Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sushi requires a special kind of rice

At the heart of sushi is the rice – not raw fish as some people mistakenly believe (see my related post here). In a nutshell, medium-grained rice is cooked and, while hot, mixed with a vinegar/sugar/salt mixture. After cooling, the sushi rice is used to make the sushi.

Some unscrupulous companies have perpetuated the myth that you need a special kind of rice to make sushi, and I have seen small bags of “sushi rice” for sale at outrageous prices. Fact is, the rice use for sushi is the same medium grained rice used for many other purposes in Japanese cuisine. You do not need to pay extra for “sushi” rice. Our favorite is Kokuho Rose brand, closely followed by Nishiki. These are California-grown and are every bit as good as the much more expensive Japanese imports. They are widely available, you can even get the Nishiki through Walmart! So, don’t waste your money on overpriced rice!



 

Avoid cured meats because of nitrates/nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites have been used for centuries as part of the meat curing process (bacon, corned beef, sausages, etc.). They inhibit bacterial growth (particularly the botulism bacterium), improve taste, and give the meat a nice color. But there’s been this “anti-nitrate” movement for a couple of decades now, claiming that nitrates cause cancer and all sorts of nasty stuff. They even pressured Whole Foods into not selling any nitrate-containing meats. The evidence for this health danger? None. A huge number of studies have been done, and while a few suggest a problem the large majority have found no negative effects of nitrates on health. But of course the “anti-nitrate” folks always focus on the few studies that support their preconceived ideas and ignore those that don’t.

And think about this: many vegetables contain nitrates, as does much drinking water. Fact is, the Centers for Disease Control has estimated that 90% of the nitrates we consume come from these sources and not from cured meat. Eat a few meals with  arugula, butter lettuce, celery, or beets and you’ll get more nitrates than from several hundred hot dogs. But I don’t see Whole Foods removing those vegetables from their shelves.

For hard-cooked eggs it is best to start with cold water

For years I have made hard-cooked eggs by putting them in a pan covered with cold water, bringing to the boil, then covering and letting sit off the heat for 20 minutes. The eggs cooked fine but they were sometimes very difficult to peel, particularly as I always use very fresh eggs from the farmers market. The problem was that the thin membrane just under the shall would sometimes stick to the egg white like glue. I recently found out that the problem with this technique is the relatively slow heating of the egg, which encourages that membrane to stick to the white. In contrast, rapid heating lessens the sticking, so putting the eggs into already boiling water is better from the peeling standpoint. But boiling like that can cause cracking because the eggs bounce around, so better yet is to steam the eggs.

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a saucepan. Put the eggs in a steamer basket and lower into the pan, then cover. Steam for 13 minutes then cool as peel as usual. I think you’ll appreciate the difference!

Don’t Like What a Report Says? Suppress It.

The Republican Administration and General Assembly here in North Carolina have a long record of being hostile to public education, favoring instead such dubious alternatives as public money for private (including religious) schools and a huge expansion of charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies. A recent report by our Department of Public Instruction provided a less-than-rosy picture of the state’s charter schools in terms of racial and economic diversity. Our lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, who is a long-time charter school advocate, didn’t like this one bit, so he suppressed the report. And, he had the chutzpah to state publicly that he was doing so because the report was unfavorable and the media might use the report to criticize the administration. Well duh, isn’t that the media’s job–to point out flaws in how the state is being governed and when elected officials use their power to keep facts from the people? Way to go, Dan.

Removing bones is called “deboning”

I wince to hear some people, including a lot of people who should know better, use the term “deboning” to refer to removing the bones from a fish, chicken, or whatever. Do you “depeel” a banana, “descale” a fish, or “dehusk” a coconut? No, duh. The correct term is simply “boning” – the “de” prefix is an unneeded and incorrect prefix. This may sound like “grammar nanny” crap, but why speak like an ignoramus if you don’t have to?

You shouldn’t use cold eggs in baking

For most items, such as cakes and muffins, using cold as opposed to room temperature eggs makes no difference in the results other than requiring a slightly longer cooking time. For cakes that use beaten egg whites as a leavening ingredient, however, cold eggs don’t whip up as well and the resulting cake does not rise as well.

It’s better to keep fresh fish in the fridge rather than on ice.

We all know that fish must be kept cold at all times before it is cooked or it will deteriorate quickly. Some people think the fridge is the best place for this, but in fact it’s better to keep the fish on ice. Why? Ice melts at 32 degrees, so a pile of crushed ice that is slowly melting is at that temperature. In contrast, a fridge is typically kept at 35 to 40 degrees. This may seem like a minor difference, but with high quality fresh fish – which is always pretty expensive – it can make a difference. The fish must never directly contact the ice, so in a plastic bag and covered with ice is best. The same goes for other seafood such as shrimp and scallops.

Pasta was brought back from China to Italy by Marco Polo

Nice story, but false. Marco Polo’s journeys to the far east occurred in the late 13th century, while the the earliest known written reference to pasta in Italy – Sicily specifically – dates from the year 1154, over 100 years earlier. There’s no reason to doubt that the Chinese had their own noodles, but the folks in Italy were making and eating noodles long before Marco Polo.

Kitchen Myths – 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for Kitchen Myths. Thanks to all my visitors for a successful year!

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 89,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Heavy cream and whipping cream are the same

I was quite interested to find out that this is not only false, but it is defined by US Government regulations. Whipping cream must contain at least 31% butterfat but no more than 36%, while heavy cream must contain at least 36% butterfat. What does this mean to you, the cook?

When making whipped cream, heavy cream takes longer to whip but lasts longer once prepared (losing its peaks and becoming watery). In contrast, whipping cream whips faster but does not last as long.

A more important difference may be between creams that are pasteurized vs. those that are ultra-pasteurized. Both treatments kill bacteria and extend the shelf life of the cream, but the ultra procedure uses a much higher temperature. The result is cream that lasts longer (in the unopened container) but does not whip as well or taste as good. Look for local, pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream that is free of additives.

Kitchen Myths, the book – now available

KitchenMyths_fc_v5  Now available for Kindle, iPad, Nook, and other devices: the book  version of the Kitchen  Myths  blog.

  • Dozens of new myths
  • Illustrated with the author’s photographs
  • Updated throughout

Purchase from Amazon.com (for Kindle)
Purchase from Barnes and Noble (for Nook)
Purchase from the Apple store (for iPad)

Click for more details

You can keep meat moist by cooking it in a stew or braising it

This seems to make sense—cooking meat in a moist environment would keep it moist, right? Not necessarily. A major determinant of the final moistness of meat is how hot it got during cooking. So, how you stew or braise the meat is really important. Cook at a boil, where the meat may reach over 200 degrees, and it’s likely to be dry. Cook at a gentle simmer, keeping things at 180 degrees or so, and the results will be much better.

Different areas of your tongue are sensitive to different tastes

I remember learning this in high school – the so-called tongue map that claimed that each of the 4 fundamental tastes were “picked up” on different parts of the tongue: bitter in the back, sweet in the front, sour on the sides toward the back, and salt on the sides near the front. This was shown to be false long ago–all areas of the tongue are sensitive to all the tastes.

And yes, there are now believed to be more than 4 basic tastes. A fifth, savory or umami is widely accepted, and some researhers argue for a sixth, piquance.

Kitchen Myths – What’s this Blog all About?

Many widely accepted “truths” about food and cooking are just plain false—in other words, they are kitchen myths. Learn the straight skinny here! See the About page for more information about me, your friendly myth-buster, and this blog.

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