Oct. 24, 2012 at 10:40 AM ET
America’s Test Kitchen chef Chris Kimball brings science to ensure success in the kitchen in his book, “the Science of Good Cooking.” Here, he shares the truth about common cooking myths.
Myth: Always fry in hot oil
Nope, you can start french fries in cold oil and still get crispy fries. In effect, the potatoes are parcooking as the oil gradually heats up, mimicking the first phase of double-frying. Once the oil is hot, the exterior of the potatoes will crisp and brown, mimicking the second phase of double-frying. They will not be greasier if started in the cold oil. As a matter of fact, they have about a third less fat than those twice- fried the conventional way. With the cold-start method, the fries are cooked more gently, less moisture is lost and less oil is absorbed, but they are still crispy. They retain the crispness as opposed to the twice-cooked method because there is only one cooling off period, so less grease gets absorbed after cooking.
Myth: Never bake with cold eggs
For most baking recipes, cold eggs are fine. It's for more finicky cakes such as angel food, pound cake and chiffon cake that you need to go with warm eggs.
Myth: All potatoes are created equal
Different types of potatoes have different ratios of starch to water, and even different ratios of different types of starches within. This means that some potatoes (russets) are better equipped to absorb liquid (like cream and butter in mashed potatoes) and others (red bliss) are better able to remain whole (like for potato salads).
Russet potatoes have more starch granules and the higher content causes the cells to separate and the cell walls to burst during cooking, forming fluffier potatoes -- that's why the can absorb more liquid.
Red bliss cells contain fewer starch granules and that means the cells stay intact, don't burst and absorb less liquid.
Myth: You can take your steaks straight from the fridge to the sauté pan
Nope, the Maillard reaction, in which heat causes the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to react with certain types of sugars to create new and distinct flavor compounds, takes place above 300 degrees. If your steak has any water on the outside, it will remain at 212 degrees until it evaporates. Dry off your steaks if they are moist before sautéing.
The Maillard reaction is named for the French scientist who described the process in the early 1900s. It is a very complicated chemistry that is still not fully understood but it is important to the flavor of browned meat. The presence of any moisture influences the Maillard reaction and if the heat is lowered, the speed of the reaction is lowered and thus reduces the browning of the meat.
Myth: You must fold in the flour completely when making brownies
Folding develops gluten, and too much gluten will make your dense and chewy brownies too light and airy when baked. Fold brownies until there are just streaks of flour remaining so that you can be positive they aren't overstirred. They will bake up fudgy and tender. Brownies whipped in a mixer are whipped and tall and tough and less chocolatey. So don't overmix!
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