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«TITLE PAGE WHAT’S COOKING? Roberta Ann Muir Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the coursework requirements for the degree of Master of ...»

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McGee notes that microwaving has been a popular cooking method since the 1970s. Even from his scientific standpoint however, he also notes its drawbacks: meat cooked at high speed can loose more fluid, resulting in a drier texture and difficulty in determining degree of ‘doneness’, and the absence of visually appealing browning and the flavour associated with it. As previously noted, Rolls, thinks “chicken cooked in a microwave is an offence to food”, and also complains about the absence of browning. Santich says: “The single greatest obstacle to acceptance of the microwave is its indifference to the senses.” Surely controlling how much a piece of meat is cooked and minimising its fluid loss;

being able to create the wonderful texture, flavour and aroma of browned foods; and using the sense of smell, which tells us so much as we lean over the simmering pot adjusting the seasonings, are all Studd, 21.

McGee, On Food and Cooking, 618–619.

Santich, 6.

essential elements of cooking. Evidently some people consider them essential, as only 85% of questionnaire respondents indicated that they considered microwaving to be ‘cooking’ (Table 1).

–  –  –

Increasingly kitchens are becoming places of food ‘assembly’ rather than food ‘preparation’. As discussed above, assembly can sometimes be a worthwhile cooking technique, when it involves combining quality produce in a skilful way. Now, however, many foods come pre-prepared, bottled, dried or frozen; even boiled white rice can be purchased frozen from supermarkets, requiring only heating. The question is: does this heating constitute ‘cooking’? A ‘meal’ can be prepared by pouring boiling water over instant noodles and leaving them to soak while a bottled sauce is heated, then the two combined.

There is some disagreement as to whether this constitutes ‘cooking’, even though it involves the application of heat to food, with only 58% of questionnaire respondents willing to call it ‘cooking’ (Table 1).

–  –  –

What of using pre-cooked products, or leftovers, to create a new dish? Here the application of heat is combined with an element of creativity. Miroton, a dish dating back to at least the late seventeenth century, consists of sliced, cold cooked meat (usually beef, which could be purchased from a rôtisseur) heated in butter with sliced onions until the meat and onions are fried. Gallimaufry, a similar dish from the Middle Ages, was made from roasted chicken or mutton, fried and mixed with onions, wine and seasoning. At the time, it was a feast dish, but later it came to mean a badly prepared or unappetizing dish. The fact that the names of these dishes have come down to us through time suggests that they were regarded as dishes in their own right, even though they were made from meat cooked for a previous meal. This raises the question of whether food can be ‘cooked’ only once? Are subsequent applications of heat just ‘re-heating’ or further ‘cooking’? Beeton, in her Book of Household Management, makes the Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 ed., s.v. “miroton.” Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 ed., s.v. “gallimaufry.” note “Cold Meat Cookery” next to a number of recipes in the chapters dealing with beef, lamb, veal and poultry, indicating that these are recipes to be prepared from pre-cooked meat.

Beeton, 277–495.

–  –  –

The above analysis would suggest that our simple word “cook” actually has a number of nuances: from the basic dictionary definition of applying heat to food, through the more complex criteria, used by many chefs, of bringing about an irreversible transformation in food, to everything involved in the preparation of food. There is also the idea that cooking requires some sort of creative element and should at least aim to be ‘good cooking’. This is compounded by the fact that in English we use the same word as both noun and verb, which leads to the question: isn’t ‘cooking’ ‘that which cooks do’? To this we add the problem of understanding what is meant when a food, to which heat has been applied, is described as ‘not cooked yet’, meaning that it has not been cooked to the point that suits the palate of the individual concerned; or when someone says “That’s not cooking!” of a very rudimentary food preparation, nonetheless involving heat.

When we ask: “Can you cook?”, we are enquiring about much more than someone’s ability to apply heat to foodstuffs. The question covers a much larger range of knowledge: selection of ingredients, knife skills, understanding of suitable combinations, as well as methods of heating food. We often mean “Can you cook well?” or “Are you a good cook?”. Surely, “Can you cook?” is a nonsensical question if it only refers to the ability to apply heat to food, such as putting a frozen TV dinner in the oven or microwave.

Furthermore, there are processes which clearly involve the application of heat to foodstuffs, such as pasteurisation, which many people do not consider to be ‘cooking’, while processes such as acidifying, which do not involve heat, are consider by many to be ‘cooking’. This indicates that despite the dictionary definition, the mere application of heat to foodstuffs is not sufficient to warrant the designation ‘cooking’.

We cook for a number of reasons and cooking does of course often involve the application of heat; as discussed, we find heated foods appealing. We also find cold foods appealing, and I believe the above examples have shown that there are many food preparation techniques, not involving the application of heat, which are nonetheless ‘cooking’. The above analysis of cooking in all its forms has shown that ‘cooking’ operates on numerous levels. While it does often involve the application of heat, it also refers to all the procedures cooks perform in the preparation of food whether or not heat is involved. The steps performed before heating, such as peeling, chopping and stuffing; during heating, such as basting, stirring and turning; and after heating, such as slicing, arranging, and blending, are all part of ‘cooking’. As are the many food preparation techniques that are an end in themselves without the application of heat, such as fermenting, curdling, pickling, smoking and drying. They are ‘cooking’ because they are procedures that are carried out by cooks in the process of taking ingredients in their natural form and preparing them for the dining table. They are ‘cooking’ because they involve the irreversible transformation of a raw food into an edible food, something that is ‘culturally marked’ as fit for human consumption, something that is safe for human consumption and, often, something that is preserved for later human consumption.

‘Cooking’, I believe, occurs whenever food is prepared for consumption by any process involving an irreversible transformation of that food.

–  –  –

Which of the following processes, if any, would you call "cooking"?

The examples are only guidelines, if you don't consider the given example to be cooking, but there are other instances of the process which you would call cooking please note at the end Baking (e.g. pastry and cakes) Grilling Roasting Frying Steaming Boiling Braising Basting Blanching (e.g. plunging spinach into boiling water and immediately removing and refreshing in iced water) Searing (e.g. placing a piece of fish or meat on a hot grill very briefly to brown the outside) Microwaving “Sous-vide” – heating a boil-in-a-bag meal Re-heating pre-cooked products/leftovers e.g. pre-made stocks and sauces used in commercial kitchens e.g. reheating leftover roast meat and adding new ingredients to make a casserole Combining convenience foods (e.g. instant noodles and simmer sauces) Application of heat below 48ºC as practiced by the raw food movement Melting (e.g. chocolate or butter to make a sauce) Heating to room temperature (e.g. softening butter to make a cake) Leaving out in the sun (e.g. proving bread dough) Pasteurisation (e.g. milk) Irradiation Heating potential foodstuffs for purposes other than eating (e.g. medicine, making plasters, poultices, glue, paste, paints…) Heating non-foods leather shoes, belts etc… to soften enough to eat (e.g. to prevent starvation when no other food available) Digestion Smoking cold smoking (e.g. smoked salmon, smoked cheese) hot smoking (e.g. smoked trout) Drying (e.g. beef jerky, sun-dried tomatoes) Dehydrating (e.g. modern dried fruit making) Curing (e.g. modern gravlax) Putrefaction (e.g. ageing meat, traditional gravlax/surlax/rakefisk/hákarl/rakørret Fermenting (e.g. kimch'i, sauerkraut, yoghurt) Curdling (e.g. cheese making) Pickling (e.g. making cornichons or pickled mushrooms) Acidifying (e.g. ceviche) Marinating (not necessarily with acid) Pouring a warm marinade over ingredients Seasoning (e.g. sugaring fennel) Tenderising by pounding with enzymes (e.g. papaya juice) Whisking e.g. making mayonnaise e.g. making a cold dessert such as a fruit fool (mashed fruit and whipped cream combined) Churning (e.g. ice cream) Pounding/Grinding (e.g. pesto, curry pastes) Chopping, dicing, mincing (e.g. steak tartare, kibbeh naya, raw larb) Cutting and allowing to stand (e.g. making a salsa: mixing cut ingredients & leaving so the flavours can 'marry') Slicing (e.g. sashimi, carpaccio) Blending/pureeing – e.g. soups such as gazpacho Juicing (e.g. fruit and vegetable juices) Filtering (e.g. collecting the clear juice drained from raw tomatoes to make a cold 'tomato consommé') Soaking (e.g. sprouting seeds, rehydrating dried fruit/vegetables) e.g. sprouting seeds e.g. rehydrating dried fruit/vegetables/mushrooms Assembling (e.g. a salad or sandwich, dressing an oyster) Freezing (e.g. cucumber to make a salad of softened cucumber) 9.2 “Continuum” Questionnaire Which of the following preparations, if any, would you call "cooking"?

Strawberries baked in the oven with butter, sugar and brandy and served with ready-made vanilla ice cream Strawberries baked in the oven with butter, sugar and brandy Strawberries pureed; cream whipped; then the 2 folded together and served as a dessert Strawberries pureed and served as a sauce Strawberries sliced and marinated in brandy then flambéed in a pan with melted butter and brown sugar Strawberries sliced and marinated in brandy then warmed in a pan with melted butter and brown sugar Strawberries sliced and marinated in brandy then warmed in a pan and served with ready-made vanilla ice cream Strawberries sliced and marinated in brandy then warmed in a pan Strawberries sliced and marinated in brandy Strawberries sliced and sprinkled with sugar Whole strawberries dipped in melted chocolate Whole strawberries dipped in egg white & castor sugar Strawberries sliced and served on a plate with ready-made vanilla ice cream Strawberries sliced and arranged on a plate Strawberries arranged on a platter with some mint leaves for garnish Strawberries washed and placed in a bowl Strawberries pulled fresh from the ground and eaten in the garden

–  –  –

Which of the following preparations, if any, would you call "cooking"?

Cold smoking - smoked salmon (smoked at or below 29ºC) Hot smoking - smoking over a hot fire (e.g. hot smoked trout) Oven drying - tomatoes cut and placed in a low oven to dry Sun drying - tomatoes cut and left on racks outdoors to dry in the sun Drying in a dehydrator - tomatoes dried in an electric dehydrator Pickled cornichons - cucumbers salted overnight, rinsed and stored in vinegar Pickled mushrooms - mushrooms boiled in seasoned vinegar, then stored in the vinegar Sauerkraut - cabbage leaves layered with salt and allowed to ferment Tempeh - soy beans soaked, hulled & boiled for a short time then mixed with some tempeh from a previous batch & allowed to ferment Ham - pork coated in a salt and sugar solution for several days then hot smoked sliced and served Gravlax - salmon covered in a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs for several days, then wiped clean, sliced and served Sashimi - slices of fresh fish served with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger Ceviche - slices of fresh fish combined with lime juice for 3 hours, drained, served mixed with fresh herbs, tomato, onion and chilli Mayonnaise - an emulsion of oil whisked into egg yolks Hollandaise - an emulsion of melted butter whisked into egg yolks over a gentle heat (bain marie) Pesto - basil leaves, pinenuts, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil pounded to a paste Curry paste - shallots, garlic, galangal, red chillies and shrimp paste pounded to a paste and fried off in coconut cream Gazpacho - tomato, garlic, cucumber, olive oil & sherry vinegar pureed, garnished with chopped tomato & cucumber, served as soup Tomato soup - tomatoes pureed, mixed with cream, heated, garnished with chives and served as a soup Sandwich - 2 slices of buttered bread with slices of ham and cheese between them Croque-monsieur - 2 slices of buttered bread with slices of ham and cheese between them, pan-fried in melted butter Seared tuna - a piece of tuna placed on a hot grill for 30 seconds on each side Carpaccio - fresh beef sliced thinly, arranged on a plate and garnished with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and shavings of parmesan cheese Insalata caprese - tomatoes, bocconcini and basil sliced, arranged on a plate and dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper Lean cuisine - a frozen dinner removed from the freezer and heated in the oven for 20 minutes Instant noodles - 3-minute noodles boiled, frozen broccoli heated in a simmer sauce and poured over the noodles Strawberry sorbet - strawberries pureed and combined with lemon juice and sugar dissolved in water, churned in an ice cream machine Strawberry ice cream - boiling milk whisked into egg yolks, thickened over gentle heat, cream & pureed strawberries added, churned


Alegre, Edilberto N., and Doreen G. Fernandez. Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness. Makati, Metro Manila: Bookmark, 1991.

Alexander, Stephanie. The Cook’s Companion. Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, Viking, 1996.

Allen, Zel, and Reuben Allen. Review of Raw: The UNcook Book, by Juliano Brotman and Erika Lenkert (N.p.: Regan Books, HarperCollins, 1999). Living & Raw Foods [on-line]; accessed 4 August 2003;

available from http://www.living-foods.com/articles/rawuncook.html.

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