I have an unfortunate habit of playing that game where you say the first thing that comes to mind when another word is said: free association.
I was listening to the news and I heard the word “emulsified," as in "an emulsified oil slick," and out of sheer habit, I thought of a burre blanc, a white wine and butter sauce. A good burre blanc sauce should be thick, viscous, light in color, basically the same words that they are using to describe some of the oil in one of the worst disasters in our nation's history.
To me, emulsified is a cooking term and deals with sauces. Many cooks are overwhelmed by sauces. The world of sauce has inspired tomes of books on the chemical composition and the different lexicological breakdowns. I feel like a mad scientist just looking at them on my shelf.
I should not be surprised that the same basic rules apply to oil slicks as they do to butter sauces. I like to think that chefs are special but, alas, we follow the same rules as the rest of the natural world. Chefs can caramelize food because of a chemical reaction that happens at 314 degrees. Chefs can thicken sauces because the butter in roux denaturalizes the starches in flour and creates a net, thickening the water.
Knowing a little of the science behind food, I know that oil and water don’t mix, but under certain circumstances they can form a semi-stable relationship. One thing that I do know, oil is better when emulsified into a sauce than when emulsified into an ocean.
Randy King is a chef and is worried that BP is turning our gulf coast into a giant disgusting salad dressing. Click to follow Randy on Facebook.