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Shalmanese

Culinary Heresies

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I think this relates more to culinary 'superstition', but my mom and grandma always forbid me to eat or taste anything from the pot. The belief is that I'll never get married if I do...Since I can't bear not tasting and adjusting flavors while cooking, that 'rule' went out the window when I moved overseas...


itadakimas...eat a duck i must!

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Who says you shouldn't wash mushrooms? I've heard they shouldn't be soaked, because they'll readily absorb water, but I'll certainly rinse and scrub them as needed if they have clumps of dirt clinging to them.

Alton Brown did a show where he weighed 3 groups of mushroom and soaked them for (I think) 10, 20 and 30 minutes. They didn't soak up hardly any moisture and the 30 minute mushroom didn't gain any more water than the 10 minute mushrooms. I was already washing my mushrooms in a bowl of agitated water before seeing this show and had never noticed any untoward wetness when cutting them after cleaning. This show just increased my confidence that I was on the right track.

Great Topic.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I think Cook's Illustrated did the same thing. I went through a brief phase where I diligently brushed the dirt off mushrooms and it made absolutely no difference in the final product compared to the thousands of times that I rinsed them (and I eat mushrooms a lot).

You need to follow the recipe and measure everything when baking.

I've never understood this to be a food rule so much as a suggestion to beginning bakers for certain things, like pastry. I don't think anyone would argue that there are plenty of baked goods that withstand tinkering/casual measuring quite well, and there are some that even require it depending on climatic conditions (humidity and bread baking, for example).

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I agree that organic products don't necessarily taste better, or look better, for that matter. But that's kind of looking at it the wrong way. I want to support farmers who don't contaminate the ground water, and I'm willing to buy some less than perfect produce as a trade-off. Insecticides and herbicides from farms are poisoning the rivers and bays around here at a rate that's really unreal.

I agree you don't necessarily need to meausure carefully when baking -- especially when you're making bread. If you follow a recipe exactly, it won't turn out right because you haven't adjusted for your local conditions.

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My heresy: I disagree that fresh tuna is best served rare.

Don't get me wrong: I like tuna sashimi. But I can't stand the knee-jerk tendency to serve all tuna 'seared' - i.e., raw inside. I don't think it does any favours for the flavours of most tuna; and it's certainly not any more 'authentic' than the alternative.

Here's Rowley Leigh, the Financial Times' excellent cookery correspondent

The fact is that the European tradition pretty much avoids the tendency to undercook tuna in favour of cooking it long and slow until it falls into soft and tender flakes, an action that is greatly facilitated by the unction of some good olive oil. In Southern Italy they cut it thin and gently braise it

And here's Simon Courtauld in the Spectator, quoting Matthew Fort's excellent Eating Up Italy:

When you come to sear the tuna steaks, as modern chefs so enjoy doing, beware of using too thick a piece and allowing the raw middle to stay cold and rather tasteless. Matthew Fort, in his highly enjoyable book, Eating up Italy, provides the helpful information that the Italians, who know their tuna, use slices no more than one centimetre thick which, having been grilled or fried quickly in olive oil over a high heat, are full of flavour and cooked through.

Edited by Stigand (log)

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Stigand, I can agree that to me, raw fish is more of a texture thing. Raw or just seared tuna has a buttery texture but I don't find much taste in it. Don't get me wrong, I like sushi but to me the flavor is in the rice, wasabe, nori and dipping sauces than in the fish. Salmon is a little different. When dinning out I never order tuna. No flavor and if you have it cooked through it's often dry as a bone.

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I disregard the dictum that you must discard the germ in a garlic clove (usually said to be bitter). There's nothing wrong with it at all. If it's turned green, I might not include it in a dish where the color is important, but that's about it.

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For the last 15 years or so it seems to be an unwritten rule that steamed vegetables are better than boiled.

Since I started cooking Japanese foods frequently around 13 years ago, I've learned that's often not the case... it's harder to steam vegetables for the right amount of time than it is to boil them for the right amount of time... My blanched (boiled and ice shocked) vegetables turn out prettier, crispier, and tastier than most "steamed vegetable" plates I've seen.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I disregard the dictum that you must discard the germ in a garlic clove (usually said to be bitter). There's nothing wrong with it at all. If it's turned green, I might not include it in a dish where the color is important, but that's about it.

I actually find the smell of the germ bothersome.

As to tuna, in Hawaii for dinner one night, I had an Ahi steak that was fully cooked. It tasted mostly like canned tuna. Later in the same trip, I had some Ahi sashimi that was fantastic. I suppose the cooked steak probably wasn't prepared as well as it could have been.

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For the last 15 years or so it seems to be an unwritten rule that steamed vegetables are better than boiled.

Since I started cooking Japanese foods frequently around 13 years ago, I've learned that's often not the case... it's harder to steam vegetables for the right amount of time than it is to boil them for the right amount of time... My blanched (boiled and ice shocked) vegetables turn out prettier, crispier, and tastier than most "steamed vegetable" plates I've seen.

as i've always understood it, people who are pro-steam vs. boil are arguing that steaming is *healthier* than boiling because minerals can't leach into the water when you're steaming as they do when you boil. but more to the point, blanching and boiling are really separate methods, despite both using boiling water. when you're blanching (especially in a large pot with a lot of salted water, which i'm sure you are) you're keeping the temperature of the water high enough to help keep the chloryphyll from leaching into the water (salt helps with this too, as does shocking since it rapidly stops cooking). since you're blanching (rather than boiling for a long time) you too are preventing (some) mineral loss.

i'm a blancher myself.


from overheard in new york:

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Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

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When the chlorophyl is gone (as it often is in many steamed monstrosities), along with the texture, I imagine much of the nutritional value is pretty much lost too... When steaming became popular it was contrasted with the way Americans usually boiled green vegetables, which was far too long.

Steaming too long is probably better for nutritional value than boiling too long, but I suspect a comparison of blanching to steaming would favor blanching. When the cell walls break down enough to lose color, the nutrients will start leaching into the water bath below...


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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For the last 15 years or so it seems to be an unwritten rule that steamed vegetables are better than boiled.

Since I started cooking Japanese foods frequently around 13 years ago, I've learned that's often not the case... it's harder to steam vegetables for the right amount of time than it is to boil them for the right amount of time... My blanched (boiled and ice shocked) vegetables turn out prettier, crispier, and tastier than most "steamed vegetable" plates I've seen.

I wholeheartedly agree.

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I feel very strongly about this topic. In one of Mark Bittman's books he mentions that every chef has certain ironclad rules some of which are pure nonsense, and in my experience this is true. My ironclad rule is this-be fearless! My God, it's a wonder anyone ever gets into cooking anymore with all the propaganda floating around out there. I like Alton Brown, but in almost every one of his shows he has some dish which cannot possibly be made without a certain gizmo or apparatus, usually quite pricey. And most books and magazines about cooking do the same sort of thing, as if they're shills for the cookware industry. I have nice gear, but I use it like 50 hours a week. Most people have no need to buy high-end stuff. As far as cooking methods, whatever works, works! And you have to know who you're cooking for-as somebody said, not everyone likes al dente pasta. Very few people-if any-can discern the difference between a dish cooked with jug wine or a rare vintage. And why-WHY, the irrational prejudice against the use of garlic presses? You can't do this, you must do that-it's all jibber-jabber for the most part.

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Alton used to be pretty good about finding cheap alternatives or clever repurposing of equipment... I suppose there's a bit more product placement these days.

I didn't know there's a big taboo about garlic presses, but I've found it almost as fast to mince use a cutting board, a knife, and a bit of salt, with less cleanup work. Or just chop coarsely, since most dishes seem to get more from coarse garlic.


Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I'm finding some fellow travellers here -- in fact I looked at my long-neglected garlic press yesterday and thought: "Crushing garlic: why is that so wrong?"

I too prefer my pasta a tad past what goes as al dente in these parts -- it holds the sauce better.

I think most fish taste better cooked than raw.

And what's the deal with no cheese with fish, especially in pasta concoctions? Pfui. I love a little Parm on my spaghettini con vongole.

After being browbeaten about the superiority of dressing over in-bird stuffing for years, I have taken my stand: It tastes better, folks like it better and that's the way it's gonna be in my house at Thanksgiving.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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And what's the deal with no cheese with fish, especially in pasta concoctions? Pfui. I love a little Parm on my spaghettini con vongole.

Briefly, in Italy, the dairy producing regions and the seafood producing regions in Italy didn't overlap so, due to the hyper-regionalised nature of Italian cuisine, there weren't any dishes that contained seafood and cheese. When Italian cuisine arose in America, those regional boundaries were erased and the uniform "Italian-American" cuisine was created. "authentic", regionalised Italian cuisine was created largely as a backlash to this and the no cheese with seafood rule became an emblematic touchstone of all that was wrong with Italian-American cuisine. It eventually made it's way back to Italy too but it was essentially largely popularised by Americans.


PS: I am a guy.

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Food Safety: I agree with everything said but want to add a little comment on food safety. We sometimes forget that it is not the bacteria that does us in but the toxins that the bacteria produce as a byproduct. Thus, one must be aware of which types of toxins are broken down by high heat (re-boiling the soup) and which ones aren't.

I have been travelling in Mexico for upwards of 40 years and when in a remote area, I know that I will be safest consuming stuff from that boiling pot on the stove. But there is not 100% guarantee.

Which is why I am always nervous about sushi. The sushi may have been stored and prepared properly. But, if the food handler exposes it to bacteria from their unwashed hands, and the sushi sits for awhile, well, there you have a perfect growth medium.

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Fun stuff.

I have great bunches of "rules" that I cheerfully ignore, many of which have already been discussed upthread. Unfortunately I haven't had my coffee yet, and can't come up with a whole lot right at the moment.

Hmm, let's see...

Pie for breakfast is an ancient and honourable tradition in my household.

I don't wash OR scrub OR brush my mushrooms, at most I'll wipe any unusually dirty specimens (not applicable to wild mushrooms, though...).

I don't sweat refrigeration a whole lot when I'm at home (my grandmother had a pantry right up until '75 when she moved into the house she's in now), though at work of course I adhere to industry standards.

Tomato paste in beef stock is a vile and disgusting practice, and now that I'm the chef it doesn't get used. Escoffier was dubious about it, and in this I agree with him wholeheartedly. As you may imagine, I also dislike traditional demiglace.

It's not a "rule," but the widespread revulsion over anything bone-in or with visible fat mystifies me. That's fine, just pass those bits down to my end of the table.

I have nothing against raw fish as such (I'll cheerfully fill myself on sushi if someone else is paying for the damned stuff) but let's face it, people...almost every seafood you can name tastes better when cooked.

Most recipes calling for unsalted butter work just fine with salted. Some are improved.

Crispy chicken skin is unnecessary at the table. It's much better if the cook disposes of that prior to the meal, rather than having it clutter up the serving dishes. :wub:

I always cook my stuffing inside a chicken (or under a spatchcocked chicken), but never a turkey. The damn things are too big, and dry out well before the stuffing is done. In a chicken I spoon the stuffing in loosely to fill the cavity halfway, as opposed to packing it full with a solid plug of stodge. Extra stuffing I put in a baking dish and spoon drippings onto, which makes it taste pretty much the same.

Almost any rule you can imagine about bread baking is either wrong, or can be worked around once you've got a feel for the process.

I had a roommate once who insisted that it was necessary to put a pinch of salt into your coffee. That was his single, prized, "gourmet tip." Don't do it.

Many people think of soy sauce as a uniquely Asian ingredient, and therefore adding it to western foods creates "fusion." I grew up in a household where soy sauce was routinely added, in varying amounts, to almost any dish containing meat or poultry. It adds a bit of salt, a bit of colour, and a nice depth of savoury flavour to those dishes, and when used with due discretion is not notably "Asian."

As for the whole produce issue? Local factory-farmed is better than organic from 3000km away. Local organic/home-raised/heirloom are all better than that. My own backyard, or my neighbour's, is best of all.

That reminds me of another rule..."if you are limited for garden space, don't bother growing things that are cheap and widely available in your area." I happen to like spuds and onions straight from the garden a whole lot better than store bought, so I always plant them. My rule is to plant and eat what I want.

There are lots more dangling just outside my consciousness, but I've already violated my rule about posting before coffee...


“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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How about cutting lettuce? Lettuce must always be torn, not cut. Here and in Greece they often cut it very finely for a salad. I never noticed any deleterious effects.

Some local food taboos - there seems to be an attitude among many people here that you should "never put lemon on grilled fish." But it's mostly with nouveau riche folks who have read this somewhere (I'm trying to find out where it started) and have taken it to be gospel.

In Greece, a common one is "Never use lemon and tomato together in the same dish." In Mediterranean Turkey there are many dishes with a tart sauce made tomatoes and lemon however.

Leaving food out - for me it's fine, I've never poisoned myself. But the chance that a guest might get sick keeps me from serving food that's stayed out to anyone else.

Unsalted butter - I agree completely. Especially since most of the recipes that have unsalted butter in them have salt in them as well!

Organic - I think tomatoes grown in good soil enriched with manure taste better than those in poor soil, fertilized with chemical fertilizers. I'm not such a tomato freak that I grow them myself, but tomatoes brought from the villages where they fertilize this way do seem to be a lot better.


"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

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This one matters only if you cut lettuce and store it for several hours. The lettuce will brown prematurely because the cell walls have been cut; torn lettuce tends to tear along, rather than through, the cell walls.

If you serve and eat the lettuce straightaway, it won't suffer.

How about cutting lettuce? Lettuce must always be torn, not cut. Here and in Greece they often cut it very finely for a salad. I never noticed any deleterious effects.


Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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On the last one about food safety, I watch Good Eats and I think Alton goes overboard, boarding on OC. I'm careful with meat -- getting it to temp, keeping it separate, etc.

You don't have an officeful of corporate lawyers vetting everything you do and say in front of a national television audience, and Mr. Brown very likely does. They believe (rightly or wrongly I can't say) that if even one of the hundreds of thousands of people who watch Alton gets sick because they were doing something he did, that's a lawsuit waiting to happen. And regardless of merit, their job is to keep that lawsuit from happening.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Thank you, Shalmanese, for your sensible explanation of the no-cheese-with-seafood rule! I have long pondered the reason and could never find any satisfactory answer. My husband is second generation Italian and insists on the no-cheese thing when we have pasta with shrimp, squid, clams, octopus, or any kind of seafood, but he has never been able to tell me the reason behind the rule. Now it makes sense!--thanks Shalmanese, you've solved an old question for me.


Jennifer Brizzi

Author of "Ravenous," a food column for Ulster Publishing (Woodstock Times, Kingston Times, Dutchess Beat etc.) and the food blog "Tripe Soup"

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OK, I'll ask, what's wrong with using a garlic press???

I just pressed a crapload of garlic tonight. My pesto turned OK pretty good, and it took me about 30 seconds to do all the garlic. Sounds OK to me.

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I don't sweat refrigeration a whole lot when I'm at home (my grandmother had a pantry right up until '75 when she moved into the house she's in now), though at work of course I adhere to industry standards.

Whoa....then how in the world do you store leftovers and meat? How do you store anything at all :blink:

I believe raw fish has alot to do with texture, but most of all, the fish fat. That's why raw salmon is so popular, as well as the fatty parts of tuna.

As for Alton Brown, he is first and foremost a film maker, not a chef. He actually only went to an institute only so he could be qualified for Good Eats. Most of the stuff he does is for entertainment value.

I don't know if anyone said this...I also have no qualms with pinkish pork either. I think the contaminated raw pork issue is a little overhyped.

As for the garlic press, I always thought that crushing and pulverizing garlic was the right thing to do. Damaging as many of the cells creates the most flavor and you get the most out of your garlic clove. Why use regular whole or sliced cloves when you have to use more of them to get the same effect? The only reason I would think of adding bits of garlic or whole garlic cloves is if you actually want to eat chunks of it in your food.


Edited by takadi (log)

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