pictures:
|Cellulose that has not had sugar added|
|Cellulose that's been plumped by sugar|
Back to Bing and sugar plumping cellulose. That really is a mantra to me because it encapsulates my first food science epiphany.
It happened on a Friday. I know the day of the week because we were making off-the-cuff recipes with whatever we could find in the refrigerators. It was a show-us-what-you-can-do exercise. These lessons were on Friday since the stuff in the fridge would spoil over the weekend.
I had tomatoes and some spinach. We had to peel and seed every tomato we used in culinary school - and for the day's exercise we had to cook them as well. The end-of-week tomatoes were pretty soft and it seemed a long shot that anything short of tomato sauce would look fresh or appetizing.
Then it hit me: sugar plumps cellulose.
I peeled my overly ripe tomatoes with the delicate touch of a neurosurgeon. I hollowed them out, sprinkled them inside and out with a little sugar, and turned them upside down to drain. Then I put them in the oven for 10 minutes. They came out as firm as they went in. I filled them with lightly dressed spinach and served them like little flowerpots filled with a salad. I still do this - with arugula and kale as well as spinach. Parmesan Dressed Arugula Bouquets in Tomato Vases is my most current version.
I brought them to Chef Bing for his assessment. He looked, tasted, and smiled. He liked my beautiful, perky tomatoes - warmed just long enough to taste cooked. Classmates accused me of getting fresh tomatoes from another kitchen, because their tomatoes were uniformly limp and mushy.
Sugar not only plumps cellulose - it gets you an A.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.
|Peeled Tomato Vase with Lighlty Dressed Kale|