October 18, 2013 7:17 pm

Five of the best: tools for modernist cuisine

Microsoft’s former chief technology officer suggests some essential kit for the more molecular-minded
Vacuum sealer©Alamy

Vacuum sealer

Digital thermometer

Small changes in temperature can make all the difference in cooking, so thermometers are a must. A good digital thermometer can even take the place of a fancy sous-vide cooker.

My favourite is the thermocouple, which is extremely accurate and will also allow you to take the temperature of food in a water bath or oven.

Digital scale

Begin applying more precision to your recipe measurements with a reliable digital gram scale. Basic models are not expensive, and you should really own two: a general-purpose scale that measures weights from one gram to 1,000g or more, and a scale that is accurate to one-tenth or hundredth of a gram.

A fine-weights scale is crucial when measuring hydrocolloid thickening and gelling agents.

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Pressure cooker

Pressure cookers are fantastic tools. They develop the characteristic flavours and textures of foods quickly. Risotto takes seven minutes instead of 25; an intense chicken stock 90 minutes instead of two to three hours. I recommend pressure cookers with built-in spring-loaded pressure valves or jiggling-weight pressure cookers. Look for a stainless-steel cooker with a three-ply base (to help avoid hotspots) and make sure that it indicates when it has reached a gauge pressure of 1 bar/15 psi, as commonly used in recipes.

Water bath

You can cook “sous-vide” or under vacuum with a pot, good thermometer and a little patience, but a commercially made water bath is an even better option. These baths combine the heater, temperature control and insulated container all in one unit. They come in two varieties: those that circulate water (preferred by professional chefs) and the more affordable non-circulating baths that rely heavily on convection, which are sufficient for most home use. Keep bags of food small and separated so that convective currents can flow easily.

Vacuum sealer

Temperature control is essential for modernist cooking, and cooking without air helps provide consistency. Home vacuum sealers are now widely available and easy to use. The easiest way to get started with vacuum sealing is to buy an edge sealer, which is inexpensive and well-suited for home use. Restaurants use chamber vacuum sealers, which offer the most reliable seal. They expertly seal liquids, which allows for some pretty neat tricks such as impregnating watermelon with strawberry juice.

Nathan Myhrvold’s ‘ThePhotography of Modernist Cuisine’ is published on October 22 (The Cooking Lab, £80), www.modernistcuisine.com

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