Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read all of Michael Pollan’s previous books and have very much enjoyed them. I am a big foodie; I like to cook and experiment in the kitchen with fermentation, brewing, baking, etc. This book, “Cooked,” is right up my alley.
“Cooked” is divided into sections based on the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. In the Fire section, Pollan delves into the mysteries of real pit barbeque. He studies what makes barbeque delicious and how to do the perfect whole pig roast.
In the Water section he studies braises and “one pot” cooking. Pollan discusses the similarities between the world’s great cuisines and the universal basics of the “onion and garlic” recipe base. This section also gets into the science of what happens in a pot between the meat and cooking liquids.
The Air section was on baking. This section was the most interesting to me, because I am not an experienced baker. One of the shocking things revealed in this book is the genetic modification and selection of grains and the perils of flour processing. I had no idea that when I was buying “whole wheat” flour, it was nothing of the kind! This section actually changed my life. I have researched and discovered a great, organic, non-GMO, stone ground whole wheat flour mill. I now order this four by the 25 lb. bag and make loves of delicious whole wheat sour dough bread ever week.
The last section was on earth and discussed fermentation and brewing because these arts are 100% dependent on the microbes that inhabit the earth. I am what Pollan refers to as a “fermento”. I have taken classes on fermentation, studied Sandor Katz’s books, and always have something percolating on my kitchen counter. So, much of this section was old news to me, but definitely would be interesting and useful to someone interested in making their own lacto-fermented pickles or sauerkraut. He also experiments with making his own beer, but since I brew my own beer, cider and mead, this was really just an overview of things I already knew.
To conclude, “Cooked” was a very enjoyable romp through homemade food. Pollan writes personably and you feel as if you are on the odyssey with him. Even if you are pretty accomplished in the kitchen, this book is sure to open you up to a few new ideas and challenges. So get “Cooked” and get in the kitchen!
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