Time to de­bunk your nonna’s culi­nary myths

Windsor Star - - YOU - FELICITY CLOAKE

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.

GETTY IMAGES/IS­TOCK­PHOTO

The real heat in chili pep­pers is in the pith, not the seeds.

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