Who would say adding this and that quickly and cook on full fire is cooking?
Posted on April 1st, 2014

Dr Hector Perera         London

Adding this and that without any explanation and heating on fire is not real cooking to be shown on British Television. I have a great respect for British TV cooking programmes because some of them really educate the viewers. Some chefs, purposely set fire to the cooking pan and dance around jabbering and muttering something nonsense then keep on adding more ingredients for no reason.

In a way this is no better than devil dancing in Sri Lanka. They are really entertaining and meaningful. The devil dancers set fire to their torch to get better attention because higher the fire, for better attention and entertaining, perhaps those chefs try to imitate them, who knows. In most of the TV cooking programmes, those so called chefs, just add ingredients without any idea, no quantitative or qualitative aspect of cooking. Hardly give any scientific explanations, may be because they are unaware of the sciences applied to cooking. Sometimes they virtually burn a thick slice of beef or a leg of lamb just for few minutes giving out fumes and smoke then just turn around once and say it’s cooked. Then to the same pan add some sliced onions, garlic and a few other spices, mix it quickly, again giving out lots of fumes then pour it over virtually uncooked slice of beef or lamb and they say all cooked.

The excuse for uncooked beef or lamb was, medium red meat taste better and who wants to eat virtually raw blood dripping red meat? Then they pour source to cover the red, uncooked meat and presents it to the camera. Then cuts and gives it to the presenter lady who usually says, “Yummy very tasty” even when the meat is absolutely red and under cooked. I am sure she has to tell that way to the camera because that is a part of her daily programme. I am sure many millions have witnessed this kind of cooking and wonder who would agree that is real cooking.

I witnessed this kind of meat cooking even this Saturday morning. The guest of the show was a world famous singer Engel Bert born in India and he said, “I will eat only the edges because the rest is raw”. If I am wrong, I can give the name of the actual programme so that one can double check. If the chefs have no ideas of the chemicals or the ingredients they add then they are much worse than our servants at back home. I must say those servants have cooked or experimented different foods for a number of years and they got the ideas how to cook something quite perfectly.

First take the simple case of cooking the basic thing rice. They wash the rice several times in cold water, swirling the rice on a clay semi-circular thing, moving it front and backwards by dipping it on another water filled clay thing called, “koraha” so that the surface water is allowed to fall into water with little rice at a time. The idea to move the semi-circular thing back and forward or rock it and dipping in water is to let any heavy objects such as sand particles to gradually sink to the bottom of that apparatus. They take a few minutes to do this very carefully. The grains of rice and sand are separated this way due to density difference. The last few grains of rice usually have some sand particles that might have got into rice when paddy was separated from the hay.

When I looked what they did to wash and separate sand, I think they have applied some science even though they didn’t have any knowledge of science. Starch generally contains 20 to 25% amylose and 75 to 80% amylopectin and the cloudy water is due to soluble starch on the surface of the rice grains. The removal of sand is done gradually by that clay pot by making use of gravity between rice and sand. They know by moving up and down and dipping in water separates rice from sand. The movement of hand in water in a circular fashion in the bowl of water creates a kind of turbulence again helps to sink any heavy sand to the bottom in the two clay apparatus is by applying centripetal force. That is sand particles are virtually flying to the centre. The mathematical description was derived in 1659 by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens. Sir Isaac Newton’s description was: “A centripetal force is that by which bodies are drawn or impelled, or in any way tend, towards a point as to a centre.” How our servants did applied this kind of highly mathematical science?

When they put water into the pot of rice, they again have some measurement. They are very knowledgeable about the quantitative and qualitative aspect of cooking. Why cannot they just look and check the level of water but they put the hand and check the water by keeping the fingers on the surface of rice. When they look into pot of rice and water they see the apparent depth due to refractive index of water then to see the real depth they put the hand and check. How did they applied those scientific terms such as gravity, centripetal force, refractive index, turbulence, apparent depth and real depth even when some servants only just can read something? When I think about their scientific knowledge and application of them to day today work that really amazes me.

The sand particles are still present only in certain kinds of rice for sale but not in all varieties. Commercially they are removed by making use of centripetal force. Sometimes they repeat the whole process again to double check that no sand particles are in rice before they are cooked. I think this takes more than ten minutes or more, depending on the amount of rice to cook. Then they washed the rice a few times to make sure no cloudy appearance of the water. Then carefully put into a clay pot and add some water. To find out how much water is adequate for that amount of rice they check by dipping the hand into the pot. They know exactly how much water is enough to cook that amount of rice by experience for a number of years in the firewood stove kitchens. Even I have experienced in cooking on firewood stoves, not long ago when we went on holiday with the family to our aunt and uncles place.

The servant woman was not a resident one so she leaves in the afternoon. In the supper time, sometimes I try and cook something on those firewood stoves. I sometimes cooked on gas at home so I tried to cook on firewood stoves here as well but it’s absolutely difficult, may be because I was not used to cook on firewood stoves. Those days my mum had to cook on firewood stoves because those days no gas was available and not even electricity to the home. I can remember a small kerosene lamp sitting very near to the firewood stoves, it was the only light to the kitchen. Most of the times we had resident servants or at least a servant woman just come and help during the day. There was this double gas ring cooker at aunt’s place but I think was not allowed to use by the servants. They hardly used it other to boil some water, I don’t know exactly why that is why I also thought to try and cook on firewood stoves.

The clay pot base is not flat, somewhat hemispherical so it’s not really balancing on gas rings but on firewood stoves it nicely fits. Unlike the present day facilities those servants never had gas or electricity to cook rice or any other dishes but still they got them perfect, that really amazes me. Just to get rice separated from sand then washed properly takes more than fifteen minutes. Then to get firewood lit and to get it cooked also takes a reasonable time but I never found out how long does it takes to cook rice. No wonder the servants spent hours in the kitchen.

The firewood stoves gives a special warmth in the kitchen, excess smoke get extracted through the overhead chimney and there is plenty of ventilation in the kitchen as the windows and the doors are left open most of the time. The hot air is less dense and rise up quickly that is why they built an overhead chimney. I must admit that, cooking in these kinds of kitchens are not quite easy at all but honestly I cannot understand how did our servants managed to cook the food so tasty amidst all these difficulties.

To cook curries such as fish, chicken and vegetables, they prepared the curry paste suitable to them by grinding between two stones called, “Mirisgala”. The servants knew the proportion of each ingredient to be ground for each kind of dish since they didn’t have readymade curry pastes unlike today. Today those curry paste packets and bottles are found even in Sri Lankan supermarkets. If they are found just in overseas then I can understand why but the things have changed. How did they know the ground ingredients have larger surface areas and they react better and faster than the whole ones? That again chemistry and physics applied to cooking. Today I have seen some so called British TV chefs just add those ingredients as they are because they probably never knew they got to be grounded for faster reaction.

For fish and chicken, the servants ground the roasted form of ingredients because the heat changes the chemical structure of the ingredients and release the chemicals faster in cooking curries. The homemade curry pastes are usually used then and there only than leaving for next day or after that is because the freshly made curry pastes give better and tastier dishes. Those curry pastes are bottled long time ago, may be few months ago, loaded with too many preservatives, chemicals such as MSG or monosodium glutamate or commonly called ajina motto and oils and they are expensive as well. Once opened they are supposed to finish in two to three days. The homemade curry pastes are fresh, no added chemicals, oils and preservatives and that is the secret why the food made out of them are tastier than those prepared from bottled curry pastes. Sometimes I thought those experienced servants are much more scientifically knowledgeable than some of the British TV chefs.

I am not a cook but a qualified chemistry teacher and I applied well established scientific laws in energy saving. To my surprise so far no energy experts or energy authorities have challenged about my work, even when I placed a substantial sum of money as the challenge. I have demonstrated my kind of scientific energy saving cooking technique to ITN TV then to a crowd of about 50 people at Dehiwala [Vesak May 2013] and also had a long live chat show with TNL or Young Asia TV in Sri Lanka. I am sure many have appreciated and some people wrote to me saying they are practically applying the technique and it certainly saves energy, cuts down the smell depositing on them while cooking. Those who used to shower with curry cologne and chicken cologne, may be for secret aroma beauty therapy would be disappointed if they used my kind of cooking. Any comments please perera6@hotmail.co.uk

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