The Maillard Over-Reaction: Have We Reached Peak Browning? (The New Yorker)

The Maillard reaction has become a fixture of the new cross-cultural, science-inflected culinary Esperanto.

Last year, “Maillard makeup” became a viral trend on Chinese social media platforms: a soft color palette of tan, taupe, and umber, inspired by the reaction but not exactly capturing its intensity.

The scientification of home cooking has been in the works for a while, especially since publishers have realized that “kitchen science” is a marketable theme, in the same way Italian or microwave cooking is.

Maillard has basically become the new umami,… shorthand for ‘I know wtf I’m talking about, bow to me.’

It seems that a process once known as “browning” has been co-opted by an Internet-inflected school of culinary machismo, where the primary function of cooking isn’t necessarily feeding people but, rather, proving a point.

4 Likes
1 Like

Considering I had a piece of hangar steak at a restaurant recently that was so “browned” it was basically burnt, that article may have a point.

How do you burn a steak, for f*** sake? Particularly as a line cook?!?!

3 Likes

Perhaps he had a longer smoke break that day?
Seriously, though, my guess would be a new cook that got distracted.
Med Rare is the “factory setting” for steak prep in the States. I have a hard time getting a Rare steak and my SiL can not seem to get one Medium.
When i ask for Rare i usually get something just a tad closer to Rare than Med Rare.
I wonder if people who ordered Rare have sent it back as being too close to Blue?

Maybe :joy:

Next installment: boiling water. I think that was parodied already, tho.

It’s interesting, Kenji gets most of the credit for science-y-fying cooking for lay people, but wasn’t it really Cooks Illustrated that first (popularly) broke down the science of cooking for home cooks?

I know everyone loves to hate on Chris Kimball and loves Kenji, but still.

1 Like

Kenji did work for CI :woman_shrugging:

1 Like

Yes, but CI was there before and after. One could argue learned his craft from CI.

1 Like

Fair point!

A bit less engineer/scientist than McGee:

1 Like

The non-browned lamb and rice meatballs in my yourvarlakia look very ugly, but taste great. I don’t know how I could brown them (maybe briefly in the air fryer?).

1 Like

Meanwhile

“I cooked a handful of dishes side by side with onions cut with various methods and found that unless I went out of my way to produce wildly uneven dice, most of the little differences ended up washing out in the mix.”

And yet (with computer models and all!):

2 Likes

Lol. I mean, that’s pretty much my experience too, but I didn’t go to MIT (I think that’s where he went).

This was really fun, thanks.

1 Like

CI had an interesting article a while back about how the way an onion is cut affects the strength of its flavor (think lengthwise, across, etc.

I know it’s been linked before, will try to find.

1 Like

Not too surprising when you consider the ways breaking down garlic yields similar variation.

1 Like

Im not into the reaction. When cooking lets say steak in a pan or on the grill . I use low heat for a rare to medium rare . Soft and tender.

1 Like

Lots of stuff get new names, especially after social media drives it…and then at some point someone calls out the excess use of the term or history. Seems to be a social media cycle.

Call it browning or maillard, either way it does the same thing. It makes it look more appetizing, but it doesn’t work with every meat or protein, or need to. I didn’t read the opening article but wok hei is similar or the same…and that adds flavor IMO.

If I cook an expensive steak, I sous vide and brown it, if for no other reason than appearance but I believe it adds flavor on streak but how much, can’t say. It just looks more appetizing or like a traditionally or conventionally cooked steak. And as the saying goes, you eat with your eyes before you mouth. For stuff like beef stew, browning tends to hold a cube of meat together instead of getting like pulled pork or pot roast that gets stringy. So there’s other reasons…or is that a “sear”. (haha)

Other stuff with new names…dry brining. My mom use to simply call it salting, i.e., salt or salting the turkey the day before, rubbing salt on a bird or roast 12 to 24 hours before cooking. If I said something like “hey should we dry brine the turkey”, she’d say what’s that, or might confuse it with a wet brine, or pickles. Of course you sound way more sophisticated using an obscure or “insider” term…so there’s that.

1 Like

Me, too, and I’ve never understood why. If I ask for rare I’m lucky if I get medium rare.

1 Like