Those of us who enjoy cooking have a hodge-podge of skills that we have assimilated over time. I have learned from so many sources I cannot even begin to name them all, and I am still learning.
However, I do have my culinary heroes who taught me specific techniques. Today I think of Master Chef Jacques Pepin when I crack an egg on the counter instead on the side of the bowl. He taught me bacteria and bits of shell are far less likely to slip in.
Chef John Bennett taught me how to seed a tomato. He placed far more emphasis on that technique than I did, but it is useful when you don’t want a lot of liquid in a dish such as salsa.
Julia Child taught me about French techniques, but the best thing she ever taught me was to go with the flow and never take oneself too seriously. In a workshop I attended with Julia, she made a dessert that did not firm up properly. Instead of fretting about it, she deftly scooped it into small bowls, added a dollop of whipped cream and called it a pudding.
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Even the pros have things go haywire from time to time. Here are our readers’ questions. Some of these issues happen to me as well, but now I know how to fix them.
Q. How do you know when to stop beating cream when you make whipped cream? I love the real thing, but I sometimes go overboard. It looks fine while I am whipping it. Then, in an instant, it goes from creamy to grainy and very stiff. It’s not quite butter, but it looks curdled. It is expensive to throw it away and start over.
A. How do you know when to stop beating so that does not happen?
When whipped cream will hold a peak. At that moment, stop beating it. Sometimes it is a hard call, so the good news is there is a very easy remedy when you whip it a little too long.
You can reverse over-whipped cream by slowly whisking by hand a little more cream into the mixture. The amount of cream you add will depend on the quantity you have whipped. If you started out with one cup of heavy cream, you will need to whisk in two to three tablespoons of cream. Use the whisk rather than the electric mixer or you may overbeat it again.
Q. Is there a secret to getting a piece of eggshell out of a dish? When that happens, it is slippery and slides around and is hard to catch to remove.
A. When the tiny bit of shell gets caught up in the egg white, it is difficult to remove it with a spoon. Instead, use a piece of the egg shell as the dipper, and the small bit will attach to the egg shell easily.
Q. My mom always soaked chicken in salt water. Why was that done?
A. Soaking chicken in salted water is called brining. Brining add moistness to chicken. That in turn helps prevent it from drying out when it is cooked. Not only does it give you a moist and juicy chicken, the salt penetrates deep into the chicken and enhances the natural flavor.
The brine solution may consist of salt and water, but usually sugar is added. Herbs and other seasoning ingredients may be added, as well. Sugar helps balance the flavor of the salt and will help the chicken caramelize, giving you nicely browned chicken.