The Washington Post
To help chicken legs cook all the way through, take the chill off first
Each Wednesday at noon, Aaron Hutcherson and Becky Krystal answer questions and provide practical cooking advice in a chat with readers at live.washingtonpost.com. Aaron and Becky write and test recipes for Voraciously, The Post’s team dedicated to helping you cook with confidence. Here are edited excerpts from a recent chat.
Q: A recurring problem arose yesterday when making air-fryer chicken legs. Using an instantread thermometer deep in the thickest part, but being careful not to press the tip against the bone, I cooked the chicken to 170 degrees, “just to be sure.” Yet it was still underdone near the bone. A quick zap in the microwave fixed it, but until cut open, I don’t know if it needs it or not. And yes, I have qualified the thermometer.
A: My main piece of advice is to take chicken (any animal protein for that matter) out of the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking. This should help it cook more evenly.
— Aaron Hutcherson
A: Also, dark meat can go higher — the higher temps break down the collagen, so things are especially tender and succulent.
— Becky Krystal
Q: When boiling dried (presoaked) beans, a number of the beans will float to the surface. Are these considered bad, and should therefore be skimmed off and thrown away? A: Those beans are perfectly fine to eat. And side note: You don’t need to soak your beans! Bean guru and food editor Joe Yonan says the flavor is best if you don’t soak them, but soaking can reduce the cooking time and flatulence.
Q: Whenever I make salsa using my food processor, the product is too watery. I’ve tried draining it, but that doesn’t help much.
A: I suspect part of the problem is the salsa is being overworked and broken down too much. It’s easy to overdo anything in a food processor. I take it you’re pulsing and not pureeing? Either way, try to just pulse, and pulse minimally. Sometimes putting less in the bowl can help prevent overworking the ingredients, because you’re not trying to get a ton of items evenly chopped. Pulse and work in smaller batches, in other words.
Q: Many recipes call for coconut oil/milk/sugar, but I dislike the taste of coconut. Are there good substitutions?
A: I assume you’re specifically talking about nondairy/vegan recipes? I don’t think coconut sugar really tastes that much like coconut. When it comes to nondairy milks, “If a recipe calls for a particular type of plantbased milk, use it if possible,” Becky wrote in a recent piece on the subject. “The consensus, however, of everyone I talked to was that plant-based options are largely interchangeable.” For cooking with coconut oil, simply use another fat. When it comes to baking, I’d advise you to look for recipes specifically designed to work with other vegan fats.
Q: So many great recipes call for lemon or lime juice and/or zest. If I keep those fruits around until I decide to make a recipe, they often rot or mummify; then when I’m really craving the recipe I don’t have the juice on hand! Can I zest/juice a bag of citrus and store the juice/zest in the fridge? If so, in what type of container and for how long?
A: Yes! I’d put the juice in ice cube trays, so it’s in onetablespoon portions. Freeze, and then you can pop out and store in a bag or container. Zest I would just do in a small container or bag. I’d maybe use the zest sooner rather than later — a month or so? — but I suspect the juice is fine for longer than that.