I wonder if there are some general rules for primary food groups (meat, veggies) that a cook can use to increase/decrease the amount of oil, water, and other compounds uptaken by the target ingredient from surrounding ingredients.

For example, when baking potatoes, what factors (like temp, time & mixing ratios) would dehydrate them & what factors would help them pick up oils and herb flavors down to the center?

Similarly, when cooking meat, how would time, preparation (e.g. brining), temperature & cooking technique help pick up flavors & oils from additional ingredients in one case, while leave the cut tasteless & gummy in another case?

I guess my question has a lot to do with the level of decomposition that is reached before and during cooking a food. Am I on the right track here & how would I control decomposition in general?

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    This is far too broad for an answer, several books could be written on this. – GdD Apr 25 '16 at 11:01
  • I might have overgeneralized, but directions would be more useful than one-liners. A good answer would be, 'It's too broad. If you're just starting out, focus on principles x & y in the short term and look deeper into subject z in the long run. You're mistaking a for b & c, because...' – vantage5353 Apr 25 '16 at 11:13

I was wondering if this should be closed as too broad or unclear, or answered. I'll attempt an answer.

The information you are looking for doesn't exist. First, there are no common factors which make all and any food tasty. Second, the factors which make most foods tasty have nothing to do with absorption, and in fact most foods do not absorb anything at all. The starches are a big exception (rice, noodles, etc.) but they absorb water, not flavors, oil or spices. Third, decomposition does not exist in the way you are suggesting, and is not a topic in cooking. Different food groups cook in different ways, and I guess that the process could be classified as decomposition for some of them (proteins, celluloses and hemicelluloses), but it is actually too generic a term to be of any use for understanding what is going on.

If you want to learn to cook well, and understand the whys behind it, you have to go into each type of food separately, and learn it on a deeper level than some very general terms like "absorption". Alternatively, you can say that's too much theory for you and just learn to cook by following recipes and comparing the outcome to your expectations. But you can't throw out a term like "decomposition" or "absorption" and cover all cooking with it.

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  • Fair enough. I'm indeed looking for a high-level explanation, and maybe it's too general in the way I asked, but your answer didn't really include any directions. While I may be wrong, cooking seems to be fundamentally about submitting ingredients to various temperatures along with other ingredients in certain ratios across time. I assume at least some theoretical or personally verified principles can be added to your post, no? :) – vantage5353 Apr 25 '16 at 10:53
  • No, you are generalizing way too much. Saying that "cooking is basically submitting ingredients to various temperatures" is both too broad and not broad enough. Cooking is in fact changing the structure of food on the microscopic level, and exposing ingredients to heat is one of the multiple methods used. And both the procedure and the end result are extremely different depending on what you start with. I am not giving you guidelines because they don't exist. – rumtscho Apr 25 '16 at 10:58
  • While I appreciate the novice-expert difference here, I think you might be overcomplicating the matter unnecessarily. Language could be at fault, but surely a chef doesn't go into the kitchen thinking 'oh, I have to think of 142 things in advance to get it perfect', just as it isn't as simple as a chronic fast food eater dumbing it down to 'oh, you just throw it all in and stir on medium heat'. There are certainly some heuristics chefs use on a daily basis, pragmatically, without disrespecting the complexity of the field. That's what I'm interested in, not a quick fix. ;) – vantage5353 Apr 25 '16 at 11:07
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    Chefs don't think of 142 things, they learn how to cook different dishes and learn the appropriate technique for each. Maybe you need to look into a good cooking textbook (not a standard "cookbook" which is in fact a recipe collection) to understand how this works? "The professional chef" is a good place to start if you don't want to go into the food-sciency stuff. Of course there are heuristics for preparing, say, cuts of meat with little connective tissue with direct heat - and they are totally different from the heuristics of preparing flourless cakes. – rumtscho Apr 25 '16 at 12:07
  • Picking the right theoretical book is a good start, but could you share what helped you the most in establishing, for yourself, those more fundamental principles for the various food categories? Do you rely on expert advice, trial and error, or do you have a strategy for figuring out fundamentals quickly when cooking unknown ingredients with unknown properties? – vantage5353 Apr 25 '16 at 12:58

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