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Here's another exclusive excerpt from my book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
It's always difficult to decide whether to get onion rings or fries (get a combo if they'll let you!). The "split shell." This occurs when everything appears to be going fine until all of a sudden, through some as-yet-undiscovered mechanism, the batter crust spontaneously splits in half.
Dealing with the batter problems is a snap—we've already got an awesome recipe for light, crisp, lacy, just-thick-enough batter for our fried cod. Because of their thinness and lack of structure, these membranes shrink much more than the ring itself during cooking and it's this shrinkage that tears a hole in the partially set batter, allowing oil to rush inside. I was so ecstatic at the breakthrough that the only logical course of action was to commemorate the discovery with a celebratory batch of perfectly crisp, perfectly tender, worm- and crack-free, golden brown, beer-scented, sweet-and-salty onion rings. Just as in a kneaded bread dough, gluten—the network of interconnected flour proteins—can form in a heavily mixed batter. As you continue to whisk a batter, protein molecules in the flour (gliadin and glutenin) form tighter and tighter bonds with each other.
This suite of fun, hands-on experiments using food helps students to learn more about what they eat and drink and also introduces them to fundamental scientific concepts (i.e.
Homepage images courtesy of Tim Mitchell (top), Katherine Leedale (left) and UCLan (right). PLEASE NOTE: inclusion in the Directories is not an endorsement of a particular company or their products. It's time to say goodbye to the days of hiding sweet potatoes behind a mask of sugar and bolted-on marshmallows.
I've talked through some of this science in the past in this article about the best roasted sweet potatoes, but it's worth a recap, as it all applies here as well.
As all of you highly educated and well-groomed Serious Eaters probably already know, the thing that we call a yam in the U.S. Up here, the things we call yams are in fact a type of sweet potato, a different plant entirely. Dry sweet potatoes, like the white fleshed American sweet potato or Okinawan purple potatoes are less sweet and starchier than moist sweet potatoes. Moist sweet potatoes like garnet or ruby yams are the more commonly available variety in the U.S. Sweet potatoes, like a few other starchy tubers and gourds, have a secret hero super-power locked within them. Moist sweet potato varieties sweeten during cooking thanks to the action of an enzyme that attacks starch and breaks it down. There's a direct correlation between how sweet the potatoes taste, how well they brown, and how long they've been held at 145°F. If you've got yourself a good sous-vide rig, then the process here is simple: throw your whole sweet potatoes directly into a 145°F water bath, let them rest for a few hours, then roast and mash them. An oven is not as precisely controlled as a sous-vide water bath, but I figured that with a low enough temperature I should be able to give the potatoes a good long stay in that 135 to 170°F sweet spot. If you're hell-bent on the absolute best sweet potatoes and don't have a sous-vide circulator, you can easily use the beer cooler method. With perfectly sweet, tender, and easy-to-peel sweet potatoes, all that was left was a bit of fine-tuning.
What you end up is rich and complex, with a natural built-in sweetness that is far more complex and satisfying than anything that extra sugar or a marshmallow topping could ever get you. After searching for research opportunities both online and through conversations with professors, and getting nowhere, I received an unexpected email stating I had been recommended to participate in the Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track for Transfer students (SMART-T) program.
Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.
My SMART-T experience has taught me that for anyone thinking that it is too late to get involved in research or think there isn’t enough time, trust me there is a research opportunity out there for you!
Proper beer-battered onion rings, with a substantial crisp crust covering a sweet, tender, thick ring of onion, are one of life's three greatest pleasures (and the only one that can be enjoyed legally, incidentally), but how often do you get perfect rings?
When there's too little batter, the onion is exposed to the full ravaging power of the oil. Removing the membranes before battering solved the problem, but it was a tedious process—about as much fun as trying to brush my dog's teeth, and much less cute.
You'll find that the rings with the regular batter are light and crisp, while the rings with the overwhisked batter are chewier, denser, and doughier. Eventually those bonds are so tight that even the leavening power of baking powder is not enough to lighten and leaven the batter—it stays dense. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, and author of the James Beard Award-nominated column The Food Lab, where he unravels the science of home cooking.
They come to the table hidden under a blanket of marshmallows or a sticky sweet layer of sugary syrup. What we have here is a technique for making mashed sweet potatoes that are so sweet, rich, and packed with sweet potato flavor, they need only the simplest of embellishments to shine.
Sweet potatoes come in a few different varieties, but can basically be broken down into two groups that behave differently when cooked.

They turn fluffy when cooked, and in many recipes can act as a good substitute for normal potatoes (albeit with a unique flavor all their own). They have a higher water content and sugar content than dry sweet potatoes, and cook up creamy and rich rather than fluffy. By unlocking that superpower, you can actually make a sweet potato taste sweeter without adding any extra sugar to it.
More precisely, starch is a polysaccharide, which means that it's a large molecule consisting of many smaller sugar molecules (in this case, glucose).
The goal when roasting them is to try and break down as many of the starch molecules as possible into sweet-tasting maltose (a sugar consisting of two glucose molecules). The enzyme starts to make maltose when the tightly packed starch granules absorb moisture and expand, beginning at around 135°F, and it stops when the rising heat denatures it, at around 170°F. By holding a sweet potato in that, ahem, sweet spot between 135° and 170°F for an extended period of time, you can actually induce it to naturally convert its starches into sugars. The sous-vide sweet potato quarters were still as hard feeling as their refrigerated counterparts.
Though the sous-vide potatoes actually seemed to lose a little pigment (the flesh was not as bright orange as the refrigerated potatoes), the flavor difference was immediately apparent. But I wanted a method that would take advantage of this phenomenon without the need for any fancy equipment. Roasting potatoes 300°F for a couple of hours was certainly an improvement over a more standard hour in a 375°F oven, but it still wasn't ideal—the exteriors of the potatoes just get too hot too fast.
This traps in any escaping moisture, which in turn prevents the outer layers of the potatoes from overheating as they roast. Just fill a cooler with water at around 170°F, add your sweet potatoes whole, cover the lid, and let them sit for a couple hours before packing them in foil pouches and roasting for the recipe. Thanksgiving is not the time to be shy with the butter, and there was no doubt that these potatoes would be getting some. The potatoes themselves get a rich, almost toffee-like complexity to them due to the slow-roasting. My theory is that they're just overcompensating for sweet potatoes cooked in a way that doesn't bring out their best flavor. I do remember how it looked A LOT different from the towering majesty of beef, bun, and cheese as advertised on the menu.
Lots of great meaty flavor, delicious creamy tang from the special sauce, and enough size to require to its own zip code. Here you can explore the wide, varying world of phony meats and how to use science and creativity to replicate your favorite carnivorous dishes to shockingly realistic perfection. I moved to the United States in 2006 with my family and the dream of being the first woman in my family to become a doctor.
I was immediately drawn to investigate what the program was about, as I had never heard of it before.
Kulis worked in the Food Allergy Lab, which gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research on immunotherapy for food allergies. Kulis’ mentorship, my SMART-T experience has helped me view the clinical side of medicine from a completely new perspective. Summer research fellowships are the perfect programs as they do not get in the way of courses during the regular fall and spring terms and you can apply during any point of your undergraduate career. In each case, the goal is to prevent the browning and toughening of the main ingredient being fried (that would be the onions or the cod) while simultaneously adding textural contrast and flavor to the exterior.
Its sugars rapidly caramelize and then burn, while tissues dry out, turning papery and tough.
Instead of staying light and crisp, an onion ring with too much batter will retain too much internal moisture, and as soon as it comes out of the oil, the batter starts getting soggy. It occurs when the onions aren't cooked thoroughly, so that rather than breaking off cleanly with each bite, you're left with a long worm of onion in your mouth and the hollow shell left behind in your hand. Soaking the rings in water for half an hour before attempting the separation helped, but I found it was far better to place the onion rings in the freezer. Proceed with the recipe as directed, using regular batter and the overmixed batter, and making sure to keep the rings separate from each when you fry them.
A restaurant-trained chef and former Editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine, he is the author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, available now wherever books are sold. You eat them and taste cinnamon and nutmeg, the natural toffeelike aroma of the sweet potato buried underneath layers of spices.
A true yam is a gigantic, starchy, sticky root from a large grass-like plant native to Africa.
The thing about sugar is that unless it's broken down to relatively simple forms, it doesn't taste sweet to us. But stack them up on each other and throw a trench coat on 'em, and they're effectively hidden. A little more testing revealed that the most prominent effects occur within the first couple of hours. You end up with more evenly cooked and, more importantly, sweeter sweet potatoes that are incredibly easy to peel.

I'd brought an early test batch of these potatoes over to a friend's place for an early Thanksgiving meal (we do a LOT of early Thanksgiving's 'round here) and he commented on the sweet potatoes asking if they contained any brown butter. Adding butter that's been cooked down until its milk solids just begin to turn brown and nutty accentuated that flavor even more. To prepare veggie burgers, defrost and then fry over over medium-high heat in a frying pan in the vegetable oil, about 3-4 minutes each side until lightly browned and slightly crisp.
You'll find reviews of faux meat products, recipes, tips, and inspiration that will make even your most adamantly meat-eating friends sit up and take notice. After graduating from the two-year Honors College at Miami Dade College, I decided to continue my education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for all of the incredible research opportunities it has to offer. This research assesses whether or not the antibody isotype, IgG, can be a factor of decreasing allergic reaction and prevention of anaphylactic shock. I highly recommend just taking the time to apply once you find an opportunity that suits you, as I did, because who knows how these opportunities may shape your career goals. When vegetables are frozen, their water content crystallizes into large, jagged shards of ice, puncturing cells, which results in limp vegetables. I often feel like sweet potatoes are that friend who you just want to sit down to tell them they don't need all that makeup or fussy fashion to be at their best.
What you won't find much of is a real testing-based approach to making mashed sweet potatoes in a way that brings out the best in them with minimal extra ingredients and a bit of good technique. The others I encased in vacuum-sealed bags and held in a water bath set to 145°F for one hour, 6 hours, and 24 hours respectively*.
By placing the potatoes directly in a cool oven and allowing them to heat as the oven preheats, you can also enhance their enzymatic sweetening. The only other additions I made before whipping them up was some salt, a little fresh thyme to complement the sprigs that I'd placed in their foil pouch, and a small dash of maple syrup to accentuate that caramel flavor even more. This decision forced me to look beyond what had become familiar, my home state of Florida, and move to North Carolina.
The significance of this project is that it will provide a better understanding of the role of IgG in immunotherapy for allergic subjects. Kulis taught me about important laboratory techniques such as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method and provided me with the tools to become a better researcher and future doctor. To figure it out, I carefully dissected an afflicted ring with a set of tweezers and discovered that it's not the batter that's the problem, it's the onion. In most cases, this is a bad thing—that's why frozen vegetables are almost never as good as fresh.
And when the whole thing was over, I certainly wasn’t feeling too special about myself. A Big Mac™, while admittedly kind of ridiculous, does have a decent amount going for it. Place one of the bottoms of the buns on a plate, top with a veggie burger patty, 1 cheese slice, ½ the pickles and onions, lettuce, and half the special sauce.
I was able to see the interconnection between scientific research and individual wellbeing in a healthcare based laboratory, since allergies affect a person’s physical and social welfare.
Every layer inside an onion is separated from the next by a thin, papery membrane—you can quite easily see it if you rub the inside of a raw onion ring—the membrane will slip off. With onions destined for?? the batter, however, this is not a defect—indeed, aside from making the inner membranes easier to remove, freezing tenderized the rings to the point that they could be broken quite easily when bitten; I'd inadvertently ended up solving my worming problem as well! Stack the second bottom bun over all this mess and place the remaining patty, cheese, onion, pickles, lettuce and sauce on top. I found the classes to be much more challenging and demanding than in my prior school, but I believe that the experience made me a better student.
The ultimate goal of this project is to assess whether or not histamine release from the basophil is inhibited as a result of IgG, which is directly proportional to peanut allergen exposure over time as a result of immunotherapy. I used to think researchers only worked in a lab and did not have much patient exposure, but I have learned that it is possible to work in a lab setting and still have the essential patient interaction. But if you actually make this vegetarian version, and I encourage you to do so, there’s more to it then that. Along with adjusting to UNC’s demanding atmosphere, I gained a greater sense of inquiry and desire to do more outside of the classroom.
Peanut allergy accounts for the vast majority of life threatening and fatal allergic reactions to foods and affects approximately 3 million Americans and 3.9% of the pediatric population. My summer in the SMART-T program solidified my decision to become a pediatric physician, who is involved in clinical research.
This was a good match for me, because my ultimate goal was to become a pediatrician and work with Doctors Without Borders.

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