We've all heard it before: this TV chef shares a "must follow" tip for making pasta or this cook book touts the only way to properly prepare meat or your mother always told you the best way to fix over-salted soup. Yet you might be surprised to learned that these "words of wisdom" aren't always correct.
Myth: A potato will not soak up salt.
"There's a myth that you can add a potato to the soup and it will somehow remove the salt. Really, it's just adding a very bland substance to the soup, one that needs a lot of salt to taste right. Removing the potato at the end will remove liquid as well as salt without radically altering the balance. You might as well just add water, which achieves the same effect. Or you can go ahead and add the potato, and leave it in. Either way, you're basically just adding more soup to the soup to dilute the salt."
Myth: Lard is very unhealthy.
"Lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. It also contains no trans-fats while Margarine and Shortenings do. The 'lard is bad for you' myth was started by the hydrogenated vegetable oil producers who wanted to push butter and lard off the shelves to make room for their chemical crapola."
Myth: The heat is in the seeds.
Myth: Only flip your meat once during cooking.
"The 'flip once' team and the 'flip often' team are both right and wrong at the same time. It does not matter, for even cooking, how often meat is flipped. Most of the internal cooking process works through liquid redistribution as the muscle contracts and expands accordingly."
Myth: Alcohol will burn off in dish.
"Your grandmother's Rum Cake or that red wine in the sauce won't get you sloshed, but there's nothing you can do to food with alcohol in it, short of rendering it inedible, that will remove all the alcohol. Cook without it if anyone in your family has an intolerance."
Myth: Lemon juice/leaving the pit in keeps avocados from browning.
"This is kinda true, they certainly slow the browning, but with avocados, air is the enemy and lemon juice can't keep that out forever. Best way to keep avocados or guac from browning is to put them in container that has a lid and gently pour about an inch of water on top of the surface. For a half of an avocado, leave it in the skin sans the pit and put it in exposed flesh down. You don't have to cover the whole avocado, just submerge the exposed flesh. When you're ready to eat it, just dump the water. Unless you mix it on purpose, it won't affect the flavor or texture at all."
Myth: Marinades or special concoctions tenderize meat.
"Neither one permeates the meat very deeply. Don't believe me? Buy a cheap cut and some 'tenderizer', pour food coloring into the solution, and put your meat into it. A day later cut it open – only a very shallow outer layer will be dyed. Marinades adhere to the outside and permeate into the meat fractions of a millimeter, but they flavor, not tenderize, the meat."
Myth: You cook out all the nutrients when cooking veggies.
"Most vitamins are unaffected by heat. Many of the minerals and vitamins in food are, actually, much more completely absorbed in the stomach when cooked beforehand. To re-iterate: raw foods are not, at all, healthier."
Myth: Adding vinegar to the water makes hard-boiled eggs easier to peel.
"It actually does nothing except waste vinegar. What makes them easier to peel is the starting temp of the water. Despite Betty Crocker's advice, starting with boiling water makes them easier to peel. Bring a pot of water to a boil and gently lower the eggs in (fry spider works well), let them boil for about 30 seconds then drop the temp to a very low simmer simmer (around 185 degrees F) and let them cook for 10 to 11 minutes. Then shock them."
Myth: Never Crowd Your Pasta.
"My mother believed this one to be true, too. Plus those TV cheflebrities keep perpetuating it. Unless, and that's really the only time, you make your own, 100% semolina pasta and do not rest/dry it, you don't need to fill a huge pot with lots of water for some product. As long as all of the pasta is covered, crowding is never an issue. Add enough salt to make it, as my Italian chef always said, 'taste like the Adria', NO oil (never, ever), and bring to a light, not rolling, boil. And, voila, perfect pasta every time."
Myth: Adding salt makes your water boil faster.
"Adding salt actually raises the boiling point of water. The amount of salt we add to cooking water, however, is way too low to make a discernible difference to the things cooked in it. Salt seasons food, it acts hygroscopic in some cases, and in the case of pasta it actually counteracts some of the starch cohesion while cooking."
Myth: Continuously keep whipping cream or it “falls apart.”
"When whipping egg whites or cream, stopping in the middle and picking it back up a few seconds later (when that arm gets too heavy) doesn't make your whip fall apart. If anything, it helps by allowing the structure to set and firm up a little. Just don't remove your whisk, leave it inside your liquid at all times, and restart at medium speed, not at full bore. You don't need a special whisk for stuff. Get the one with the most spokes, cheap or expensive, and if you still find yourself having issues use two whisks at once, you'll see the insane difference."
Myth: Sear meat to seal in juices.
"This is a TV-chef myth. The act of searing the outside of meat actually makes it more porous and therefore more likely to give off juices under pressure. This pressure does not have to be manual, the mere exposure to heat forces the muscle (almost all traditional cuts are muscles) to contract and therefore expel juices from the item. You can't stop those juices, but you can work with it. Searing at great heat and then finishing your meat at lower heat, letting it rest for a while after cooking and before serving, preserves the second-largest amount (top for that is still Sous Vide cooking) of juices."
Myth: Wear googles, chew gum, etc. to avoid watery eyes when cutting onions.
"Have a refrigerator? Put your uncut onion in the refrigerator for half to 3/4 an hour or in the freezer for 15 minutes. Cut promptly and place in a covered container until you add to the dish."
Myth: Baking Soda deodorizes your refrigerator.
"Baking soda does not absorb bad smells. It's an Arm & Hammer myth and scientifically false. How would baking soda DO that, anyways?"
Myth: Your meat needs to be room temperature before cooking.
"You should remove meat from the fridge for some amount of time (20 minutes – 1 hr) before cooking it, to let the meat 'come up to temperature.' In actuality, the energy difference between a cold steak and a room temperature steak is insignificant… on the order of a few extra seconds of cooking."
Myth: Well Done meats are safer than medium rare or rare meats.
"Muscles are great things. One of the cool things about them is their ability to be completely shut off against many food borne illnesses. Close to 99% of all food borne illnesses are found not in the muscle but through cross-contamination on its outside. Once that part of the meat is exposed to the heat of a pan most of them are dead, too. Two caveats: ground meat and those 'tenderizer' needle stamps. Both will, if it's present, introduce nasty critters into the inside of the muscle or product."
Myth: Pasta should be rinsed after cooking.
"THAT one is one persistent myth. Many people I know seem to like to cook their pasta, then shock it. And that, firstly, doesn't stop the cooking process as quickly as one would assume, and – secondly – washes off all that nice starch covering the outside of the pasta. This, in turn, leads to thinner sauces, lack of sauce-pasta adherence, and to a drying of your pasta. Cook until 80% done al dente, then just remove and let stand and finish cooking while you set up the sauce."
Myth: Salt will break down your yeast.
"Cooking school myth. 'Don't put salt on the yeast, you'll kill it.' Active dry yeast, double-rise yeast, all those kinds, don't get too bothered by salt. If you are using bakers-loaf yeast (the alive kind in a block), salt can act as a desiccant and implode your yeasties, but if you bloom or add into dough just the packet yeast everyone else uses don't worry about salt touching it."