By Chet Yarbrough
By Robert L. Wolke
Narrated by Sean Runnette
Robert Wolke is an American chemist and a food columnist for “The Washington Post”. His book, “What Einstein Told His Cook” is a scientist-eye-view of the myths and realities of food preparation-cooking, freezing, thawing, tasting, and, tossing. He throws in helpful hints on cookware and microwaves for weary and wary “wanabe” cooks. Wolke offers some helpful hints to cooking-arts aspirants.
In mostly non-scientific explanations of everyday cooking events, Wolke explains why it is never hot enough to cook an egg on a sidewalk and why hot water freezes faster than cold water in an ice-cube tray. Though a cook would not attempt either of these feats because they make no sense or save little time, it is interesting to hear a scientific explanation of the phenomena. More seriously, Wolke talks about how to make a good soup, tasty gravy, and why one should not eat caviar with a standard spoon. Ideas on making a good soup or tasty gravy will be interesting to cooks but more interesting to the non-cook is the explanation on caviar spoons. Because of high acid content, contact catalyzes most metal giving caviar a metallic taste. The solution is either a rich person’s tiny gold spoon (which is a metal that does not degrade in caviar) or a penniless’ foodies plastic ice-cream-tasting spoon.
Wolke also exposes some misleading information on packaged food regarding fatty acid content and the labeling of so-called “non-fat” foods. The Federal Food and Drug Administration allows some fat in product that is considered inconsequential; allowing the food purveyor a non-fat label because fat content is less than an established limit; in other words, 1 plus 1 can be zero. Wolke notes there are a number of zero claims on packages that are not true because of FFDA obfuscation.
Wolke also explains how prime rib is strictly an identification of a cut-of-meats’ location on the hoof; not its quality. In other meanderings, one finds an explanation of pasteurization and how some European countries are able to have un-refrigerated milk on their shelves without spoiling the product. Wolke also explains MSG to the uninformed. MSG is a flavor enhancer that has no inherent taste but can cause allergic reactions in some consumers.
If one has ever wondered what the fastest and safest way is to unfreeze frozen food, Wolke explains microwaves are not the answer. He surprisingly notes that an unheated frying pan offers the fastest and safest unfreezing method. The reason is that a conventional frying pan (not the no-stick type) is the best conductor of heat. (That does not mean one would add heat to the frying pan because it would sear the food’s surface, leaving the interior frozen; i.e. the frying pan is to be left at room temperature, only.) The microwave is a bad idea because the exterior of frozen product becomes slightly cooked. Hot water is a bad idea because it offers a medium and pathway for pathogens. And finally, overnight counter-top placement is potentially unhealthy because it exposes a product to room temperature for too long.
Though Wolke offers some interesting general information, “What Einstein Told His Cook” is of most value to one who really cooks; the “boiling water” crowd may get bored. On the other hand, it is good to know how microwaves work and how boiling water in a microwave can be a burning experience.