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Posts by Harold McGee

Hi Tana, good to hear from you. It’s still true that despite the fact that brining will give you moister, tenderer meats, I’m not a big fan of it, because it essentially means you’re plumping up your meat with saltwater—which essentially means diluting the meat’s own juices and flavor. I’m happy to trade salty juiciness for more concentrated meat flavor. Harold
I think it’s likely that the cork and wine industries together will find a solution to the problem (microbial production of intensely obnoxious compounds from chlorine used in processing of the cork layer). Then high-end producers will be able to maintain the traditional experience of pulling the cork from their bottles. Harold
Baking soda is bicarbonate of sodium, which is a good replacement for bicarbonate of potash (potassium). Hirschhorn is hartshorn, so called because it was made from the antlers of deer. The modern equivalent is ammonium carbonate, which does indeed have unusual properties (it doesn’t release any moisture, and it does release ammonia; see page 532 of my book). It’s available from baking supply companies. Harold
I’m glad the books have been useful. It’s not so much that the first edition contains untrue information—it’s that nowadays we have so much more additional information. So there are hundreds of new discoveries reflected in the revision, but they’re more additions than corrections. One exception: my original explanation of why copper bowls stabilize whipped egg whites was wrong (see the box in the revision). This might be a good place to mention that I have a page on...
Thanks very much for your kind words! The T(inted) C(uring) M(ixture) is mostly salt with about 6% nitrite, which fixes the meat pigment to keep it pink and inhibits the growth of botulism bacteria. It’s certainly not necessary if you’re going to refrigerate the confit, but it was probably a good idea when confits were just stored in the cellar—the fat makes the meat surface the kind of air-free environment that botulism bacteria love. I agree with you that the...
No, I think you’re absolutely right about what searing does and doesn’t do. In my book The Curious Cook I devote a chapter to that, and also to the idea that it’s similar to surgical cautery. It’s also true that letting the meat rest does allow the cells to reabsorb some of the fluid they’ve released.
It's my pleasure, Jim--thanks for inviting me. I would suggest giving your students some ‘face value’ cooking rule and having them test it—for example, proving that searing meat doesn’t seal in juices, or one egg yolk can emulsify gallons of oil into mayonnaise. Then they see how knowledge can give them an edge over cooks who just follow received wisdom without questioning it—and also how much fun it can be to discover for themselves what’s really going on. Harold
I think your point about your own sodium watch is the key here: there are many reasons for having dietary restrictions of one kind or another, some very clear-cut, and some not. (I’m allergic to crustaceans, and it’s dungeness crab season!) Also, versions of high-(fill in nutrient of choice), low-(ditto), don’t-mix diets have been cycling in and out of popularity since the middle of the 19th century. And while some diets may be good for helping people lose weight (if only...
Sure. Cornstarch is pure starch, while flour is on the order of 10% protein. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s enough to make whatever you’re thickening opaque instead of translucent. Pure starch is also a more efficient thickener than flour, meaning you need less to get the same consistency. And corn starch is made by wet-milling corn, while flour is made by dry-milling wheat: so the flavors are different as well. Harold
I hope you get your Christmas wish too—for more than one reason! You’re right, the main reason for using salt and sugar in a fish cure is flavor balance (in sausages, sugar actually feeds the bacteria that acidify the meat and flavor it). A salt cure alone works fine. Harold
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