Myths About Chicken, Eggs And Other Foods Busted!
By Janice Cole, Minnesota
Do you wash your chicken thoroughly before cooking? Store your farm fresh eggs at room temperature? Carefully baste your roast turkey and chicken? And cook your pasta in large amounts of water? Of course you do. You may not follow all of these rules, but it’s more than likely you follow some of them. We all do it — follow steps and procedures because that’s the way it’s always been done or because that’s how we were taught. Therefore it’s correct, right?
Well, wrong! Many of the so-called rules-of-cooking have no basis in fact. When tested, food scientists and chefs have found that many of our time-honored techniques are unnecessary and may in fact be wrong and even unhealthy. The following are common practices and the evidence behind whether they’re correct or not.
Myth: It’s Important To Wash Chicken Before Cooking.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as many as 90 percent of people in the United States rinse their raw bird before cooking.
Reality: Many consumers feel they are removing bacteria and making their poultry safe by washing it. However, the USDA has been advising people for years not to wash or rinse their chicken before cooking as washing your chicken actually spreads more germs and bacteria around your kitchen than not washing. According to the USDA, the reality is, “some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed … [and] other types of bacteria can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen.”
Researchers are Drexel University have found that bacteria from raw chicken can contaminate your sink, kitchen tools, cutting boards and counters up to three feet away from the sink or washing area. The bacteria can unknowingly get on raw vegetables, salads and other items that are consumed without cooking, causing cross contamination. Any germs or bacteria on the chicken will be killed during the cooking process so don’t risk spreading raw chicken around your counter. Simply pat the chicken dry, carefully dispose of any packaging, clean your hands and counters thoroughly and cook as directed.
Myth: Storing Farm-Fresh Eggs At Room Temperature Is Safe
Chicken owners across the country argue, “Eggs are left out at room temperature all over the world, and I know my eggs are fresh and my chickens are clean therefore I feel safe leaving them out.”
Reality: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that over 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by eggs containing salmonella. When eggs are left at room temperature, salmonella can multiply rapidly to dangerous levels quickly. Yes, many of those cases are from agribusiness eggs. Chicken owners often feel their own eggs are not the culprit and will not be contaminated, but salmonella can be present not only on the outside of the egg but on the inside too. Refrigerating eggs not only keeps them safer, it also keeps them fresher as room temperature eggs deteriorate much quicker. Mother Earth News did an excellent study on long-term egg storage where they discovered, “The very best way we’ve found to stash eggs away for longterm storage is in a sealed container at a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.” Farm-fresh eggs stored this way can be held for months without deterioration. Yes, colored eggs on the counter look beautiful, but keep a batch just for display and keep the eggs you eat safely tucked away in the fridge.
Myth: Browning Meat Seals In Moisture
Crank up the grill or the stove and throw on the steak or chops to get a beautiful brown crust to seal in the juices.
Reality: Searing meat over high temperatures caramelizes the surface of the meat due to a process between the sugars and amino acids called the Maillard reaction. It enhances the flavors and creates layers of complex tastes. The browning may form a crust on the outside of the meat but if you’ve ever left a steak sit for even a few minutes you’ve noticed the juices that form on top and under the piece of meat, proving it doesn’t seal in juices. In fact, Chef Alton Brown cooked two steaks, one seared and one without and found that the seared steak actually lost 19 percent of its weight compared to 13 percent for the non-seared steak. So the reality is, browning meat may improve the flavor but doesn’t seal in moisture.
Myth: Remove Tomato Peel And Seeds before Cooking
To make a smooth Italian tomato sauce or creamy tomato soup it’s necessary to peel the skin and remove the seeds by cutting the tomato crosswise and squeezing out the seeds and pulp.
Reality: Wait! By removing the thin skin and discarding the seeds and pulp, you’re actually removing most of the flavor from the tomato. It turns out that the tomato seeds and pulp have three times more flavor than the flesh. The flavor compounds, called glutamates, are found in the seeds and jelly-like substance that holds the seeds and are responsible for what gives a tomato its tomato-ey flavor. Instead, chop the entire tomato and for a smooth sauce or soup, puree with a hand-held blender or put in a food processor.
Myth: Cook Pasta In A Large Pot Of Boiling Water
All directions for cooking pasta call for cooking it in a large pot of boiling water.
Reality: Dry pasta can be cooked in just enough water to cover the pasta by a couple of inches. There’s no need to get your extra-large pot out unless you have made fresh pasta. Also, never add oil to the pasta water, as it will keep the pasta from sticking and also keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta, resulting in a watered down sauce that doesn’t cling to the pasta.
Finally, adding salt to boiling water doesn’t make it boil faster; in fact, it actually raises the boiling temperature taking it longer to come to the boil. What salt will do is add flavor to the pasta cooking in the boiling water.
Myth: Keep Mushrooms Away From Water
Mushrooms absorb water like a sponge so do not clean with water.
Reality: Throw away that silly mushroom brush. Yes, mushrooms are mainly water and they exude liquid as they cook, but mushrooms can be cleaned under running water or in a bowl of water without absorbing additional moisture. In fact, mushrooms have sat in water for up to 30 minutes without absorbing more than a miniscule amount of liquid. Chefs everywhere rinse their mushrooms in water to clean, so take note and follow their example. Just remember to pat them dry when you’re done.
Myth: Basting Chicken And Turkey Creates Crispy Skin
Baste chicken and turkey carefully during roasting to produce beautiful crispy skin.
Reality: Basting poultry during roasting keeps skin moist and adds flavor, but does not promote crispy skin. To get crackling, crispy chicken or turkey skin, dry the poultry and lightly salt. Let sit, uncovered, several hours or overnight in the refrigerator before roasting.
Or, let sit at room temperature one to two hours with a fan blowing on it. The salt draws any moisture to the surface where it will be evaporated away. Basting with oil or butter does produce beautifully browned skin, so try a combination of drying the bird ahead of time, basting during the first half of roasting then dry roast for the remainder of the time resulting in moist meat with brown, medium-crisp skin.
Myth: Alcohol Burns Off During Cooking
The alcohol evaporates but the flavor remains.
Reality: While you won’t get drunk eating a winesauced chicken breast or a Christmas rum cake, not all of the alcohol cooks away. Up to 50 percent of the alcohol can remain in a simmered sauce according to Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. The percentage left depends on the size of the pan and how long it cooks. The amount of alcohol used in most dishes is small and when divided by the number of servings the amount each person consumes may be quite miniscule. However, if you’re in doubt or serving those who are sensitive, it’s best to use a substitute.
You’ve now learned a few of the food and cooking myths we adhere to everyday. So keep an open and questioning mind while in the kitchen and remember the reality while preparing the following recipes.
End of Season Fresh Tomato Sauce
Prepare this sauce in a large wide skillet so it cooks quickly, keeping the fresh-picked tomato flavor. In winter, use canned tomatoes for a simple and even quicker version.
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (do
not peel or seed the tomatoes)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Heat oil in large wide skillet; add garlic and cook over medium heat until garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes and increase heat to medium-high to high. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly 10 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency, stirring and reducing heat if necessary to avoid splattering. For a smoother sauce, crush tomatoes using potato masher or cool and place in blender or food processor or use a handheld blender. Stir in basil and serve over pasta.
Note: Vary the flavor by adding other herbs such as thyme, rosemary or tarragon, or add finely diced fresh vegetables or chopped bacon with the garlic or stir in olives or capers towards the end of cooking.
3 1/4 cups
Janice Cole copyright 2015
Crispy-Skinned Roast Chicken
Drying the chicken skin is the key to crisp skin. Putting a little flavored butter under the skin flavors the meat and promotes a little browning.
1 (3 to 3 1/2 lb.) whole chicken,
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as tarragon, thyme, rosemary
Place chicken on greased rack in shallow roasting pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let it sit uncovered overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature for one to two hours with a fan blowing on it.
Heat oven to 400ºF. Combine butter and 1 tablespoon of the herbs. Loosen the skin of the chicken over the breast and smear butter under the skin over the breast meat. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with the remaining herbs.
Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh registers 175ºF.
Janice Cole copyright 2015