x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

What is it about gooey food that is so satisfying?

There's a visceral thrill to certain textures that force upon us the reality of life and death.

Goo is great. Goo is love. Goo is in the details. When I say "goo", I mean the creamy heart of a Spanish tortilla, the secret pudding that is sea urchin roe and the liquid gold of broken yolk over a tangle of frisée. Good goo is something that comes from within, like the briny custard you can slurp out of crawfish heads. And while crunching through the delicate exoskeletons of meaty red Palamos prawns, which live at such sunless fathoms that their innards explode as they are brought up to the surface, you'll find their flesh sauced in a sort of shrimp-flavoured fondue: the brains.

There's Brie en croute, which I like to think of as the runaway bride of the goo family - all primal and unrestrained. Slice through the golden, crackly pastry crust, and behold the cheese cascading out to eager crackers.

We're obsessed with foods that expand and explode, weep and melt, drown and flood: the volcanic cross-section of a grilled cheese sandwich, an avalanche of rocky road dripping with caramel, the languid separation of that first reluctant slice from the rest of the pizza, the eruption of a jalapeño popper into pure sensory euphoria. Consider the molten chocolate cake, an overwhelmingly stodgy stalwart oozing to conquer the world's dessert menus, or the pavlova, with its toasty marshmallow carapace and pillowy inner meringue.

What's so tantalising about slicing into something and seeing something else run out? There's a visceral thrill to certain textures that force upon us the reality of life and death. Kierkegaard wrote about music as a medium for sensuous immediacy, but what about goo? The word "melty", which I refuse to accept as legitimate English, was used in the first Big Mac ads in the late 1960s. Today, it's used to the same effect in fast food commercials. Legitimate English or not, it gets its point across.

With the truest of goo, the simpler the better. I've endured "Not Your Everyday Caprese" at LA's Saam, where a process called spherification turns orbs of gelified mozzarella into miniature water balloons of tangy milk. They weren't bad, but they weren't burrata, a gloriously wobbly innovation of elastic mozzarella pouches filled with fresh cream and ragged, luscious buffalo milk curds.

Last night, for nachos, I made two extremely gooey cheese sauces. Because good cheese has the grating habit of separating into oil and sludge upon melting, I wanted to try two methods of turning real cheese into goo, and then study its behaviour upon cooling in a rigorously caloric blind tasting. One method required sodium citrate, naturally found in citrus fruit, but it turned into book paste at room temperature. The other method, the brainchild of Serious Eats's resident genius J Kenji Lopez-Alt, involved nothing more than good cheese, cornstarch, evaporated milk and a little elbow grease. Lopez-Alt was aiming to recreate his wife's beloved cheese sauce from the self-serve pump at Fuddruckers; one that "flows like magma, with a silken sheen and not a hint of graininess".

Cream rises to the top, but goo oozes there. It may be an uphill battle, but it's a mighty one.

Nouf Al Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

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