What Are the Different Compartments In My Fridge Used For and What Does the Crisper Do?

Every time I open the refrigerator door, Alex, my Siamese cat, eyes the contents like Willie Sutton peeking into Fort Knox. He knows that that big, white impregnable strongbox contains all the pleasures life has to offer. (He’s neutered.) We humans aren’t much different. Our refrigerators are our treasure houses. Their contents reflect our individual … Read more

What Is Food Irradiation and Is Food Irradiation Safe?

Food irradiation is the practice of producers’ subjecting their food products to intense fields of gamma rays, X rays, or high-energy electrons before shipping them to market. Why would they want to do this? Irradiation kills harmful bacteria, including E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and Listeria, among others, thereby reducing the danger of food-borne illness. Irradiation … Read more

Why Do Crackers and Matzos Have All Those Little Holes In Them?

Saltines, Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Ritz Crackers, grahams, you name it, there’s hardly a cracker anywhere that doesn’t have a pattern of little holes in it. The makers of matzos, the unleavened flatbread of the Jewish Passover, seem to have gone hog wild (you should excuse the expression) on perforations. Matzos are much hole-ier than secular … Read more

How Does a Light Oven Work?

Is this a new way of making heat for cooking, after fire, microwaves, and induction ranges? No. The so-called light oven makes heat in pretty much the same way your electric range does: through the electrical resistance-heating of metal. Light ovens have been in specialized commercial use since about 1993 but are now being produced … Read more

How Does an Induction Cooktop Work?

Microwave ovens were the first new way of making heat for cooking in more than a million years. Well, now there’s a second one: magnetic induction heating. Magnetic induction has been used for the past decade or so in some European and Japanese food service kitchens, and more recently in commercial American kitchens. They are … Read more

What Is the Advantage of a Pressure Cooker and How Do They Work?

Pressure cookers speed up cooking by making water boil at a higher-than-normal temperature. In the process, they may hiss, rattle, and sizzle like an infernal machine, threatening to redecorate your kitchen in shades of goulash. But your mother’s pressure cooker has been re-engineered to be more mannerly and nearly foolproof. As with all cooking appliances, … Read more

Should Mushrooms Be Washed Before Cooking or Will They Soak Up the Water?

The common white or brown button mushrooms in the supermarkets (Agaricus bisporus) are cultivated in beds, or so-called substrate mixtures, that can include anything from hay and crushed corncobs to chicken manure and used straw bedding from horses’ stables. That knowledge bothered me for many years. Repeatedly warned against waterlogging my mushrooms by giving them … Read more

How Can I Make My Own Cooking Spray At Home?

Ordinary plastic spray bottles are made to spray watery liquids, not oily ones. Water is thinner (less viscous) than oil and breaks up easily into a mist, but the paltry pressure from a trigger pump isn’t enough to break oil down into microscopic droplets, the way a pressurized aerosol can can. Cookware stores and catalogs … Read more

What Should I Look For When Buying a Frying Pan?

First, loosen up your wallet, high quality doesn’t come cheap. The ideal frying pan will distribute the burner’s heat uniformly over its surface, transfer it quickly to the food, and respond promptly to changes in heat settings. That boils down to two qualities: thickness and heat conductivity. Look for a thick pan made out of … Read more

Who Invented Nonstick Cookware, and When?

Sticking is a two-way street. In order for sticking to occur, there must be both a stick-er and a stickee. At least one partner must be tacky. Quiz: Identify the sticky one in each of the following pairs: Glue and paper. Chewing gum and a shoe sole. A lollipop and a little boy. Very good. … Read more

Why Does Microwaving Frozen Mixed Vegetables Produce Sparks?

Relax. Don’t sue. There was no metal in your vegetables. I’ll bet it was mainly the carrots that got charred, right? Here’s what probably happened. Frozen foods usually contain ice crystals. But as I pointed out earlier, solid ice doesn’t absorb microwaves nearly as well as liquid water does. The defrost setting on microwave ovens … Read more

Why Do Fresh Peas Boil Over In the Microwave But Not Canned Peas?

Microwave energy is absorbed primarily by water in the food. The waterlogged canned peas and their surrounding liquid absorb microwaves at pretty much the same rate and will therefore get hot more or less equally. When the water begins to boil, the peas are at about the same temperature, whereupon you undoubtedly consider them to … Read more

Do Microwaves Destroy the Vitamins and Nutrients In Food?

Microwaves change the molecular structure of foods. The process is called “cooking.” All cooking methods cause chemical and molecular changes in our foods. A cooked egg certainly has a different chemical composition from a raw one. No method of cooking will destroy minerals. But heat will destroy vitamin C, for example, no matter how the … Read more

Is It Dangerous To Heat Water In a Microwave Oven?

No and yes. No, it’s unlikely that anything serious will happen, but yes, you should be careful. Microwave-heated water that hasn’t yet come to a full, vigorous boil can indeed be a booby trap. Because microwave energy is absorbed only by the outer inch or so of the water in a cup, the resulting heat … Read more

What Makes a Container Microwave Safe and Why Do They Still Get Hot?

In principle, the answer is simple: Containers whose molecules aren’t dipoles and will not absorb microwaves. Such molecules will not be jerked around by the microwaves and will not get hot. But in practice, the answer isn’t quite so simple. Surprisingly, in what many people perceive as our overregulated society, there appears to be no … Read more

Why Can’t You Put Metal Into a Microwave Oven?

Light bounces off mirrors; microwaves bounce off metal. Radar is a kind of microwave that bounces off your speeding car and cooks your goose. If what you put in the oven reflects too many microwaves back instead of absorbing them, the magnetron tube can be damaged. There must always be something in the oven to … Read more

Why Does the Food In a Microwave Have To Be Rotated While Cooking?

It’s hard to design a microwave oven in which the intensity of the microwaves is completely uniform throughout the entire volume of the box so that food in all locations will be subjected to the same heating power. Moreover, any food in the oven is sucking up microwaves and upsetting whatever uniformity there might otherwise … Read more

How Do Microwaves Make Heat and Cook Food?

Don’t try to find the answer to that question in food books. With only one exception, every book in my food library, including those devoted exclusively to microwave cooking, either evades the question entirely or gives the same misleading answer. Evading the issue only reinforces the less-than-helpful notion of a magic box. But promulgating a … Read more

Where Do Microwaves Come From?

There is so much anxiety among home cooks about microwave ovens that you’d think they were kitchen-sized nuclear reactors. The situation is not helped by some authors of food books, who seem not to know the difference between microwaves and radioactivity. Yes, they are both radiations, but so are the television radiations that bring us … Read more

How Has Cooking Evolved Since the Discovery of Fire?

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the British essayist and critic Charles Lamb (1775–1834), in “A Dissertation on Roast Pig,” tells how humans first discovered cooking or, more precisely, roasting, after “for the first seventy thousand ages” eating their meat raw by “clawing or biting it from the living animal.” The story, purportedly discovered in … Read more

Is There Any Alcohol In a Non-Alcoholic Beer? And How Much?

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Chapter 1, part 7, etc., etc., etc. says that “the terms ‘low alcohol’ or ‘reduced alcohol’ may be used only on malt beverages containing less than 2.5 percent alcohol by volume” and that nonalcoholic beer must contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. By volume? Yes, … Read more

Why Is the Percentage of Alcohol On the Label Not Included On Some Bottles of Beer?

It used to be that the federal government prohibited brewers from listing the percentage of alcohol on the labels of beers to discourage people from choosing their beverages based on alcohol content. But that’s not true anymore. In 1935, two years after the repeal of Prohibition, the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act prohibited the labeling … Read more

Why Do Some Wine Bottles Have Corks Made of Plastic?

I asked the same question on a trip to Portugal and western Spain, where more than half of the world’s cork is grown, but I was unable to get a satisfactory answer. It was like asking a silkworm about polyester. Back home, I learned why many wineries are switching to plastic stoppers. Yes, they’re more … Read more

What Is the Best Way To Keep Soda Pop From Going Flat?

If you can’t finish the whole bottle and you want to keep the leftovers gassy and sassy until the next pizza, just stopper it tightly and keep it cold. You knew that. But why? The objective is to keep all of the remaining carbon dioxide in the bottle, because it’s the carbon dioxide, bursting its … Read more

How Does Burping Contribute To Global Warming?

Don’t laugh. That’s a good question. So good, in fact, that I thought of it myself when I learned that 15.2 billion gallons of carbonated soft drinks and 6.2 billion gallons of beer were consumed in 1999 in the United States. And what do you suppose happened to all the carbon dioxide in those beverages? … Read more

How Safe Is the Acid In Tang and Coke?

I don’t know what you’ve been drinking, but there are plenty of riskier beverages out there than Tang and Coke. I’d be concerned about this particular duo only if my stomach were made of soap scum or rust. Just because a chemical does something to one substance doesn’t mean it’ll do the same thing to … Read more

How Does Drinking Soda Pop Like Coke Cause Bones To Weaken?

It’s a mistaken notion that all carbonated soft drinks are rich in the chemical element phosphorus (which almost everyone, it seems, wants to misspell as “phosphorous”). The only thing that all carbonated soft drinks have in common is carbonated water: carbon dioxide dissolved in water. Beyond that, they contain a wide variety of flavorings and … Read more

Where Does Tea Come From and What Is the Plant Called?

There is only one plant, Camellia sinensis and a couple of hybrids thereof, whose leaves can be steeped in hot water to make real tea. They may have different names, depending, among other things, on where they were grown. Some of those “tea” bags you may be offered, such as chamomile, for example, do not … Read more

Are the Chemicals Used In Decaffeinated Coffee Safe Or Toxic?

The chemicals used to decaffeinate coffee are related to cleaning fluid, yes, but different. Like my Uncle Leon. In chemical families, as in human families, there are both similarities and idiosyncrasies. Caffeine itself, for example, is a member of the alkaloid family of powerful plant chemicals that includes such bad actors as nicotine, cocaine, morphine, … Read more

Does Espresso Contain More Caffeine Than Regular Coffee?

It depends. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) A direct comparison is complicated by the fact that there is no such thing as “regular coffee.” We have all had everything from vending-machine dishwater to truck-stop battery acid. Even at home, there are so many ways of brewing coffee that no generalizations … Read more

Why Is Coffee Bitter and Where Can I Find Coffee With Less Acid?

Acidity often gets a bum rap. Maybe it’s because of all the television commercials for drugs designed to control heartburn and acid reflux. But the acid in our stomachs (hydrochloric acid) is thousands of times stronger than any acid you’ll find in coffee. It’s only when the acid gets out of the stomach, splashing up … Read more

Why Does Blowing On Hot Food Cool It?

As we have all learned from experience when the etiquette police were looking the other way, the cooling of hot food by blowing on it works best with liquids, or at least with wet foods. You won’t substantially diminish the heat of a hot dog by blowing on it, but hot tea, coffee, and soup … Read more

Why Does Frozen Food Get Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn” has to be one of the more ridiculous oxymorons going. But take a good look at that emergency pork chop that’s been in your freezer much longer than you ever intended. Doesn’t its parched and shriveled surface look as if it had been seared? The dictionary tells us that seared doesn’t necessarily refer … Read more

Why Does Hot Water Freeze Faster Than Cold Water?

The hot-water-freezes-faster paradox has been debated since at least the 17th century when Sir Francis Bacon wrote about it. Even today, Canadians claim that a bucket of hot water left outdoors in cold weather will freeze faster than a bucket of cold water. Scientists, however, have been unable to explain why Canadians leave buckets of … Read more

What Does Empanada Mean In Spanish and How Are Empanadas Made?

In Spanish, empanada means “breaded,” derived from pan, meaning bread. But that’s a bit misleading, because in Latin America today an empanada is a filled pastry, almost any kind of pastry made from flour or cornmeal and filled with almost anything imaginable, but usually with meats or seafoods of some kind. We might call them … Read more

What Is the Best and Fastest Way To Defrost Frozen Foods?

You come home after a hard day’s work. You don’t feel like cooking, and you can’t face the hassle of going to a restaurant. Where do you turn? To the freezer, of course. And like a crowd of football fans, a little voice in your head begins to chant, “DEE-frost! DEE-frost!” Scanning your frozen assets, … Read more

How To Grill Vegetables In the Oven

Outdoor grilling is great for meats and fish, but grilling most vegetables can be a problem. Put them on the grate and they tend to fall through into the fire; put them on skewers and some parts will burn while others steam. Roasting vegetables in a hot oven is a lot easier. It results in … Read more

What Is the Best Type of Fire For Grilling: Charcoal or Gas, and Why?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal “It depends.” You can make burned-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside chicken equally well over charcoal or a gas flame. As in all cooking, what matters is how much heat the food ultimately absorbs; that’s what determines its done-ness. Grilling infuses the necessary amount of heat by subjecting the food to … Read more

Does It Ever Really Get Hot Enough To Fry an Egg On the Sidewalk?

It’s unlikely. But scientific opinion has never been known to discourage people from trying to prove an age-old urban legend. When I was a kid in The Big City in the days before air conditioning, at least one newspaper would cook up an egg-on-the-sidewalk story sometime during the “silly season”, the dog days of summer, … Read more

Why Does It Take Such a Long Time To Reduce a Stock?

Evaporating water sounds like the simplest thing in the world. Why, just leave a puddle of water standing around and it evaporates all by itself. But that takes time, because the necessary calories won’t flow into the water very fast from the room’s relatively cool air. Even on the stove, where you’re feeding lots of … Read more

Will a Pot of Water Boil Faster If You Put the Lid On?

As a pot of water is heated and its temperature goes up, more and more water vapor is produced above the surface. That’s because more and more of the surface molecules gain enough energy to leap off into the air. The increasing amount of water vapor carries off an increasing amount of energy that could … Read more

How Long Does It Take To Boil Water At High Altitudes?

The elevation at La Paz runs from 10,650 to 13,250 feet above sea level, depending on which part of town you’re in. And as you are aware, water boils at lower temperatures at higher elevations. That’s because in order to escape from the liquid and boil off into the air, water molecules have to fight … Read more

How Does Cutting 3,000 Calories Equal To Losing a Pound of Fat?

Not being a nutritionist, I asked Marion Nestle, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University. “Fudge factors,” she said. First of all, the actual energy content of a gram of fat is closer to 9.5 calories. But that would only make the discrepancy bigger. The fact is … Read more

How To Boil a Live Lobster

At the fish market, select one lively, tail-flipping, claw-raising lobster per person. You pick up a lobster by grasping its back, behind the head. If it droops when picked up, forget it and come back another day; it’s not fresh. Take the lobsters home in a container that allows lots of breathing space and keeps … Read more

What Is the Best Way To Cook a Live Lobster? Boil It or Steam It?

To find an authoritative answer, I went to Maine and interviewed several leading chefs and lobstermen. I found two distinct camps: the staunch steamers and the passionate plungers. “I plunge,” defiantly declared the chef at a well-known French restaurant. He plunges his lobsters into boiling water laced with white wine and lots of peeled garlic. … Read more

Why Are Mussels the Best Type of Seafood Ever?

Mussels are nature’s fast-food gifts from the sea. They are beautiful to behold in their ebony shells, decorated with concentric growth lines. They cook almost instantly (they’re done when their shells pop open) and are very low in fat and high in protein. Their texture is meaty, and they taste of the sea, a little … Read more

What Is the Difference Between Clam and Oyster Shells and Shrimp and Crab Shells?

We call them all shells because they are worn on the outside, but when we talk about “shellfish,” we’re including two totally different classes of animals: crustaceans and mollusks. Among the crustaceans are crabs, lobsters, shrimps, and prawns. Their shells are horny, flexible plates of hinged “armor.” The top covering of a crab or lobster … Read more

What Is the Easiest Best Way To Open Live Clams?

Almost as much human resourcefulness has been expended on shucking clams as on opening childproof medicine bottles, but with far more injuries. People have seriously recommended everything from hammers, files, and hacksaws to execution in the microwave chamber. But brute force is entirely unnecessary, and microwave heat can seriously compromise their flavor. To open clams … Read more

Are Clams and Oysters On the Half Shell Still Alive When We Eat Them?

You’re on vacation at the shore, right? Seafood restaurants abound. Many have raw bars, at which hordes of heedless hedonists are slurping hundreds of luckless mollusks that have been forcibly demoted from bivalve to univalve status. It’s only natural to be squeamish about chomping on a creature so recently relieved of its shielding shells and, … Read more

Why Is Caviar Served With a Special, Fancy Spoon Made of Gold?

One can imagine several reasons. Merchants assume that anyone who eats caviar regularly is an easy sell. Caviar deserves it. And least romantically, there is a chemical reason for it. Caviar is the roe of the sturgeon, a huge, dinosaur-era fish with armored plates instead of scales. The sturgeon lives primarily in the Caspian and … Read more

Why Does Fish Go Bad So Much Faster Than Other Meat Like Beef?

People put up with fishy-smelling fish because they’re probably thinking, Well, what else should it smell like? Odd as it may seem, though, fish needn’t smell like fish at all. When they’re perfectly fresh, only a few hours removed from carousing around in the water, fish and shellfish have virtually no odor. A fresh “scent … Read more

Why Does Fish Cook So Much Faster Than Other Meats?

why does fish cook faster than beef and pork?

Meats, like wines, can be either red or white. Beef is red; fish and shellfish are generally white. Salmon are pink, rosé, if you like, because they eat pink-shelled crustaceans. Flamingos, if you care, are pink for a similar reason. In the kitchen, we soon learn that white fish flesh cooks much more quickly than … Read more

How To Make the Perfect Chicken or Turkey Gravy Every Time

There are three important things to remember when making gravy: Combine and cook equal parts fat and all-purpose flour. Whisk in the right amount of broth to the consistency you like. Simmer gravy for a total of 7 minutes. The standard proportion for gravy is 1 part fat, 1 part flour, 8 or 12 parts … Read more

How Do I Use the Drippings From a Roast Chicken?

No. If you have to ask, you don’t deserve them. Pour off the fat, scrape the rest of the “ook” into a jar, and ship it to me by overnight express. Seriously, this stuff is composed of marvelously flavorful juices and gels, and it would be a crime to feed it to your dishwashing machine. … Read more

What Does Marinate Overnight Mean In a Recipe?

I’m with you. Why overnight? Are we to believe that daylight somehow interferes with the marinating process? What if it’s only two o’clock in the afternoon when we arrive at the critical point in the recipe? How early can “overnight” begin? If we do leave it overnight, must we proceed with the recipe the moment … Read more

Why and How Does Brining Make Meat, Poultry, and Fish Juicer?

Brining, soaking meat, fish or poultry in a solution of salt in water, is far from new. Surely, at some time in maritime history, someone discovered, accidentally, perhaps?, that meat that had soaked in seawater was juicier and had better flavor when cooked. How does brining work? What does a bath in salt water accomplish, … Read more

How Is Meat Like Ham and Fish Preserved Without Refrigeration?

Meats don’t spoil because they’re “cured,” which is a catch-all term for any process that inhibits bacterial growth, even at room temperature. But hams can be bewildering. How are they cured? Are all hams salted? Smoked? Do you have to soak them? Cook them? There is no single set of answers to these questions because … Read more

Why Do Bones Make Soup, Stew, and Stock Taste Better By Adding Flavor?

Dem bones are an essential ingredient in making a soup, stock, or stew, every bit as essential as the meat, vegetables, and seasonings. Their purpose may not be obvious, however, if we think of them as hard, nonreactive mineral matter. Yes, their structural material is mineral: calcium phosphates, to be specific. But calcium phosphates don’t … Read more

What Does Prime Beef Mean and Where Does Prime Rib Come From?

USDA Prime is indeed the finest and most expensive grade of beef. But we have all at one time or another been subjected to a $5.95 (salad bar included) slab of tough, dry “prime rib” rimmed with vulcanized-rubber fat that clearly deserved to be stamped “USDA Inedible.” Is there some misrepresentation going on here? Not … Read more