Cooking Tips from a Food Scientist

Top chefs may like to think of cooking as an art, but the truth is, there’s more chemistry involved than anything else. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find another everyday activity that calls up so many skills learned in high school science classes. Here are some insider tips from food scientist Harold McGee that are sure to come in handy.

Keep heavy cream as a refrigerator staple

If a cream sauce contains an acidic ingredient (such as lemon juice), use heavy cream in lieu of milk — otherwise the sauce will curdle when brought to a simmer.

Scrape and rinse steaks before cooking

This is especially important if the steak has been sitting in the fridge for a few days, as it will rid the meat of any debris or discoloration (just make sure the meat hasn’t actually spoiled, as there’s no bringing it back in this case).

Blanch fresh berries

Upon bringing fresh berries home from the local patch, dunk them briefly in hot (125 degree) water, to kill off any lingering microorganisms that might cause them to spoil more quickly. See this YouTube video for instructions.

Coat steamed veggies with oil or butter

Immediately after draining, help steamed vegetables retain their moisture by giving them a “fat bath.” No need to dump and drench — just a light coating will do.

Ice down turkey breasts

Want to keep the breast meat from overcooking while the drumstick and thighs attain that prized, caramelized succulence? Remove the legs and cook them separately — or, alternatively, put ice packs on the breasts and let the bird sit at room temperature for a few hours before roasting.

Use thick-cut fish fillets for crispy skin

If the fillet is too thin, it’s impossible to attain a nice, crisp skin without turning the fish into jerky. Go for a hearty thick cut instead to keep the interior moist and flaky.

Revitalize brown sugar with damp paper towels

It’s all too easy for brown sugar to turn into an unusable brick in the cupboard, but it can be easily restored to its former glory by sealing it in its bag with a moistened paper towel — or even a slice of apple.

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