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Cooking Myths


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It just gets me. Nearly every chef who's cooked on TV perpetuates the myth that searing locks in the juices or some such formulation. Harold McGhee (sp?) argued that any cook, home- or professional, who is observant can satisfy him/herself that this is patently untrue (sear a steak on one side, turn it and continue cooking -- where are those beads of bloody juice that begin to appear on the seared surface coming from? Inside the meat and through the seared surface, that's where. Crash goes the theory that the puprose of searing a piece of meat is to lock in the juices! Like Alton Brown says in the chapter on searing in his new book- if you want to lock in the juices, get a laminator.

So why do chefs continue to perpetuate this myth? What other myths do chefs perpetuate?

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Marinades tenderize meat. That bugs me almost as much as the sealing-in-the-juices myth.

Would that not be true about Marinades?

So many well acclaimed chefs believe that the process of marination begins the cooking process for meat. Is that not true?

What do chefs mean by that?

Sealing in the juice is agrred a myth... but I am not certain that marinades do not cook or tenderize..... Though I am open to being educated about my perpetuating a myth... I would love to know better.

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Bittman say:

"People marinate meat, usually before grilling, with two goals: to tenderize it and to add flavor. Unfortunately, marinating doesn’t tenderize at all. A long soak in an extremely acidic marinade may make the outer eighth of an inch or so of meat a little mushy, but it cannot turn tough meat into tender meat. Only cooking can do that."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Bittman say:

"People marinate meat, usually before grilling, with two goals: to tenderize it and to add flavor. Unfortunately, marinating doesn’t tenderize at all. A long soak in an extremely acidic marinade may make the outer eighth of an inch or so of meat a little mushy, but it cannot turn tough meat into tender meat. Only cooking can do that."

And so Bittman does state that it makes it mushy on the surface...

That was all I wanted to hear.

If marinating alone could cook meat... why would we bother to cook...

Marination is to aid in cooking and to begin the process.

And when marination is done for long periods (in some recipes for 2-3 days, you are doing just that... mushing large parts of a meat, so you can flash it in a tandoor and not have to cook for too long.

Also large gashes are made in the meat being cooked like that, so the mushing happens not only on the surface on top, but also around the large slits that have been deeply placed all over.

But I agree that final cooking can only take place when the meat is treated to some kind of heat.

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This drives me crazy. I hear "myths" from chefs on The Food Network frequently. The most recent one that I recall was Emeril, stating that the addition of a potato to an over salted soup will reduce the saltiness. Robert Wolke debunks this myth with an experiment and proves that the "only sure way to rescue a too-salty soup or stew: Dilute it with more stock-unsalted, of course." (Wolke, Robert. What Einstein Told His Cook. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. p. 61).

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Bittman say:

"People marinate meat, usually before grilling, with two goals: to tenderize it and to add flavor. Unfortunately, marinating doesn?t tenderize at all. A long soak in an extremely acidic marinade may make the outer eighth of an inch or so of meat a little mushy, but it cannot turn tough meat into tender meat. Only cooking can do that."

Depends on marinade. If you use ginger or pawpaw you get "tenderised" meat. They is full of proteinases. Actually a really good way of ruining meat, add fresh ginger and leave it for a few hours - mushy. The best way to really ruin meat is to add the ginger to ground/minced meat and leave for a few hours- extra mushy. No sure about this little penetration after extremely long soaking, I mean the salt in brine solution penetrates does it not? Is osmosis an active process whereas acid penetration of meat not? I guess you wouldn't marinate for as long as you brine mostly, but what about if you combine brineing with marination? For a work function we once marinated/brined a whole pig for about three days, that meat was very tendere, but was it due to the brine, the cooking process (spit-roast) or the marinade (contained ginger)?

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Olive oil in pasta water keeps the pasta from sticking.

I heard that one already....only it was that the olive oil is supposed ot stop the water from boiling over... I did read the truth about olive oil in Macella hazaan's book Essential of Classical Italian Cooking...you don't need it. Just bring your water to a boil, add salt and return to a boil. Toss in pasta and cook al dente. Doesn't boil over or stick. No oil is necessary!

I hear "myths" from chefs on The Food Network frequently. The most recent one that I recall was Emeril, stating that the addition of a potato to an over salted soup will reduce the saltiness

Err...I also heard this from Sarah Moulton on Sarah's Secrets. I never thought to add potato....just always added more liquid...whether it be stock, broth or water. All unsalted of course.

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Myths, like some religious traditions, limricks, maxims, etc, are often perpetuated to get people to do the right thing, even if they don't know why they are doing it. A form of social control for the deemed benefit of the often uneducated masses.

In this case, almost none of the aforementioned techniques described in the myths (except for the potato deal) are fundamentally wrong. They each have their own usefullness, but are poorly explained by the myth.

It is 'easier' to explain that searing meat seals in the juices, rather than to explain the caramelization process, the need for avoiding over-manipulation and poking, etc. Though the meat is not 'sealed' per se, one cannot deny that searing does produce a juicier cut of meat.

By telling people not to wash their mushrooms, people won't be tempted to let their mushroom soak in a water bath for hours at a time, which I garantee will significantly increase their water content, even though a gentle rub under running water won't affect them one bit.

In some contexts (where knowledge of science is absent, for example), this is the only way to ensure that sound culinary (or other) principles survive the generations.

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searing is done with a hot pan. try searing on a no-so-hot pan, and the meat starts boiling instead, juice will flow freely, and the meat will be dry. point is: it maybe isn't the searing as such, but the heat, that will keep it from flowing.

but of course, you will always have a juice flow, but then only later.

am i completely wrong?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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This is a wonderful collection of old-mates'-tales [the PC version of old-wives'-tales]. Aix provides a very plausible explanation for their survival. They are yet another example of "common sense", which, as a scientist has pointed out, is wrong about fifty percent of the time.

An example of a non-myth which really does work is allowing a piece of meat to rest after cooking to retain -- not reabsorb -- its juices. The longer it rests the more it retains. For instance, if roast chicken is to be served in a warm sauce, I let it cool virtually to room temperature before carving and then gently reheat it in the sauce. The moistness and suppleness of the flesh is astonishing, even if part of the meat is reserved and reheated the following day.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Myths, like some religious traditions, limricks, maxims, etc, are often perpetuated to get people to do the right thing, even if they don't know why they are doing it.  A form of social control for the deemed benefit of the often uneducated masses.

In this  case, almost none of the aforementioned techniques described in the myths (except for the potato deal) are fundamentally wrong.  They each have their own usefullness, but are poorly explained by the myth. 

The way I see it, a myth is a myth and the perpetuation of it by people who should know better is fundamentally wrong. And I would strongly disagree that the act of cooking myth perpetuation is a deliberate attempt to get people to do the "right thing" in their cooking where the correct reasoning is too difficult to explain. One doesn't need a Ph.D to be able to understand that the crust produced by searing a piece of meat produces great flavor, both in the meat and in the resulting pan sauce. That's the easily explainable reason why one sears.

But here is the key question: do chefs really know that searing does not seal in the juices? Do they really know that dropping a potato into a too-salty pot of soup will do nothing to reduce the saltyness? Or are they themselves tremendously uninformed? My understanding of modern culinary education is that basic food science is an integral part of the curriculum. Am I wrong?

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cold water comes to a boil faster than hot water. :blink: that one has always baffled me.

aside: it's not recommended that you cook with or boil hot water from the tap. the water sits in that old tank in your basement for some time before being spit out of the tap. you might want to pour a glass of hot water, set it out for a while until it gets to room temp, and have a look/smell. chances are you won't be impressed.

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Helen,

According to both Robert Wolke and Harold McGee, Mushrooms do not soak up liquid like sponges. Both authors tested the theory by weighing, then soaking in cold water for 5 minutes, spin drying, and weighing the mushrooms again. Wolke found that 1 pound of white mushrooms absorbed less than 3 teaspoons of water after washing. He also tested this on brown mushrooms which held slightly more water (5 tsp. per lb.) which he found, was due to more space for water to be trapped between the gills rather than the flesh being more absorbent.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Macmillan, 1984.

Wolke, Harold. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002.

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not so much a myth as much as a lack of understanding:  salted water boils "faster."

From what little I recall from high-school chemistry (I don't recall anything from college chemistry), adding salt raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil. (It also lowers the freezes point, so pouring salt on ice helps the ice to melt.)

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From what little I recall from high-school chemistry (I don't recall anything from college chemistry), adding salt raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil.  (It also lowers the freezes point, so pouring salt on ice helps the ice to melt.)

you are correct sir. so it boils hotter. the thing is, the increase in temp is negligible as far as i understand. and i can't imagine that it takes longer to boil in any practical application. how tightly your lid fits surely affects the time more than a bit of salt would.

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