Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/839

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819
THE CHEMISTRY OF COOKERY.

thus be distilled (in which animal fats are included) are called "fixed oils."

A very simple practical means of distinguishing these is the following: Make a spot of the oil to be tested on clean blotting-paper. Heat this by holding it above a spirit-lamp flame, or by toasting before a fire. If the oil is volatile, the spot disappears; if fixed, it remains as a spot of grease until the heat is raised high enough to char the paper, of which charring (a result of the dissociation above-named) the oil partakes.

But the practical cook may say, "This is wrong, for the fat in my frying-pan does boil, I see it boil, and I hear it boil." The reply to this is, that the lard, or dripping, or butter that you put into your frying-pan is oil mixed with water, and that it is not the oil but the water that you see boiling. To prove this, take some fresh lard, as usually supplied, and heat it in any convenient vessel, raising the temperature gradually. Presently, it will begin to splutter. If you try it with a thermometer you will find that this spluttering-point agrees with the boiling-point of water, and if you use a retort you may condense and collect the splutter-matter, and prove it to be water. So long as the spluttering continues, the temperature of the melted fat, i. e., the oil, remains about the same, the water-vapor carrying away the heat. When all the water is driven off, the liquid becomes quiescent, in spite of its temperature, rising from 212° to near 400°, then a smoky vapor comes off and the oil becomes darker; this vapor is not vapor of lard, but vapor of separated and recombined constituents of the lard, which is now suffering dissociation, the volatile products passing off while the non-volatile carbon (i. e., lard-charcoal) remains behind, coloring the liquid. If the heating be continued, a residuum of this carbon, in the form of soft coke or charcoal, will be all that remains in the heated vessel.

We may now understand what happens when something humid—say a sole—is put into a frying-pan which contains fat heated above 212°. Water, when suddenly heated above its boiling-point, is a powerful explosive, and may be very dangerous, simply because it expands to 1,728 times its original bulk when converted into steam. Steam engine boilers and the boilers of kitchen-stoves sometimes explode simply by becoming red-hot while dry, and then receiving a little water which suddenly expands to steam.

The noise and spluttering that are started immediately the sole is immersed in the hot fat, are due to the explosions of a multitude of small bubbles formed by the confinement of the suddenly expanding steam in the viscous fat, from which it releases itself with a certain degree of violence. It is evident that, to effect this amount of eruptive violence, the temperature must be considerably above the boiling point of the exploding water. If it were only just at the boiling-point, the water would boil quietly.