We’ve all heard of urban legends, those plausible sounding but false stories that circulate so widely on email and news groups, such as the old lady who microwaved her cat or the Nieman-Marcus $250 cookie recipe. There are several web sites devoted to researching and exposing these fake stories. The same sort of thing happens in the world of food and cooking, although on a much smaller scale. This blog is my answer.
How do I know these are myths? Why should you believe me over someone who says that something I call a myth is in fact true? I can’t answer that question for you but I can say that all of the information in this blog has been carefully researched. I do not claim that something is true or false just because I heard it somewhere or because it seems to “makes sense.” I require that something be backed by a credible source (the key word here is “credible”) and/or that it be in accord with accepted scientific knowledge. In most cases this is also backed up by my personal experience. I certainly do not claim to be infallible but I do try hard to present accurate, verifiable information.
kitchen myth cooking urban legend 1:
This old saw has been around for ages, probably because searing meat that will be stewed, roasted, etc. does indeed give much better results. It has nothing to do with sealing in the juices, however. Careful experiments were performed in which identical pieces of meat were cooked with and without searing. If searing did seal in juices, then the seared meat would lose a smaller percentage of its weight during cooking than the unseared piece. In actuality, both the seared and unseared meat lost about the same amount of weight.
Searing, or more specifically browning, is important because of the Maillard reaction. When the proteins and sugars in meat are exposed to high heat (searing) a large number of chemical reactions take place, resulting in the creation of lots of new flavor elements. It is these flavors, both in the browned surface of the meat and in any pan juices that result, that make searing such an important step in some recipes.
Source: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Simon & Schuster, 1984.
kitchen myth cooking urban legend 2:
Some people will tell you that using milk when making scrambled eggs and omelets results in tough eggs – that you should use water instead. It’s puzzling how this myth continues to propagate because it is so easy to disprove for yourself. But if you require the pronouncement of some authority, tests by Cook’s Illustrated (the “America’s Test Kitchen” people) revealed that scrambled eggs made with water are less flavorful, do not fluff as well, and are not as soft as those made with milk. Cream is better still, but that’s another story!
By the way, this advice is for eggs cooked to be moist and creamy, the way they should be. I know some people prefer the dry, fluffy style but that’s another matter.
Source: The Best Recipe, Boston Common Press, 1999.
kitchen myth cooking urban legend 3:
Sushi means raw fish-FALSE!
Many people think that “sushi” is synonymous with raw fish. Not so – the term actually refers to the vinegar seasoned rice. This is made by dissolving sugar in vinegar (usually rice vinegar) and tossing with the hot, just-cooked rice. Sushi therefore refers to vinegared rice served with other ingredients which may or may not include fish. The rice itself is referred to as shari. Raw fish served by itself without the rice is called sashimi.
kitchen myth cooking urban legend 4:
It’s commendable that people do not want to inflict pain on animals, but this one is false on two accounts. First of all, pain doesn’t just happen automatically – it is the result of specific receptors, nerve pathways, and brain regions all cooperating to convert certain physical stimuli into the perception of pain. This has all been thoroughly worked out in humans and other vertebrates. But guess what – lobsters and other crustaceans are not vertebrates and simply do not have these nerve pathways and brain regions (they don’t have a real brain at all, for that matter). In other words, no brain, no pain (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!).
What about the “scream” that lobsters sometime emit when dropped in the boiling water? There’s the problem that lobsters have no throat, no vocal cords, no lungs, so how could they scream at all? The fact is that the noise is caused by air trapped in the shell. When heated it expands and forces itself out through small gaps, causing the sound.
To be continued…