Cooking Myths

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Do you need to sear meat to stop the juices flowing out? Does marinaing meat tenderise it? How do you cook aubergines and mushrooms? Do lobsters scream when you boil them? Where should you store a banana and should tomatoes be kept in the fridge?

Does searing meat keeps the juices in?
You still hear that you need to sear meat to stop the juices from leaking out. Harold McGee, the food writer, measured the amount of liquid that leaked out on to the plate,l after he had seared meat and found that searing the meat made no difference. That’s why chefs have a problem plating a steak with sauce because the bloody juices run out and discolour it. His book McGee on Food and Cooking is one of the most credible authoritative books on the science of cooking.

Does marinading meat tenderise it?
You often hear that marinading meat can tenderise it. This is not strictly true. For a start a marinade doesn’t get to the inside of the meat so it can only work on the outside. You have two kinds of marinades – acidic (these are made with vinegar, citrus juice, wine) and enzymatic (can be made from something like pineapple, ginger, or papaya). Acidic marinades can make meat or fish tougher (marinate prawns in pure lime juice for an hour and you’ll see) whereas enzymatic marinades can turn the outside of the meat to soft pulp if you’re not careful. In a famous food experiment, an Oxford physicist Dr Nicholas Kurti injected pineapple juice into half a piece of pork and left the other side untouched. Michel Roux, who was one of the judges, trying to ignore the pulped meat, uttered the now famous phrase: ‘But the crackling is superb!’. Kurti named his book on tenderising after the phrase. The best tenderiser is milk or yogurt. The Italians cook pork in milk and the Indians marinate meat in yogurt and when you do it you’ll find that it works very well. Buttermilk is also good (or try milk and lemon juice).

Do lobsters scream when they are being boiled?
They do but not because they are screaming from the pain, lobsters have no vocal chords – the piercing sound is just steam escaping from the shell. The best way to kill a lobster is to cut it straight through the head before you boil it.

Do you need to fry watery vegetables like mushrooms and aubergines in lots of oil?
No, according to Harold McGee, when you are cooking porous vegetables that leach water, like aubergines and mushrooms, you should do the opposite to what you are usually told. You should crowd them into a cold pan with NO oil, heat them so they stew in their own juice, turn the heat up to get rid of the juices that come out, then when they have lost their juice, add the oil and toss them over a high heat and finish cooking them. That way the vegetables cook in their own juices and you use a lot less oil.

What is the best place to store bananas?
Keep your bananas in the fridge: they will still go black but the flesh inside will be yellow and perfect to eat.

Should you keep tomatoes in the fridge?
No. Tomatoes need to sit at room temperature to ripen further,  they do not need to be on a sunny position.

Should you should heat the pan with oil before adding garlic?
No, you should always add garlic to cold oil, otherwise it will burn immediately. The trick is to infuse the garlic for as long as possible in the oil as it is warming up, then remove it once it has perfumed the oil (eat the crispy bits of garlic or add them to salad, they are delicious) or add other ingredients to cool the pan down so the garlic doesn’t burn .

Should you salt meat before cooking or will it dry out the meat?
The answer is yes and no – you should salt the meat before cooking to season it to develop flavour but it won’t make the meat dry. Very little moisture come out of meat or poultry if you salt it in advance. However, you make the meat tastier if you do. There are two schools of thought: one is that you should salt as close to cooking as possible. We are of the mind that you salt an hour to a half an hour in advance to allow the meat to become seasoned.   This sorting process can transform a supermarket steak.

Should you oil the meat, or the pan when you are cooking steak?
The thinking is that if you add oil to the pan it will burn. But when you oil the steak and turn the heat to high, the oil on the steak burns too. So don’t add any oil to the pan OR the steak. Just lay the steak down on the pan over a high heat and leave to cook for 2 minutes until it seals before turning it. (Don’t do this with a non-stick pan – you should never heat a non-stick pan without oil as there are chemicals in the non-stick surface that are not good for you when they get too hot.) Don’t be tempted to turn the meat before its surface has sealed properly or you will tear it.

Why you may need to wear a baseball cap when you are frying food!
When you are frying food, Harold McGee found that more oil droplets collected on the inner surface of the lens on your glasses than on the outer surface because oil spatters rise higher in the air, then falls down inside your glasses. Because you are looking down when you are cooking, you get exposed to the oil droplets. So if it’s a problem he suggests wearing a baseball cap!

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