Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Myth Ith Ath Good Ath a Mile


I tharted to write thith blog after eating a huge peanut butter thandwich. Hold on. Let me wath it down with thomething.

There. That’s better.

Over the past few months we’ve shared some great kitchen tips and hints and had a few laughs while we were at it. But in discussing these great pearls of culinary wisdom, I came to realize that among the real pearls there exist more than a few shams. But because they're repeated so often people begin to accept them as true. Sorta like your congressman telling you that "he is only there to help", or your dentist telling you "this won't hurt a bit", or your crazy uncle Larry telling you to relax 'cuz "he's done this a million times and it's never got him arrested" (Not counting last Friday night in Biloxi which he assures you was an honest-to-god fluke).

So I’ve put together a list of a few bogus kitchen myths and sham pearls of wisdom that would best be left in the back of that drawer in the kitchen where we keep all the crap that doesn’t belong in any of the other drawers (Oh, come on. I know you have one of “those” drawers. We all do.)

1. If you want to reduce the heat of a hot pepper, remove the seeds.
This sham pearl of wisdom is in more than a few cookbooks but here’s the real deal: Capsaicin, the substance responsible for the pepper’s “heat”, is found in the white or pale veins inside the pepper; the seeds themselves contain little or no capsaicin at all. So why do the seeds sometimes taste hot? Because when we slice the peppers the capsaicin in the veins squirts onto the seeds. So, yeah, ditch the seeds ‘cause they might’ve come in contact with the hot stuff, but to really cut down on the heat, pare the veins.

2. To prevent pasta from sticking together, add salt or oil to the boiling water.
Interesting concepts, but they won’t solve the problem of clumping pasta. Sure, go ahead and add a couple of teaspoons of salt. But only do it for added flavor because it won’t help the sticky pasta problem. As for adding the oil? Well, that’s only good for wasting oil. The only tried and true way to keep your pasta from sticking together is to use plenty of boiling water and stir the pot occasionally.

3. Put a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors.
Nope. Putting a box of baking soda in the fridge will just take up more space. While a box of baking soda has the potential to absorb acidic odors, it won’t do so effectively because the surface will crust over as it comes in contact with the moist air of the fridge. You’d be better off using the more effective (and expensive) canister of activated charcoal. The simplest and most effective way to control odors in the fridge? Get off your butt and clean it every now and then and be sure to wrap your food up good.

4. Sushi means “raw fish.”
Actually, sushi refers to the rice used in sushi meals. (This rice is made by dissolving sugar in vinegar then tossing it with hot rice before serving with other ingredients which may or may not include fish, raw or otherwise.) Raw fish, when served by itself, is called sashimi. Unless of course you live in some parts of the south where raw fish is called "bait".

5. Searing meat seals in the juices.
Not so according to the experts who have the time to test such things. Searing (or browning) meat does create a number of new flavor elements due to what’s known as the Maillard Reaction – the denatured proteins recombine with the sugars present to create a deep, more “meaty” flavor, but it will not seal in any juices (as anyone who has grilled a steak and had to deal with flare-ups can assure you.) Sure, some cooks challenge this and stand by the fact that searing does seal the meat. Me? I side with Harold McGee, the uber-foodie scientist who believes that searing/browning adds great flavor but does little to seal in the juices.

6. Alcohol burns off when you cook it, so feel free to add another goblet of wine to that stew.
I’m amazed that this idea can still be found in contemporary cookbooks. Alcohol may burn off to some degree, but never entirely. A study by a team of researchers at the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and the US Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Data Laboratory calculated the percentage of alcohol remaining in a dish based on various cooking methods. Here are the results:
                  •   alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from
                      heat  - 85% alcohol retained
                  •   alcohol flamed - 75% alcohol retained
                  •   no heat, stored overnight - 70% alcohol retained
                  •   baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture
                      -  45% alcohol retained
                  •   baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
                       - 15 minutes 40% alcohol retained
                       - 30 minutes 35% alcohol retained
                       - 1 hour 25% alcohol retained
                       - 1.5 hours 20% alcohol retained
                       - 2 hours 10% alcohol retained
                       - 2.5 hours 5% alcohol retained.

Bottom line? If you or someone in your household is dealing with the disease of alcoholism, of if you abstain for religious or moral reasons, cooking with wine or other alcoholic beverages is probably not a good idea. Best to use some stock or fruit juice with a little vinegar added (to give it some zing).

By the way, if you've sworn off alcohol and don't know what to do with those six bottles of cab in the cupboard, the two Stolis under the sink and the case of scotch out in the garage, you got my e-mail (It's not for me. It's for a friend...)

And last but not least:

7. Most cookbook authors (including myself) always know what they are talking about so you never need to double-check their recommendations for any untruths or mustakes.

Got any myths you’d like to share? Feel free to post them!


  1. @Michelle. You're welcome. Hope they help! (btw, sorry about the crazy fonts, I don't know what's up with blogspot today...)

  2. Warren, I love this post! Thank you again for sharing all of these great tips with us!

  3. @Diethood. Thanks, Kate! I hope to post a few more bogus pearls in the future. Take care!

  4. Thanks for stopping by
    What about using coffee grinds as a deodorizer? I put an open jar in my fridge but have yet to smell a difference.

  5. @Brittany. Thanks for stopping by as well. You put coffee grounds in your fridge and smelled no difference? I think you have your answer right there, lol. Anyway, I have heard of people rubbing their hands in old coffee grounds to get rid of odors (like garlic) on their skin. I have never tried it myself. By now you've piqued my interest. I will look into it and let you know what I find.

  6. Thanks for the tips. I thought it was fun and funny reading.

  7. These are great - I love the bit about cleaning the fridge. I think that it is one of the most forgotten places to clean! Great tips with a nice dose of humor :)

  8. Ooo, interesting indeed! A real Cooking Myths Buster!

  9. Great list! I'll especially keep #7 in mind... ;)

  10. @Nippon Nin. Glad you enjoyed it! Feel free to drop by often - I try to post weekly and there's always room around this table. :-)

  11. @Amy. Wouldn't be great if having a clean-smelling fridge was as simple of placing a yellow box in the back? There are times I wish it were so. But the reality hits my nose and I have to whip out the sponge and some soap!

  12. @Something Good. Perhaps you're on to something! As I read cookbooks (and I have a gazillion of them) it's amazing to find so many hints and tips that are accepted as true only because they've been repeated so often!

  13. @Andrea. Of course! #7 is crucial...except with my books. LOL!

  14. I love your sense of humor! Good tips and I especially like #2! I always wonder about draining eggplant to remove the bitterness - myth? I don't drain eggplant when I make eggplant Parmesan, but I do if I roast it. But, I'm never sure if I'm removing bitterness or just liquid!

  15. Great tips! Thanks for posting #6. I'd never heard that one before.

  16. @Lin Ann. Salting and draining eggplant is a good way to prepare it for sauteing, frying, etc. It may also reduce the bitterness that is sometimes found in older eggplants that have been grown in arid conditions, but modern agriculture has worked hard to reduce the bitterness in eggplant and other normally bitter veggies like cabbage, cucumbers and lettuce. Anyway, it certainly won't hurt. :-) BTW, as a side note: use Kosher salt when salting the eggplant. The larger crystals will be less likely to dissolve than regular table salt and will be easier to remove before cooking. Hope this all helps!

  17. @Laura Silvey. Cooking with wine is a great way to add flavor to a dish (even just adding a tablespoon or two to frozen veggies before nuking them. But if someone is really trying to abstain, for whatever reason, it's best to leave that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the shelf. :-)

  18. @Michelle Stiles. You're welcome, Michelle. Keep an eye out for more blog buffoonery this week!

  19. @Emily. Thanks for dropping by again! Feel free to visit often, I'll save a seat for ya!

  20. Hahahahahaha..... what a great post to have my breakfast with! I'd love to have read the whole, entire thing with peanut butter lithpth!
    Great writing Warren!

  21. @ping. Thanks for stopping by. Glad the post brought a thmile...oops, I mean smile. :-) Drop by often...I try to post weekly, so I hope to see you again soon!