Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why Does My Kitchen Get Dirty?

For most people the answer to the question would be because they cook a lot and it splatters.

To which the CC would just ask the logical followup, "So why does it splatter in the first place?"

"Just because," is not really an answer. It's a cop-out saying "I don't know but I think I have the illusion that I do."

"Why does it splatter in the first place?"

We are going to get down to fundamentals because that's just the way the CC rolls.

A more practical reason is once you understand the "mechanism of splatter", you are going to be better equipped in cleaning your kitchen or getting your kitchen cleaned, whatever the case may be.

There are a few mechanisms of splatter and they are all very different because they work via vastly different principles.

The first and most obvious one is that people drop stuff on the floor. Nobody is perfect and while prepping food or cooking it, stuff will drop. It's even worse when there are dishes that are time critical. There's no time to pause and mop up the floor.

The second and more subtle reason is that when you are either pan-frying or frying you are really removing moisture via a precise process. The interaction of steam and oil which are immiscible turns the oil into a fine aerosol which because of the heat will rise in the air typically to a height of about 6-12 feet. When it cools off, it will rain down in miniscule droplets which are too fine to even see. If  your kitchen has air movement of any sort or a draft, these droplets will travel at a height before they cool off enough to rain down.

(For those of you who wear glasses, there is a simple empirical test to demonstrate this. After you have finished frying, touch the inside of your glasses. It will be oily because the aerosol has rained down from above into the gap. If it were just splattering directly the inside would be absolutely clean.)

This is not the only problem. The aerosol tends to be highly ionized and will attract ionic molecules. Dust tends to be ionic for many complex reasons so these microscopic splatters will attract the neighboring dust to them where they will cluster. When it gets large enough, you will notice it as being "dirty".

(This is the same reason that your television, computer screen, computer fans, electronic equipment, get disproportionately dusty. They are attracting ionic dust  because the surfaces are mildly ionized themselves. In the case of computer hardware, highly ionized.)

The third common reason is that of the bubbling of a sauce (think: tomato sauce). When the viscosity of a sauce gets really thick, the water is trying to escape in the form of steam but the sauce is so thick that it doesn't allow the tiny bubbles to rise to the surface. They form lots of tiny bubbles internally which coalesce inside the sauce to form a large bubble. The large bubble can counteract the density of the sauce and rises to the top. When this large bubble pops at the surface, it splatters the sauce all over. Generally, these sauces are easy to clean which is why experienced cooks just do a quick clean right after they finish unlike the oil splatters which are so tiny as to be practically invisible. It also helps to keep the sauce bubbling at a lower speed.

Experienced chefs also use splatter screens although the CC will be the first to point out that they are not always practical and not always applicable to certain styles of dishes.

Armed with this knowledge, go forth and cook! (and clean!)

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