Culinary Fun Fact: True or False you should eat oysters only in months whose names contain the letter R.

The “R” rule may have been true 30 or 40 years ago, but thanks to advances in aquaculture it has fallen by the wayside. It used to be fishermen dug for oysters only in the colder “R” months (September through April) to avoid the spawning season.

Warm waters (above 60 degrees) encourage spawning, rendering oysters bland, soft-textured, and small. Once the spawning season is complete, oysters are generally plumper and better-tasting, thus commanding a higher price tag.

Today’s oysters are more likely to be farmed than found, with farmers having more control over the conditions in which they are grown, harvested, and stored. This means that oyster cultivators can plant oysters in cold waters, thereby staggering spawning and keeping their product available year-round. So forget the “R” rule—any time is fine for eating oysters.

Culinary Fun Fact: What is a Moderate Oven?

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Oven Temperatures

                                      ºF                     ºC                      Gas Mark
very cool                     250–275           130–140                ½–1
cool                              300                    148                         2
warm                           325                    163                         3
moderate                    350                    177                         4
moderately hot         375–400           190–204               5–6
hot                                425                     218                        7
very hot                      450–475             232–245               8–9

 

Culinary Fun Fact: How To Use Gelatin

Gelatin is a protein that dissolves in hot liquids and gels when cold. It is used to set light custards such as panna cotta among various other uses both sweet and savory.

The natural gelatin contained in meat and bones is what causes cold broth consommé or aspic to set.

Many of home cooks don’t like gelatin because if overused, it makes things rubbery. It’s best used in the smallest amount needed to get a liquid to set, about half the amount specified on the package, which says that one packet will set 1 cup liquid. In fact, one packet will barely set, which generally what you want, 2 cups of liquid.

When using powdered gelatin, soften it in about 3 tablespoons cold water per packet before adding it to hot or warm liquids.

Some recipes call for sheet gelatin, which happens to be the preferred form in Europe. When using sheet gelatin, soak it first in cold water until it becomes soft. It’s difficult to arrive at equivalents between sheet gelatin and powdered gelatin because different brands of sheet gelatin contain different amounts of gelatin per sheet.

 

 

Culinary Fun Fact: What is Sous Vide?

Even If you’re not sure what sous vide exactly is, chances are you’ve tried it whether at that fancy French restaurant you save for special occasions or the egg bites you have with your latte at Starbucks.

A sous vide machine or immersion circulator is used to preheat a water bath to a precise temperature. Food is sealed in plastic bags, though you can also sous vide in glass jars and eggs can be cooked in their shells, and immersed in the bath. The food eventually reaches the same temperature as the water, which is often set to the ideal serving temperature of the final dish.

For meat, poultry, and fish, there is usually a quick searing step before serving. As opposed to conventional stovetop and oven methods, in which the heat used is much higher than the serving temperature of the food, making it imperative to remove the food at just the right moment, when it’s done but not overcooked.

Using sous vide there’s usually no risk of overcooking, making it a tempting technique, especially for temperature-sensitive foods such as fish or steak. The low cooking temperature ensures meat remains juicy; it’s never dry. And dialing in the precise temperature creates exceptionally consistent results that can’t be achieved with traditional methods.

Culinary Fun Fact: Making herb or compound butters

Chop fresh herbs with slightly softened but still cold butter. Once the herb is well mixed into the butter, form the butter into a rough sausage shape on a sheet of wax paper and roll it up tightly. Twist the paper at the ends in opposite directions to tighten the shape.

Wrap this in aluminum foil to help it hold its shape and to keep the wax paper from coming away from the butter. Freeze for up to a year; refrigerate for up to a month.

Cut into slices and use it to top grilled meats and seafood or to whisk into other sauces.

Culinary Fun Fact: How To wash lettuce

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1. Fill a large bowl with cold water and gently put in the leaves.

2. Stir them around gently and then let them sit a couple of minutes. Transfer them to another bowl.

3. Feel the bottom of the first bowl. If you feel any sand or grit, rinse it out, refill the bowl, and repeat the soaking.

4. Most lettuce requires only one soaking, but some greens, such as arugula or basil, are sandy and require as many as three soakings.

Culinary Fun Fact: Grinding Pepper

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Freshly grind pepper so that its aroma isn’t allowed to evaporate. A small simple pepper mill is best that allows for adjustments to the coarseness of the grind.  For this very reason the Peugeot brand is found all over France.  The Peugeot brand is designed so that by turning the mill clockwise, the pepper is ground fine, and by turning it counterclockwise, the pepper is coarse.

When to use pepper:
Don’t add pepper to foods until just before serving or just before browning; if you do, the flavor of the pepper will cook off and leave a harsh flavor. This is especially true for soups and broths, which should never be peppered before they are served.

 

Culinary Fun Fact: What thermometers do I need?

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At the very least an instant-read thermometer for sticking in pieces of meat or fish for an instant read of the internal temperature. These thermometers have made the old-fashioned meat thermometers that are left in the meat as it cooks obsolete.

If you fry a lot, a frying thermometer that clips on to the side of the pan and measures the temperature of the oil can be useful.

A candy thermometer or a chocolate thermometer can be nice, but instead buy an inelegant digital thermometer that measures in a range between 50° and 200°F.

 

Culinary Fun Fact: Ways To Bread

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Chicken, veal cutlets, whole fish, or fish fillets can be coated with different ingredients, but the end result is always moister meat.

Coat with flour
Food that has been coated with flour before being sautéed is cooked meunière and is usually served with frothy butter and lemon juice.

  • Coat food with flour.
  • Sauté over high heat in clarified butter.
  • Pat off any burned butter and put the food on plates or on a platter.
  • Pour out the cooked butter.
  • Sprinkle the foods generously with lemon juice.
  • Heat fresh whole butter in the pan until it froths and pour it over the food.
  • Serve immediately.

Coat with flour and beaten egg
Flouring and then dipping in a beaten egg make a light coating between meunière and a heavier breading. Prepare as above. The French call this à la parisienne.

  • Coat with flour, beaten egg, and fresh bread crumbs
    Coat the food first with flour, dip it in beaten egg, and then dip it in fresh bread crumbs (à l’anglaise). Prepare as above.

Coat with flour, beaten egg, and parmigiano-reggiano

  • Using finely grated parmigiano-reggiano instead of bread crumbs makes this coating à la milanaise.”

 

Culinary Fun Fact: Are all fish eggs caviar??

False!  False!  Caviar only refers to the cured eggs of certain species of sturgeon. That’s it, don’t be fooled.  Salmon, trout, paddlefish, etc. those are technically roe, but not caviar. Caviar is not a regulated term, so buyer beware.

What to look for:

Read the label. You want to see a far-off expiration date (most jars get at least two months from the time of packing), a lot harvest date to show tracking, and the scientific species, country of origin, and farm to know you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Be wary of the words:

“beluga,” “Caspian,” or “wild.”  They are often black market

“Osstra” that is not specifically Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (Russian Sturgeon).

“Sodium tetraborate” a preservative that’s not necessarily bad, but is often used to mask off flavors

Look in the jar. You should see individual spheres, nothing smashed or deflated, no liquid pooling.

Good caviar needs nothing more than a buttery bread such as brioche or challah, crepes, or yeasted blini. Lay out an assortment of snipped chives, minced shallots, and sieved hard-boiled egg.