Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

20110920-lobsterscover.jpgWe've all been told lies about cooking. Despite their best intentions (and great recipes), your grandma, Ina Garten, and know-it-all foodie friend sometimes don't have the faintest clue whether the advice they're bestowing is scientific truth or old wives' tale. Personally, I raise an eyebrow to any "rule" told to me in the kitchen, as I believe strongly in the merits of invention and a care-free mood over the stove. So I was very glad to read the science- and fact-based Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them, and 100 Other Myths About Food And Cooking by cookbook duo Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

The book is written vignette-style, with a page or two dedicated to each cooking myth. The myths are separated into loose themes such as "Myths You May Have Heard from Your Bubbe" or "Doctors Are Never Wrong." The authors occasionally use home experiments to clarify an oft-repeated misconception, such as the command that you must rinse pasta after cooking it to avoid sticking. (The answer? You shouldn't rinse hot pasta that you'll be mixing immediately with sauce, because the starch released during cooking will adhere the sauce to the pasta. But for a cold pasta salad, best to rinse away some starchiness to avoid clumping.) Otherwise, they've accumulated studies and expert findings that find the truth beneath the rumors.

The resulting conclusions are occasionally a "sometimes yes, sometimes no" response, like the pasta-rinsing question. But others, such as the five-second rule (the food is contaminated within moments) or the proper technique for chicken-thawing (several days in the fridge are required) are worth debunking for the sake of your health, not just your cooking. And knowing that you don't necessarily to keep the lid sealed on rice while it's cooking (depends on the type of rice and its age), or that peanut oil is not really tasteless (see their delicious-sounding peanut cake recipe) could seriously improve your cooking technique.

Scarbrough and Weinstein have written 21 cookbooks together, a highly impressive collection including books you've certainly seen on bookstore shelves and one, Ham, that was nominated for a James Beard award this year. The duo is highly entertaining, filling the book's pages with wisecracks that brought me to giggles in several public places (sorry, fellow gym-goers). Plus, after reading this book you'll be armed with a great defense against your snobby roommate who demands that you stash coffee grounds in the freezer (in the words of the authors, "Wrong!").

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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