FROM what not to store in the fridge to foolproof food labelling, a new book offers the answers to some of our most common culinary conundrums.
Food historian Annie Gray reveals top tips from restaurateurs, chefs and academics to make your life easier in the kitchen.
The Kitchen Cabinet is based on the Radio 4 culinary panel show of the same name, hosted by restaurant critic Jay Rayner.
Here we bring you some of the most surprising hacks to take your cooking game to the next level. The Kitchen Cabinet, by Annie Gray, published by BBC Books, is out now, priced £16.99.
BASIC FIZZ-ICS: Usually half-drunk bottles of Prosecco end up getting poured down the sink, but there is a way to stop your fizz going flat. Don’t bother sticking a spoon in the top, says Professor Peter Barham, a molecular gastronomist and emeritus professor of physics at the University of Bristol.
Whether it stays fizzy is more to do with whether the gas can stay dissolved in the liquid, which is more likely at low temperatures.
Your fridge should be below 5C, and at that temperature the carbon dioxide will remain in the alcohol regardless of what’s sticking out the top of the bottle.
EGGS-TRA TASTY: Top chefs often finish their sauces by “monter au beurre” — adding small cubes of well-chilled butter. Not only does it enhance flavour and gloss, but the tip also stops the sauce from cooking. Restaurateur Tim Hayward says the same trick can be used to stop your scrambled eggs from tipping over the edge.
You can also use it to cool easily ruined vegetables. Classically trained chef and catering boss Sophie Wright plunges her veg into water with an ice cube in it for just a few seconds after boiling. It won’t cool them down too much and make them unpleasant, but it will help keep the crunch. Make sure you remove them quickly and dry them off, then reheat when needed (with lots of butter).
CHILL FACTOR: Many of us store our tomatoes in the fridge — but this is a kitchen sin, according to Prof Barham. A tomato has no flavour. It is only generated when you cut the tomato, at which point an enzyme in the liquid reacts with its fleshy part. The enzyme is destroyed if the temperature gets below 4C. So make sure you pop them in your fruit bowl instead.
GINGER SPICE: Whether you’re adding it to a curry or making yourself a healthy tea, ginger is one of the most flavoursome spices. But its cracks and crevices mean it is not the easiest to prepare. Fibres can get stuck in a peeler while knives can blunt. Sophie Wright recommends using a teaspoon instead. Simply run its tip over the surface to easily scrape off the peel.
HERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Another of Sophie Wright’s tips is to extend the life of your bags of supermarket herbs (with the exception of coriander). Remove them from the packet and wrap the ends firmly in wetted kitchen roll. Slide the bunch back into the plastic, or a well-washed bag, and keep them in the fridge. This should prolong the life of your bunches to well over a week.
PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET: You may think storing eggs in the fridge helps them keep for longer, but it actually destroys their flavour and texture. Professor Barham warns that putting them in the chiller changes their temperature — a lot. It also goes up and down whenever you open the door.
Eggs are permeable to air, water and CO2, which means they are destabilised when kept in the fridge. It encourages them to suck in aromas of whatever is in the vicinity — and in the worst-case scenario that could be kippers or mouldy veg. Keep your eggs in a room without major temperature fluctuations and they will be much happier, take in less of their environment and be fine to eat for a long time.
LEFTOVER LASAGNE: If you’ve ever thought lasagne tastes better the next day, you’re spot on. As the proteins break down in the fridge overnight, they release amino acids which taste extra delicious, says scientist Dr Zoe Laughlin. It’s the same for veggie lasagne — you’ll still get extra sugars released from the starch the second time you cook it, increasing that all-important browning.
BOILING POINT: Adding salt to vegetables while they are cooking is a waste of time (and seasoning), according to Prof Barham. He claims the belief it adds flavour, raises the boiling point and fixes the colour are all myths. Vegetables aren’t boiled for long enough to absorb any flavour, and the salt is just rinsed away with the water, he says. The only exception to the rule is potatoes, which are starchy and do take on some added flavour.
LEMON AID: The theory goes that if you spill a glass of red wine, the best way to get rid of it is to grab a bottle of white. But Professor Barry Smith says there is no truth in the idea that dabbing white plonk on red stains will shift them. It is based on a vague bit of science, which explains why lemon juice works a treat. The acid breaks up the pigmentation that stays and stains — but white wine won’t.
FOOLPROOF LABELS: If you are organised enough to batch cook or regularly buy more chicken breasts than you need, the freezer is your friend. But when it comes to labelling food, whiteboard markers tend to rub off, sticky labels fall off and permanent markers fade. Annie Gray recommends microporous tape, which sticks, stays and can be written on using biro or marker pen.
PIMP UP YOUR BAKED BEANS: This week the CEO of Heinz warned the price of baked beans will go up due to food and fuel shortages. But there is an easy way to pimp up own-brand tins of the popular cupboard staple. Irish chef Jordan Bourke suggests adding a tablespoon of salted butter when heating them. The richness of the butter tempers the acidity of the beans for instant velvetiness.
BEST BACON BUTTY: What is the secret to the perfect bacon sarnie? Restaurateur Tim Hayward says four is the magic number when it comes to rashers. They should also be thick cut, dry cured back bacon. Cook them in the oven at 180C, then fry the bread in bacon fat on one side only. Make sure the fried side faces inwards, then add a dollop of ketchup or brown sauce.
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