Ten things: cooking tips

In a fit of inspiration, I decided to make a series of 10 things (following my fairly useless and mostly insulting 10 of the worst anime: part one and part two.) These are some secrets that I usually hold close to my chest, because I hoard things. However, I figured I spent enough on wasted ingredients, trial and error, and researching, so if this saves someone something and they’re grateful, you may heap praise upon me now. I said now.

  1. When making breadcrumbs, use stale bread: there’s less moisture you need to remove. Blend in a food processor (you can even use the husks, this is a great way to get rid of them,) and heat in a fan-forced oven until crumbs are crispy and without moisture (mix occasionally for even cooking,) but not brown. Heating in a frypan tends to brown the crumbs rather than remove moisture, and the smaller crumbs sift to the bottom where they brown the most.
  2. There are different sizes for teaspoons and tablespoons in Australia, versus UK, versus USA. If using a recipe, find out if they specify which kind, as Australian tablespoons weigh in at a hefty 20ml (4 teaspoons) whereas the UK use 15ml (3 teaspoons) and the USA prefer just a touch under that still.
  3. If you don᾿t have self-raising flour, you can sift 1 cup of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder (sift it four times to make sure it has well and truly combined.) If you don’t have baking powder, you could try 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Personally, I never keep self-raising flour, and just make it like so.
  4. Many recipes throw around imprecise measurements, especially for butter. A knob of butter is around two tablespoons: in the UK that’s 28.348 grams, in USA that’s 35.446 grams. A stick of butter is 113 grams, one quarter of a pound, half a cup, or 8 tablespoons.
  5. Salt makes bitter things taste sweeter. Give it a go next time you butt heads with a bitter vegetable.
  6. Gelatine sheets are notoriously difficult to comprehend. There are different bloom strengths, labelled as: Bronze (3.3 grams per sheet, 125–155 bloom strength,) Silver (2.5 grams per sheet, 160 bloom strength,) Titanium (5.0 grams per sheet, god I don’t even know the bloom strength but it sets the same amount as one sheet of silver even though it’s twice as heavy,) Gold (2.0 grams per sheet, 190–220 bloom strength,) and Platinum (1.7 grams per sheet, 235–265 bloom strength.) Different companies can sell different bloom strengths by different names, so you must always check. If you need to substitute one type of bloom strength sheet for another, you can use the formula: Weight (Bloom 2) = weight (Bloom 1) x square root (Bloom1/Bloom2). Avoid powdered gelatine if possible, sheets set to a clear gel and leave no taste, whereas powdered gelatine does.
  7. Unless you’re using up the entire block of a hard cheese (like Parmesan or even just a yummy eating cheese like Double Gloucester) do not touch it. Not even once. Take it out of the packet wearing clean, dry, food preparation gloves, and when you’re finished grating it or eating it, wrap it in absorbent kitchen paper before tightly wrapping it in cling film. The moisture and the bacteria can swiftly grow mould. If not using your hard cheese for a long while, remember to change the absorbent kitchen paper every now and again, to make sure it stays dry. Most people say it’s perfectly fine to just “clean off the mould and continue using the Parmesan,” but I find it easier to avoid mould than remove it.
  8. Not all pans are the same. Anything claiming to be Teflon-free (Teflon is the DuPont-trademarked name for PTFE) non-stick, take with a grain of salt and scrutinise like no tomorrow (Swiss Diamond, you lying sacks of manure, I’m glaring at you.) Truth is, in order to create the non-stick coating, most companies will apply a coating of PFOA, which they then heat to a high degree to leave the coating PTFE. Problem is, most of the time the PFOA is not fully treated out of the pan, leaving some of the known carcinogen ready for you to eat. If you scratch or overheat the PTFE coating, it begins to wear away into your food. You are better off with a non-non-stick pan (a stick pan!) If you must have non-stick, Scanpan guarantee they have treated out all the PFOA from their non-stick range, however the PTFE is still there for you to eventually scratch, overheat, and eat in minuscule amounts. If you are too worried for that, GreenPan have successfully made a non-stick pan using ceramic as a coating, so it involves no PFOA or PTFE. It can withstand higher temperatures, doesn’t scratch as easily, and so doesn’t try to kill you as readily.
  9. Pre-heat your pan empty: no oil, nothing. When it’s warm, add your oil, and little bubbles will appear if it is hot enough to start cooking. After little bubbles appear, soon the oil will begin to smoke—do not let this happen, at an oil’s smoke point it becomes carcinogenic. A handy list for what kinds of oils smoke at which point:
    • Butter at 177°C
    • Extra virgin olive oil at 191°C
    • Extra virgin olive oil (high quality low acidity) at 207°C
    • Grapeseed oil at 216°C
    • Groundnut (peanut) oil, Sunflower oil, or Sesame oil at 232°C
    • Canola oil at 240°C
    • Clarified butter (ghee) at 252°C
    • Rice bran oil at 254°C
    • Avocado oil at 271°C
  10. When you are frying meat, pat it down with absorbent kitchen paper: otherwise, the water content makes it spit at you when you put it in a hot pan.

Well there you have it. I hope this was helpful and informative to at least one person, and has saved at least the amount of time it has taken me to write this.

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2 responses to Ten things: cooking tips

  1. Ross4Teflon says:

    Hi Ming — I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there's so much misinformation out there about Teflon, I'm not surprised that you are concerned. I'm a representative of DuPont though, and hope you'll let me share some information with you and your readers, so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at Teflon. This article highlights what they found — the bottom line is that you can use Teflon without worry.

    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/home-garden/kitchen/cookware-bakeware-cutlery/nonstick-pans-6-07/overview/0607_pans_ov_1.htm

    I'd truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Thanks, Ross.

  2. ming says:

    Hi Ross,

    Thanks for the article, I like the spread of one-, three-, and six-month usage. However, the article does note that PFOA was indeed found, albeit little amounts. The other very important thing to note is that it was only heated to 400°F (204°C,) for one below the maximum recommendation of 500°F (260°C,) and for two, there’s actually a decently good chance home users will take the temperature up to the maximum limit or higher. In all my shared cooking experiences I’ve never seen anyone follow the “only use with low to medium heat” recommendation (or warning?)

    Of course, this could all be settled if everyone kept a bird in their kitchen and simply cooked as normal for an hour. If the bird dies, the jig is up.

    Also, the tests didn’t mention if any of the pans were scratched, especially over longer periods than six months—scratched pans will obviously release more than ones whose surfaces are intact.

    Still, thank you for the article. If you do have any additional information that proves the maximum temperature still being safe, scratched or no, then I’d certainly be willing to read about it.

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