Time to debunk your nonna’s culinary myths
As 90 per cent of the population eats cheese on a regular basis, it’s a fair bet you’ve got a half-eaten block sitting in the door of the fridge, just biding its time before you unwrap the cling film and ravish it between two crackers.
If so, I’m afraid to say you’re doing this fine foodstuff a serious disservice.
The Good Housekeeping Institute says the familiar plastic wrap is actually one of the worst materials you can use to keep cheese fresh, thanks to its propensity to trap moisture and encourage the wrong sort of mould.
Much better, apparently, to use wax paper and keep cheese in the salad drawer, which is the most humid part of the fridge, to stop it from drying out.
For me, this was a culinary revelation akin to discovering that peanuts are actually legumes and raw oysters are still alive when you eat them.
Turns out that the new edict on cheese is not the only counterintuitive food rule out there. Here’s what else we’ve been getting wrong:
YOU’RE PEELING BANANAS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
That stalk at the end may look like the perfect handle, but there’s a reason that monkeys start from the other end: it’s much easier.
Simply pinch it between your fingers to split the skin and then peel back for instant proof that a bigger brain isn’t always better.
YOU DON’T NEED TO STIR RISOTTO CONTINUOUSLY
Every Italian nonna will tell you that to get a really creamy risotto, you need to stand over the pan for 25 minutes, coaxing the starch from the rice with your spoon, when all you really want to do is drink wine.
Good news: According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of the Serious Eats website, the starch is concentrated on the surface of the grains, which means you can rinse it off before cooking, collecting it in a jug to use as a cooking liquid.
NEVER KEEP TOMATOES IN THE FRIDGE — BUT DO PUT YOUR LEFTOVER WINE IN THERE
Don’t spoil tomatoes’ flavour by storing them in the bleak mid-winter of the fridge. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that chilly temperatures slow the activity of the enzyme-producing genes responsible for their taste — yet they’ll slow down the oxidation of an open bottle of red, says wine expert Jancis Robinson.
THE CHILI’S HEAT ISN’T IN THE SEEDS
Capsaicin, the compound that can leave you gasping for a glass of milk, is concentrated in the pith that attaches the seeds to the fruit, rather than the seeds themselves, so it’s this you need to cut out to tame the pepper’s fire.
SEAL IN THE JUICES OF A STEAK
You can’t trap the juices in meat by searing it briefly over a high heat, though this will improve its flavour. Instead, make sure you allow it to rest before serving to give the fibres time to relax and reabsorb some of the juices driven to the surface during cooking.
COOK PASTA IN THE MINIMUM OF WATER
Again, ignore the nonna on this one: As long as your pasta is fully submerged and you give it a brief stir to stop it sticking together, then you can boil pasta in as little water as you want.
As a bonus, as food science writer Harold McGee observes, the resulting cooking liquid will be starchier, making it is much more effective at thickening sauces.
GIVE YOUR MUSHROOMS A BATH
The old idea that mushrooms are like sponges is rubbish — they’re 90 per cent water already and rinsing the outsides is going to make very little difference. That said, the same goes for mushrooms as any other food you’d like to fry: dry them first, so they sauté rather than boil in the pan.
FRESHER EGGS AREN’T ALWAYS BETTER
While no one’s suggesting you should tuck into a pungently rotting omelette for breakfast, it is worth knowing that eggs lose moisture through their shells as they age, increasing the size of the air pocket in the rounder end and making them easier to peel.
Fresher eggs, meanwhile, make stabler meringues and soufflés thanks to the stronger protein bonds in the whites.
The real heat in chili peppers is in the pith, not the seeds.