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The Myth of the Immortal Hamburger (seriouseats.com)
371 points by jacoblyles on Nov 7, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

I'm upvoting this partly because it's by J. Kenji (Lopez-)Alt, whom I have regarded as a sort of culinary god ever since I first encountered his awesome piecrust recipe in Cooks Illustrated a few years ago.

(The piecrust is made by substituting vodka for much of the water, which allows the dough to be rolled out without encouraging too much gluten formation and thereby making the crust tough. It is perhaps a shade too much on the crumbly side but makes up for that by being outstandingly tasty, it has now utterly spoiled my taste for the majority of store-bought pies, and it has convinced my friends that I, in turn, am some sort of culinary god, even though this piecrust recipe is idiotically simple, actually simpler than regular piecrust, if such a thing is possible. The lesson here is: Subscribe to Cooks Illustrated and make your loved ones' lives better.)

Not to mention his reverse engineering of the animal style In-N-Out burger. The Burger Lab has changed my entire perspective on the perfect burger.


Whoa, that is awesome.

And now I have also found the pizza section of the Serious Eats website. I am doomed to never work again.

Dang it all, I may have to start cooking now.

You don't cook? I'm surprised tptacek doesn't bug you every day about starting.

Why am I the one bugging him? mechanical_fish is the one making pie crusts with vodka.

The frequent posters on this site end up being boiled down to bullet-point caricatures based on what I remember from their posts.

I guess yours would be:

* Knows lots of technical details about security and cryptosystems.

* Voice of reason to balance out the usual internet opinion of "the sky is falling and its Microsoft's/Google's/Apple's/the government's fault".

* Likes cooking, especially whole pigs and sous vide, although not necessarily together.

* Friends with Patrick.

I hadn't noticed mechanical_fish's name before, but I will now remember him as the guy who makes pie crusts with vodka.

My stereotype as well, although I'd add

* Eternal foil for cpercival on the advisability of designing encryption systems

I think I've learned more during their dialogues about cryptology than I have from years of reading Bruce Schneier's blog.

And stop working out of your kitchen as a result!

For those of you wondering, as I did, how to make this amazing pie crust: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2007/11/cooks-illustrated...

I see that several of the commenters have run into the same problem that I did: If you use the full 1/4 cup of liquid the crust turns into soup. (It does, however, still work, which is a testimonial to how well the alcohol concept works.)

I tend to just leave out a bit of the liquid.

Although someone else in the comments suggests resting the dough for longer instead, perhaps even overnight. That might help soak up the full 1/4 cup. I tend to make this stuff in too much of a hurry, so my pie dough doesn't rest all that long.

A year or so after this recipe came out Alton Brown did his piecrust episode. I tuned in wondering (a) if the guy had done his homework; (b) if he could top the vodka thing for theatrical excitement. And Alton passed both tests by making apple pie with apple jack in the crust instead of vodka. Now that's theater.

So, I just did this[1], and my dough absolutely did not turn into soup, which has me concerned. Could it be a temperature thing? I keep my vodka in the freezer year-round; it pours like syrup. I chilled the hell out of my butter and shortening, too.

I'm curious whether it's the presence of alcohol that inhibits gluten formation, or whether it's simply the fact that 1/2 the moisture isn't coming from water.

[1] Hopefully, so I can stuff ginger-sage sausage, pork confit, and rice into it for dinner.

The original Lopez-Alt article merely claimed that the alcohol has a lower boiling point, and therefore all evaporates during baking.

Alton Brown's show went further, pointing out that alcohol doesn't just evaporate quickly, it also doesn't form gluten while it's around. I don't quite remember whether he also claimed that the alcohol actually inhibits the gluten-forming action of the rest of the water.

Clearly more data is needed. Or perhaps some primary-source citations, but they don't taste as good.

As for the soup phenomenon: It could well be a temperature thing, and I will put my vodka in the freezer next time and see how that goes. But it could also be a flour thing, I suppose. Every flour has a different protein content, every region has its favorite mix of flours (in the south, for example, you can actually buy the flour that makes Southern biscuits famously soft and tender), so unless we set out to use the same weight of the same flour we're going to tend to see different results. (My flour is King Arthur unbleached all-purpose, by the way. I'm not sure of the extent to which King Arthur is a national brand.)

I'm King Arthur AP too. It's national; we bought the same flour in Safeway when we lived in San Francisco as we do in Chicago.

By the way: if you keep vodka in your house, it should always be in the freezer.

(Worked fine! The confit went bad, though; subbed smoked pork shoulder.)

Cooks Illustrated is home to some of the best science writing of any periodical.

My wife has also had spectacular success with the Vodka pie crust, and just loves telling people about how it works.

He's a Cook's Illustrated writer? For his scientific approach to cooking I shouldn't be surprised but reaffirmed by my suppressed gut feeling: "Hey his articles are a lot like Cook's."

I love examples where people use the actual scientific method to test conventional wisdom. This is a good experiment. I would love to see it replicated by other groups (.e.g Mythbusters) to confirm or deny the results.

There is also a similar myth for McDonald's french fries. It would be nice to see those tested as well.

On a related note, the same author performed exhaustive testing to replicate the flavor and texture of McDonald's fries at home.


At least one other is also replicating it; she seems to be doing a more thorough job as well, as she's explicitly varying the amount of moisture between her samples..


You don't need a scientific test to see that french fries don't rot, just look between the seat cushions in my car. I'm almost positive there is one in their from when I was in high school...

True. But if you eliminate all the water from anything, it won't rot. No one is getting worked up about the bags of sugar, pasta, rice, and dried beans that have been sitting in their cupboard for years, either.

Sorry, folks. French fries rot if you just seal the container they are in, whether made at home or McD's. http://sparkasynapse.blogspot.com

> I would love to see it replicated by other groups (.e.g Mythbusters) to confirm or deny the results.

Why not confirm it yourself? He posted his method, and it's probably not outside your realm of competence.

That's one of the best things about science: anyone can do it!

Why WOULD McD's fries rot? They are saturated in oil, and oil does not rot.

Oil doesn't rot? Are you kidding me? Compact discs rot. Rocket fuel rots. And fungi do it.

Anyway, fries aren't just oil. They're carbohydrates and proteins too. Fats take time but eventually you'll see fungi grow on butter.

To the person above, thanks for linking to my experiment. :)


Good point, but lets back it up with a controlled decay study. In keeping with the theme of the topic. =)

French fries are made by expelling moisture, and are then saturated in oil at which point a crust forms on it. I don't think this warrants and experiment as the results are pretty obvious :)

Congratulations, you've just failed at science. Saying that a result is obvious and therefor the experiment is not worth performing is ... well, I'm having trouble coming up with how to describe it without insulting you. It's certainly not scientific, though.

Just because results are a forgone conclusion doesn't mean that it's not worth testing them. Just because you think that your hypothesis is very strong does not mean that you can skip testing it.

No I haven't, it's been done and tested a gazillion times and been explained by people more adept to science than you and me. I don't need to dip my foot in the water to figure out I'm going to get wet.

half way through and having a hard time not running to the local McDonalds to buy a burger (to eat!!).


For those interested in a related Wikipedia odyssey, check out Water Activity <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_activity>, then hit the "shelf stable" link and move on from there.

I stopped eating McDonald's burgers years ago, when I accidentally dropped one on the floor at home while taking it out of the bag. I tossed it out the window for the birds to deal with.

A week later, it was still untouched. Even the goddamn crows wouldn't eat it.

That's when I realized that the critics were pretty much right about McDonald's. Whatever those guys are selling, be it harmful or benign, it doesn't qualify as "food."

Come on guys, this belongs on reddit. Stop screwing up the S/N ratio.

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