Comme Ça

Comme Ça

Appetizer. Brussel Sprouts roasted with olive oil.

Feast. Beef Bourguignon with Pomme Puree n’ braised carrots.

There is a difference when it comes to cooked (but no color), cooked (with color), and burnt. Caramelization DOES have varying degrees; the perfect amount of caramelization can make a dish, the wrong amount (too much or too little) can can render things bland or disgusting.

My initial reaction (and tasting) of the brussel sprouts that arrived at Comme Ca were,”I can do this in my own kitchen, and make it taste better.” Obviously this is a comment no restaurant wants to hear, as you’re supposed to go out and eat things that you normally wouldn’t make at home. Flavor and seasoning on the brussel sprouts were good. Half of them were over-caramelized…and over-caramelization = carbon party (you know…that super charred, ash-ridden black stuff). Not cool.

Left to Right. Raw, Amazing, Fail.

So what’s this BLACK STUFF man?

Caramelization, simply put, is essentially the breakdown of sugars, when heated beyond a certain temperature (sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructose, for example). These breakdown products then reform under intense heat, creating hundreds, if not thousands of new molecules that can vary in smell, and obviously…taste. Many of these compounds are in the form of acids, acetyls, esters, 5-carbon rings, 6-carbon rings…CHEMISTRY (should’ve just said this in the beginning). Yes. Good summary.

Bottom line?

Sugar (carbon) breaks down. Create new compounds. New compounds give flavor and aromatics. MmmmmmmMMMMMMmmmMM.

But what about meat? Meat doesn’t have any…sugar molecules (O RLY? Yes…really). Explain those grill marks, punk.

Browning (not by caramelization) is accomplished through what is known as the Maillard reaction (discovered in 1910 by Louis Camille Maillard, oh shit…surprise). The Maillard reaction is essentially the reaction between an amino acid (protein) with a sugar molecule (carbohydrate). Like caramelization, it produces thousands of unique flavor compounds, which can vary from earthy, oniony, grassy, floral, etc etc…BUT it doesn’t answer the question…WHERE IS THE CARBOHYDRATE? Unless you marinate the meat (such as Korean Galbi…sugary, savory sauce + protein = Maillard amazingness), sugar is NOT present on fresh, raw meat. Browning occurs through inosine monophospate (IMP), as well as adenosine monophosphate (AMP), adenosine triphosphate (ATP)…I could go on, but they’re basically nucleotides (still protein). IMP, AMP, ATP, (“those molecules”) still contain carbon, and react with proteins to create carbon by-products with oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur inserted in new carbon chains and rings. These insertions create the umami, the meatiness factor, compared to the simple caramelization of sugar.

Easy way to remember?

Caramelization occurs exclusively with sugar (caramel candy, butterscotch, most of the browning on desserts).

Maillard reaction includes sugars and proteins, but the presence of protein is absolutely necessary (meat, bread, vegetables (yes vegetables have proteins), chocolate (before its processed…)…coffee, yeah okay you get it. Presence of protein.

Onto the beef borguignon.

Longitude: Into. Latitude: Stomach.

The best part of this dish was the pomme puree. Basically mashed potatoes. However, these mashed potatoes were so smooth, I could practically drink it. How was this achieved?

I’d say homogenization. Perhaps mashed potatoes (as if normal mashed potatoes weren’t good enough) were pushed through an ultra-fine sieve, again and again, until it consisted of super small potato particles that were all roughly the same size. This is equivalent to the modern homogenization of liquid, where a supremely small pipe is utilized, and liquid is pushed through the pipe, at super high pressures. At the right pressure, we get a homogenized spray of particles of pretty much the same size. Massively increase the pressure, and you’ll get a liquid laser (just as cool). I wouldn’t say homogenization is always a good thing though, as it removes texture of food and pulverizes large nutrients. In some cases it can render nutrients to be more bioavailable (cooking can do this too!). Just as blending chunks of pumpkin or peas can make an amazing soup, part of eating food is the experience of not only taste, but texture and nutrition as well.

Yes, I like crispy, crackly, with tender and juicy. There’s a reason why you can eat/chew, or drink/slurp. They’re different things. You wouldn’t want a lumpy pomme puree, nor would you want to drink your chicken. Unless you recently got oral surgery. Blender basics.

Comme Ca? It was alright. Not bad.