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Ask The Chef

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Frequently in cooking class, a student will ask “aren’t we sealing in the juices by searing the meat?” or “won’t the milk sour if it comes to a boil?” It’s time to debunk some common kitchen myths.

Searing the steak seals in the juices. Searing the steak browns the meat and caramelizes the exterior, thus making the steak more flavorful. The juices are not sealed; after browning, the juices will flow out of the steak.

Salting dries out meat. Since brining (soaking meat in salt) has become popular, this old wives’ tale has started to disappear. Always salt the meat before cooking because the flavor is vastly improved. Overcooking the meat is the cause of dry meat.

If milk or cream boils, it will curdle. If the milk or cream comes to a boil, the fat content will cause it to boil over and make a huge mess on the stove, which is why the cook should watch hot milk carefully. But boiling milk will not curdle unless the milk was already soured.

If the pan is hot and the food cold, the food will not stick. Not necessarily. Food never sticks if there is enough fat between the food and the pan. Also, a piece of meat will always stick to the pan for the first minute. Just have patience and as the meat cooks, it will naturally release from the pan.

Slamming the oven door will cause the souffle or cake to fall. I love demonstrating slamming the door on the souffles, because they never fall. Mothers told their children to tiptoe in the kitchen in order to keep them quiet!

Fish is ready when it flakes. No, the fish is overcooked.

Mashed potatoes are fluffy when whipped with an electric mixer. No, the excess speed turns the potatoes into glue. Use a ricer or food mill or hand masher — never an electric machine — to make light and fluffy mashed potatoes.

Cutting lettuce with a metal knife causes the lettuce to brown. Old lettuce will always turn brown no matter how it was cut. Prepare a salad close to serving time.

Avocado pits will keep the guacamole from turning brown. Browning happens when the avocado is exposed to air. Lemon or lime juice helps to hinder the oxidation. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the avocado to diminish the amount of air contact.

Do you have some old wives’ tales from the kitchen?