10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge – part 1

I came across this great interview today in which Hervé This describes his 10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge. I thought these were great, but I can see how someone reading this (or indeed This – pronounced Tees) for the first time might wonder what on earth this list had to do with everyday cooking. So I’ve set myself the task of trying to explain what *I* think is important about each of Hervé’s elements, perhaps adding some of my own along the way.

His list in full:

Hervé This’s 10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge

  1. Salt dissolves in water.
  2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.
  3. Oil does not dissolve in water.
  4. Water boils at 100 C (212 F).
  5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).
  6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.
  7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.
  8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 C (131 F).
  9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).
  10. Some chemical processes – such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) – generate new flavours.

And without further ado:

1. Salt dissolves in water

Salt is the essential cooking ingredient – if you doubt this, you need only to taste unsalted bread and then taste it again spread with salted butter. Or, if you need further convincing, try this wonderful book. Salt is essential for life – all our cells are bathed in something a lot like salt water – a relic from when our single-celled ancestors floated around in the seas. Salt is a fairly basic substance – NaCl: equal parts Sodium and Chlorine, both of which are pretty nasty on their own, but when together, make a stable, crystalline whole. The fact that salt dissolves in water is why you shouldn’t generally use expensive salts in
your pasta water – it’s all the same once it’s dissolved (except for those free-flowing salts that include extra things to stop them caking). If you’re going to add a nice textured salt for crunch, add it just before serving to ensure it doesn’t dissolve (or, as Hervé says, mix it with oil first).
When seasoning a salad dressing, add the salt to the vinegar (where it will dissolve) not the oil (where it won’t).

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I’m Louise, and I’m a compulsive baker, cookbook hoarder and a bit of a food geek. I learnt to cook at home, and later at Tante Marie’s cooking school in San Francisco. With a science degree and a background in IT analysis, I like to understand why a recipe works, not just how to do it. Why the rules are there and when they can be broken.

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