You may think bay leaves are optional, but I'll tell you why they make a difference, along with why you should use dry instead of fresh.
'ask the food lab' on Serious Eats
Traditional stocks are made by slowly simmering bones, meat, and aromatics on the stovetop for many hours. I've heard that using a pressure cooker can help speed this process up. Is this true? Likewise, if I'm going to be out of the house all day, can I throw my bones and aromatics in a slow cooker and expect the end results to be as tasty?
Last week we asked you to send in all your Thanksgiving questions and you came through! Here are the answers to all the questions that came in by the deadline.
Ok folks, it's that time of year again. Got any burning questions about not burning your potatoes? How about how to guarantee perfectly moist turkey? Want side dish menu selections, or perhaps you just need someone to talk to? Here's your chance to get all your Thanksgiving questions answered.
There's no hard and fast rule for how many times you can reuse fry oil, but here are some ways to prolong the lifespan of your oil and identify when it needs to be replaced.
For better sauce and flavor, go easy on the amount of liquid you use when braising meat.
Here's a short list of some of the tricks I find most useful in the kitchen. If you have more tips, please leave them in the comments!
"Is it necessary to sauté aromatics in a dish like a soup or stew that will cook for a long time? Many of my soups, stews, and curries have a base of mirepoix, or onions, and maybe garlic and ginger. I'm wondering in a dish that cooks for 1 hour or more is it necessary to start with the sauté? Does the sauté process add something to the flavor or texture that simmering in liquid wouldn't, or perhaps would I find that the onion would take a very long time to cook while simmering in a soup?"
"Recently, I have had problems with garlic in my dishes turning blue-green. I feel like when this happens the garlic flavor is stronger, and my boyfriend finds it to have an off-putting taste. What's going on here, and does it make sense that it would change the flavor?"
"I am wondering about the noodles in canned noodle soups. Homemade noodle soups become thick and mushy as the noodles suck up all the broth, but canned soups retain a decent (not great) texture, and don't seem to absorb broth, no matter how long they sit in the store or my pantry. How do they do that? Do I want to know?"
"I've seen a number of recipes in magazines, newspaper, and online recently that say that soaking shucked corn in salt and sugar water before grilling will make it plumper and juicier. Is this true?"
"Does resting food under foil help retain heat or just destroy crispy skin? Or is the skin / crust not affected by a foil tent? Does protein laid bare on a plate loose that much extra heat, that tenting with foil is required? If foil is not used and the protein cools down faster does that help speed up the re-distribution of juices? I'm in the crispy skin / crackling crust crowd so I don't like to tent under foil. Am I terribly mistaken?"
"Could you explain and differentiate the variety of terms for cooking food in fat in a pan: brown, caramelize, fry, sauté, soften, sweat, etc.?"
"With spring on the horizon, I've started thinking about grilling. But as an apartment dweller with no grill, the grill pan is the only viable option. Have you conducted any tests on grill pans? Other than the obvious aesthetic benefit from the grill marks, I'd love to know how a piece of meat cooked on a grill pan might compare in flavor to one pan-seared and one cooked on a proper grill. Basically: do grill pans provide any actual flavor, or are they just for looks?"
"I've heard that probing meats to test temperatures can be bad because you creates holes that juice leaks out of. Is this true? I've always used the leave in thermometers that stay in and I don't remove it until my meat has rested. Is this an unnecessary step? What if you have to test multiple times, will that cause a difference?"
"Can you start cooking pasta in cold water? If not, why not?" If you're a long-time reader of The Food Lab, you might remember an article I wrote that addresses this very question a few years back. I feel it's important enough to warrant a recap.
"I was just watching an America's Test Kitchen episode in which they said to reduce a wine/port/red wine vinegar mixture till syrupy, then add chicken stock. I couldn't help wondering why that's any better than adding the chicken stock initially and reducing the whole thing. Water loss is water loss, right? To the same point, recipes are forever distinguishing between simmering sauces slowly versus rapidly reducing them. What's the difference?"
"A lot of recipes instruct you to heat oil to a certain point (till shimmering, smoking, or just an unspecified 'Heat oil over medium heat') before adding the first ingredient, say onions. Does it matter if you wait for the oil to heat, or could you just as well throw the other ingredients in with the cold oil?"
Since capsaicin is fat-soluble, by skimming the fat from my chili, am I effectively removing all the heat from it?
"I like penne alla vodka sauce. I'm curious whether or not the vodka adds anything to the mix. I'm dubious that A) the alcohol in the vodka actually brings any additional flavors out of tomatoes as people claim, and B) that one could even taste these nuances in tomato flavor after dumping a bunch of cream into the sauce. I'd be interested in a food lab investigation: does alcohol in fact draw out flavor from tomatoes?"