Head to head

So who is tougher, Jango Fett or Alton Brown? To answer this question, I watched several episodes of Brown’s show, Good Eats, and I think I’m hooked on it. Me, addicted to a cooking show? It seems impossible, but Good Eats isn’t just about recipes; it’s also about science.
For example, the latest episode (“The Fungal Gourmet”) focuses on mushrooms. This would appear to be a pretty dull topic: explain what the different kinds of mushrooms are, demonstrate how to cook a couple of dishes with them, and you’re done. Boring. But that’s not how Alton Brown operates. I learned all kinds of cool things from this show. For example, did you know that mushrooms will last longer in the refrigerator if you keep them in a paper bag? (They need to breathe, but in an open container they tend to dry out.) Also, I’ve been washing my mushrooms as soon as I open the package, but Alton suggests waiting until you’re ready to use them (so they don’t get soggy). And whole mushrooms last longer than presliced ones. Previously, I would have dismissed that idea because slicing them by hand is such a hassle. But thanks to Alton Brown, I now know the secret of cutting a mushroom into perfectly uniform slices in one second: an egg slicer.
The really cool thing about this show, however, is what you learn that has little or nothing to do with the actual topic. After watching “The Fungal Gourmet,” I know how to sauté properly, which isn’t something you just do with mushrooms. I also know how to clarify butter, and why I would want to. (Clarified butter has a higher smoke point than regular butter.) Alton doesn’t just tell you the best way to prepare foods; he also explains why — the physical and chemical processes that are going on while you’re mixing and cooking. Demonstrating how to thicken sautéd mushrooms into a paste, he explains that parmesan cheese aids this process because as it melts, “the proteins uncoil and reach out for other things.” And bread crumbs make a good binding agent, because (in addition to absorbing excess moisture), they have “an abrasive shape; they’ve got . . . pitons that go off in every direction, and that kind of sticks into the food and holds it together.” Fascinating stuff.
The show is funny, too. Discussing why it’s dangerous for anyone but a trained mycologist to forage for mushrooms, Alton ends his explanation by tossing a basket of wild mushrooms over his shoulder and beaning the Grim Reaper, who is standing behind him. He livens up the procedure for clarifying butter by reciting the whole thing in one breath (with only a little hyperventilation beforehand, and just a momentary loss of consciousness afterward). Even if you’re not planning to do any actual cooking, Good Eats works as pure entertainment, in the same sense that Bill Nye the Science Guy or Junkyard Wars does.
So I would have to say that Alton Brown is tougher than Jango Fett. Alton can explain how to clarify butter without inhaling, slice mushrooms at super-speed, and knock Death unconscious without even realizing it. Whereas Jango just lies there, because he’s a headless corpse. Not very impressive, really.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *