Christmas dinner is a joyful occasion, but when you’re cooking, the pressure to deliver a perfect meal can be a headache.
Fortunately a a bit of science can go a long way, and if you want to nail those perfectly crispy, buttery fried potatoes down, win over even the die-hard Brussels sprout hater and light the room with a spectacle Christmas flambé puddingthen look no further.
In this week’s Science with Sam, we take a look at what gives Brussels sprouts their unique flavor and why Crunch is so desirable in foodsand how a little knowledge of chemistry will delight your guests when it comes to pudding.
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Christmas dinner is a joyful occasion, but when you’re cooking, the pressures of delivering a perfect meal can be a bit stressful. To help you out, we’ve got some science-based tips to help you nail down some of the key bits and pieces of the meal: fried crispy potatoes, Brussels sprouts to impress even the most ardent reviewer, and a spectacular, flaming Christmas pudding.
The Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are part of the Brassica family, which evolved to make bitter compounds to ward off herbivores. They do this by storing precursor molecules in their cells. When the plant is damaged, the precursor molecules are released from their packaging and come into contact with enzymes that convert them into the aversive chemicals we love to hate.
So it’s no wonder that nothing separates opinions more than sprouts at the Christmas table. I think they’re great when cooked well, but if you’re a hater, there are a few science-based tips that might convince you.
1. Eat your sprouts with red wine.
Now, I need little encouragement to have a glass of red wine with Christmas dinner, but one study found that drinking red wine decreased the perception of bitterness in the sprouts. The idea is that the tannins in red wine cause proteins to clump together in saliva, which can interfere with the distribution of bitter chemicals in the mouth. Either that or you’re too drunk to care.
2. Exposure therapy
We can learn to like foods we don’t like by combining them with foods we like. In one studyChildren aged 3 to 5 were given Brussels sprouts as a snack for 14 days. One group got sprouts for themselves and the other with cream cheese. In the end, all of the children got sprouts themselves and asked if they liked them. Among the children who had eaten sprouts themselves, less than a quarter said they liked the taste. But in the group that had it with cream cheese, 72 percent said they liked it. If you don’t like sprouts, dip them in cream cheese or wrap them in bacon, whatever works for you.
3. Cook them properly.
For me, roasting and roasting is the best way to cook sprouts. Here I cut them into thin slices and will fry them in some oil.
The key is to get them tan pretty. High heat facilitates the Maillard reaction, in which sugars and amino acids react to produce a wide range of delicious compounds. When you get them nice and brown using these methods, cruciferous vegetables develop wonderful nutty and hearty flavors that you can’t get by boiling them in water.
4. Flavor enhancers
You can also offset the bitterness by stimulating your other tastes. I like to add shallots for sweetness, a squeeze of lemon juice for acid, and bacon or parmesan for salt and umami. To be honest, these magical ingredients will spice up any vegetable side dish.
Crunch is one of the things we value most about eating, but why do we find it so attractive? This may be because raw ingredients often turn into delicious and nutritious cooked foods. Or maybe we associate it with high-fat foods that we find particularly worthwhile.
Whatever the reason, a crispy fried potato is one of the ultimate delicious and rewarding foods. Here are some tips that will lead you to crunchy perfection.
1. Choose the right potato
There are two major types of potato: waxy and floury. Waxy ones have thinner skins, a smoother texture, and stay firmer when cooked, so salads are good, but for frying you really want the floury type, which has a higher starch content. King Edwards like these, Maris Piper or Russet potatoes are good varieties for frying.
Potato cells are packed with starch grains that swell and burst when cooked and form a gel. It is this gelatinized starch that forms the crispy crust on a fried potato.
The cells of the potato are held together by a type of sugar molecule called pectin. Cooking also breaks down the pectin, so that fat gets into the potato when frying and a nice thick crust is created.
You can help this even more by adding soda bicarbonate to the water to make it alkaline. This weakens the pectin so that the potatoes soften faster. Half a teaspoon is enough for 2 liters of water.
3. Choose your fat and flavors carefully
We will roast these potatoes at around 200 ° C. It’s quite hot and close to the smoke point of some types of oil, such as: B. extra virgin olive oil. This means that the taste will be compromised and may taste bitter. I prefer to fry potatoes in a neutral-tasting oil like sunflower or vegetable oil. You can also choose goose fat or duck fat for extra flavor.
I would also avoid adding any garlic or herbs at this stage as these will likely burn in the hot oven. If you want, add them towards the end of the cooking process.
Preheat the roasting tray with the fat and stir the potatoes well.
After 20 or 30 minutes, turn them over. Watch them closely. They should take about an hour to brown properly, but the exact cooking time will depend on your oven and potatoes.
A flaming pudding is the perfect end to a Christmas dinner. Follow these rules to make sure you get a fire as bright as Rudolph’s nose.
1. Make it hot
Since alcohol evaporates easily, it mixes well with the air. It is important that both the pudding and alcohol are hot so that more alcohol will evaporate. If you try to light cold spirits it will be disappointing.
2. Get the strong stuff
You need a spirit that is at least 40 percent alcohol in it, but having something stronger will give you a bigger and longer lasting flame. Here we have 63% over-hardened rum. Nice.
3. Add a bit of color.
Pure alcohol burns with a blue flame that is nice but a little subdued. Choosing a spirit that has sugar in it, or adding sugar like we have here, gives you a brighter yellow flame.
The yellow flame occurs when some of the carbon is not oxidized and gives off fine soot particles. When the soot particles ignite, they form a light yellow flame.
Happy holidays from all of us at New Scientist. As a gift, we are giving you a 20 percent discount on a subscription to our magazine. Click the link in the description to sign up. We’ll be back with more videos in the new year. So subscribe to your channel so you don’t miss a thing. Merry Christmas!
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