Over the past quarter-million years of human cultural evolution, we have developed quite an extensive repertoire of techniques for preparing and cooking food at the bottom of a gravity well.
However, following a discussion last night, I'm wondering what cooking techniques are we going to need to develop if we ever end up flying long-duration space missions that grow their own food?
To clarify: space missions to date have almost entirely subsisted on processed rations shipped up from Earth — glorified airline meals, in effect. Cooking mostly consists of mixing, heating, and eating. But one of the standard recurring ideas that crops up in discussions of missions to Mars or beyond is the idea of growing food in a closed-circuit life support system. Even if it's just a supplement for canned rations, the ability to grow and harvest rice, soya beans, a handful of herbs, and possibly a tank full of tilapia, is going to introduce some interesting complications into a space mission. Raw food (fruit and some vegetables) is an obvious way to avoid confronting the question, but in the long run it's not going to be good for morale. So what can we do in the free fall kitchen?
Assume, for the sake of argument, that it is impractical to build a kitchen in a rotating artificial gravity section of a spacecraft; we then have the question of how to cook food in free fall. Certain technologies we take for granted are probably highly dangerous in that context — naked flames don't work the way we intuitively expect them to. Water and other liquids' behaviours are dominated by surface tension effects: the idea of sharing a kitchen with an uncontrolled floating multi-litre blob of boiling water or frying-hot oil (which can break up and drift apart if prodded too hard) doesn't bear thinking about. Knives won't cut properly if the knife-wielder and the target aren't braced.
It seems to me that it's possible that new types of food preparation tool or appliance will be needed, and some techniques will be seen as much easier and safer than others. Sous-vide requires food to be bagged and immersed in hot working fluid at temperatures up to 70 degrees celsius — it's inherently safer than trying to fry or boil. A pressure cooker should be safe to operate as long as the air pressure inside the kitchen doesn't fluctuate wildly. And heated drum mixers (think in terms of a tumble driver for food) may be workable for roasting. But I've got a feeling that there are a lot of other ideas out there that haven't been explored yet. Is interplanetary flight going to be the impetus for the next wave of pioneering cuisine?