When you find out that something that is considered ‘common wisdom’ was concocted from almost nowhere – on no real basis in anything more than ‘that’s how it’s done’ – the upshot is that you begin to look at all the other pillars of accepted wisdom more sceptically.
This is a very healthy thing. Consider the following three examples in the world of cooking – which are as generally accepted as the fact that day follows night – it may lead you to question many others …
COMMON BIT OF WISDOM ONE: Pasta needs to be started in boiling water, and lots of it
Obviously anyone with Italian blood will at this point move on to another piece of writing in disgust, but remaining readers may be interested to know that the golden rule is not strictly true.
The esteemed food ‘scientist’ Harold McGee goes into the matter in some detail, proving that it just isn’t so. Harold says, start in cold water, and no need for a potful, (apparently, in some parts of Italy, the much-less-water method has been used for centuries).
The benefit of his alternative approach is that apart from saving water, you get started sooner and maximise the heating water’s energy instead of wasting it. Read Harold’s wise words at here – I tried it, he’s not lying.
COMMON BIT OF WISDOM TWO: Salting steaks too far before cooking will draw out moisture
Old school thinking around salting a steak rules supreme: many cooks – professional chefs included – are still adamant that salting too far before cooking will draw out moisture. In fact, the inverse is true.
Generous salting up ahead makes for the juiciest steak. 12 to 24 hours before cooking is the ultimate salting time. Juices initially get drawn out, but then get reabsorbed and stay there. When salt is given enough time to penetrate the meat all the way through, three things happen. First and fairly obvious: every bite of meat will be evenly seasoned, which is no small thing. Second: extra salt in the cells mean they hold onto hydration far better, and the meat will actually end up much juicier than when salted on cooking. Third: salt breaks down proteins in the meat, making it more tender.
Brining is a time-honoured technique, so why not use it on your steak? As for the amount, around 2% of the meat’s weight is usually right.
COMMON BIT OF WISDOM THREE: Double-boilers are essential for making hollandaise.
Not so my friends, no matter what the most revered recipe books tell you. A far easier and quicker way to make hollandaise or bearnaise, is to add a dessertspoon of water for each yolk, as you start, which allows you to work at higher heat, and to add the butter cubes frozen – or close to – which helps keep the sauce from overheating. You need no real ability here, save the ability to cast all doubt away.