The Washington Post

How to clean leeks; stew on the stovetop vs. oven


Each Wednesday at noon, Aaron Hutcherson and Becky Krystal answer questions and provide practical cooking advice in a chat with readers at live.washington­ 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: What’s the best way to clean leeks? I see Tv/youtube chefs chop them (without washing them first) and soak them, but not do anything else to clean them. I don’t like cutting into produce before washing it in case of germs. Plus leeks often have hidden dirt or a lot of dirt, so the chop-and-soak method seems ineffectiv­e as the only cleaning. A: My preferred method is to cut off the dark green parts of the leaves and trim the roots (if present) while keeping the base intact so the leaves are still attached, then cut the base in half vertically and place it under running water, separating the leaves with your fingers to ensure water can get in between. There’s still cutting involved, but it’s minimal.

— Aaron Hutcherson

Q: I have a recipe for beef stew that calls for cooking in the oven for 5 hours at 275 degrees. I’ve been doing that for years in a heavy Club aluminum pot but need to do it now on the stovetop. I’m assuming that this can be done at a very low simmer, but should there be a time adjustment? Or should I cook it for five hours as I would do in the oven?

A: I’m pretty sure there will be a time adjustment, but it’s hard to say off the top of my head without knowing much about the recipe. It could be somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 hours. Because it’s over direct heat, you’ll want to check occasional­ly and make sure it’s not drying out too much, adding more liquid as needed.

— Becky Krystal

Q: You mentioned previously that folks often underestim­ate the amount of salt needed in recipes that say “salt to taste.” I struggle with this. Could you offer some guidelines? Meat, potatoes, rice, beans, marinades? Sometimes you can add salt later if needed (soup!), but so many recipes work better when salt is incorporat­ed along the way.

A: The way I typically write recipes is to list an amount (this is the guideline) and then include “plus more to taste.” This way, it gives you a minimum amount of salt to use throughout cooking the recipe. Then at the very end you should taste the dish and add more salt until it tastes good to you. — A.H.

Q: I like to make scones. Buttermilk is a key ingredient in the recipe I use. My husband insists I use powdered buttermilk. I think my scones turn out flat and lifeless with it. I much prefer fresh liquid buttermilk. What do you think? A: I’m with you! With the powder, I really don’t find you get that luscious texture in doughs and batters. I certainly can see the difference. It never achieves the thickness of liquid buttermilk when you use the powder plus water. The good news is that buttermilk lasts a long time in the fridge or can be frozen. Not going to try to referee your marriage, but I say keep buying the liquid stuff. — B.K.

Q: Whenever we try to make a pasta sauce that calls for using leftover starchy water from the pasta, it doesn’t achieve the silky consistenc­y the recipes say it should. Could that be because we use a lower-carb, higher-fiber pasta, and if so, how can we compensate for that to get the right result?

A: I typically only cook with standard pasta, but your hunch about the type of pasta you’re using sounds about right. To compensate, you could try adding butter or olive oil and giving it a good stir so that the sauce emulsifies.

— A.H. Parmesan cheese could also help with this, if it makes sense for the dish. — B.K.

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