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    The High Divide

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25 Remote Warehouse Cooking and Food- Culinary Reference

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The New Kitchen Science: A Guide to Knowing the Hows and Whys for Fun and Success in the Kitchen


The New Kitchen Science: A Guide to Knowing the Hows and Whys for Fun and Success in the Kitchen Cover





Cooking Equipment

Are quality knives a bargain?

Yes, because quality knives should last you a lifetime. Inexpensive ones

normally need to be replaced every five years or so. That's why it is more

cost-effective in the long run to invest in a few quality knives than to


a broader assortment of less expensive and inferior implements. As a


your cutting, chopping, and slicing tasks will be quicker and easier. Our

recommended five-knife starter set performs a wide variety of tasks. It

comprises a 3- to 4-inch (blade length) paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an


inch serrated slicing knife, an 8-inch chef 's (chopping) knife, and a 10-inch

nonserrated slicing (carving) knife. You also need a 10-inch butcher steel for


Are dull knives more dangerous than sharp ones?

Without question. The sharper the knife, the less likely the cook is to cut

himself. This may sound like dull-witted reasoning, but the point is valid for

two pragmatic reasons. First, people tend to be more careful when using

sharper knives because the potential harm is more vivid in their minds.

Second, a duller knife is more apt to slip when cutting because it requires

more downward pressure to do the job.

There are more benefits from a sharp knife than just safety. It

makes cutting quicker and more efficient and minimizes ripping and tearing


the food.

How do the four basic knife-blade alloys differ?

Virtually all kitchen knives have blades of steel, an alloy consisting mainly


iron mixed with carbon and a smaller portion of other elements. The critical

difference between carbon and stainless steel alloys is that the first has a

higher carbon content, whereas the other amalgamation contains more

chromium, and often nickel.

The high-carbon stainless knife is betwixt and between the two—

its carbon, chromium, and nickel proportions lie somewhere in between


of the standard carbon and stainless steel varieties. Yet another variation of

the theme is the superstainless knife, the one with the scintillating silvery

look. Its alloy—at least its plating alloy—is impregnated with relatively large

quantities of chromium and nickel.

An alloy's precise makeup determines to a considerable extent a

knife's advantages and disadvantages for a cook.

What are the pros and cons of each knife-blade alloy?

A carbon steel blade is unequaled in its ability to take an extremely sharp

edge, and therefore it is preferred by most serious chefs. The major


of carbon steel is that unless the blade is promptly wiped dry after each


it will rust. The alloy is also vulnerable to attack by the acid in foods like

citrus fruits, tomatoes, and onions. If the knife is not washed soon after

contact with these ingredients, the acid will react chemically with the metal,

blemishing the blade's surface with blackish stains. Moreover, that

discoloration and its attendant off-odor can be transferred to the foods you

are cutting.

Superstainless steel is the least efficient of the four basic knife

alloys. It is all but impossible for a cook to restore the sharpness once the

knife loses its original well-honed edge (if the manufacturer gave it one in


first place). Kitchenware demonstrators speak hokum when they claim that

superstainless steel knives never need to be sharpened. What they should

tell you is that their product can't be sharpened.

Stainless steel, like its super cousin, resists rust, stains, and

corrosion caused by water and acid. Though it takes a sharper edge than a

superstainless one, a stainless steel blade will still be annoyingly dull in the

hands of a busy cook.

A high-carbon stainless steel knife—by far the most expensive of

the four types—will neither rust nor stain. Consequently, it is the answer for


cook who lives by the sea or in a humid climate, because salt can corrode

and moisture can oxidize (rust) nonstainless steel. High-carbon stainless

steel is also recommended for cooks who do not want to be bothered with

having to wash the knife and wipe it dry promptly after each use—or who do

not want the knife blade to become tarnished because the chore was


Although a blade made from high-carbon stainless steel can be

honed to a fairly sharp edge, do not believe the food writers and salespeople

who tell you that its sharpness will match that of a knife made with carbon

steel. As our kitchen tests verify, this is physically impossible.

What else should I look for when buying a knife?

Selecting the right blade alloy is not enough. You should buy only a knife

produced by a quality manufacturer because fine knife making requires

skilled workmanship involving a myriad of precision tasks, such as


the steel. In fact, unless you can buy superb carbon steel knives (they are

becoming difficult to find in America nowadays), we recommend that you

purchase the top-of-the-line, high-carbon stainless steel knives of a quality

manufacturer, such as Wüsthof (Trident trademark) or Henckels.

The tang (the part of the metal enclosed by the handle) should run

the full length of the handle and should be well secured with at least three

rivets. Otherwise, the handle and the metal part of the knife may separate

within a matter of years. The full tang also contributes weight and balance,

two essential qualities that inexpensive knives usually lack.

A knife's handle should be easy to grasp and feel comfortable in

your hand. Its material should be durable and nonslippery. Nearly all

hardwood and many modern plastic-and-wood composite grips fit the bill;

plastic hilts do not.

What is the best tool for sharpening knives?

Honing a knife on one of those extremely coarse grinding wheels or belts


are commonly used by peregrinating peddlers or key makers is one of the

most unsatisfactory methods. Repeated sharpenings on these instruments

wear away your blade within a few years.

Almost as bad are those small pairs of steel rotating disk-

cylinders that are supposed to be attached to a kitchen door or cabinet. Not

only do these gadgets devour the metal of the blade faster than need be,


tend to scratch the blade too much and throw it out of alignment. Electric

knife sharpeners perform better, though they are not recommended for high-

quality carbon or high-carbon steel knives. These countertop appliances


permanently alter the angular shape of the knife's cutting edge given by the

knife's manufacturer.

The best day-to-day sharpening implement is the butcher's steel,

a rough-surfaced, hard metal rod equipped with a handle. However, unless

you use the steel frequently to sharpen the knife, as a butcher is wont to


the edge of your knife may dull beyond the restorative powers of the honing

rod. In that case, you will need to sharpen the knife periodically with a

whetstone, a small, abrasive, bluish-black block made of the exceptionally

hard silicon carbide Carborundum (available in most hardware stores).

Sometimes the abrasive material is a thin coating of minuscule diamonds.

What is the ideal honing angle?

Some say that 15° is the correct honing angle, whereas other estimates

place the number at 25° or even 30°.We experimented and found that

approximately 20° produces the best all-around results. A good way to


whether you are honing at or near a 20° angle is to refer to the


graphic as you practice with an actual knife and butcher steel.

Where should sharp knives be stored?

Certainly not intermingled in a drawer with other knives and utensils. Every

time you open and close the drawer, knives jostle about, damaging their

cutting edges. One of the best storage solutions is a wood knife block


also makes knives very accessible). Buy one with horizontal slots. With

vertical slots, you drag a knife's cutting edge along the wood each time you

insert and remove the utensil.

Can I slice food with a chef 's knife?

Not if you want thin, attractive slices. A chef 's knife is designed to chop,


slice. As the accompanying illustration shows, there is a notable


for reasons of function—between the cross-sectional blade of the slicing


and the chef 's knife. Because the slicing knife blade is relatively thin,


and food crushing is minimized as the knife slides through the food. Just as

important, the thinner design allows the carver to cut narrower and more

uniform slices because the blade stays reasonably parallel to the face of



What about doing the opposite, chopping firm food with a slicing

knife? The chef 's knife does a much better job because its wedge shape is

broader on the top of its cross-section than the slicing knife. That extra

weight gives the blade extra momentum and therefore more power to help


cook chop through firm foods like garlic and carrots.

Should I buy a wood or polyethylene cutting board?

The harder a cutting surface, the more quickly a knife dulls. Hard surfaces

include metal, marble, china, crockery, enamel, glass, and most kitchen

countertops. The softest, and therefore the most desirable of the popular

cutting surfaces, is wood. Though softwood does less harm to the knife's

edge, hardwood is used most often because it absorbs less moisture and

lasts longer.

Polyethylene boards are not as hard as, say, metal and glass,


they are harder than wood. Consequently, a knife becomes duller faster on

polyethylene boards than on wood ones. Even though polyethylene is


to clean, most good cooks insist on wood cutting boards because keeping


knife sharp is crucial.

Hard cutting surfaces are not the only anathema to a sharp knife

blade. A blade that nicks too many bones or scrapes hard kitchenware in a

dishwasher or on a drying rack also may not cut the mustard.

Are hardwood spoons worth their higher price?

Hardwood spoons cost more than softwood spoons because they are made

of more expensive material and are more difficult to carve. They absorb less

bacteria and cooking flavors because their wood is less porous. They are

less likely to scorch, stain, crack, or warp. They dry faster, are more

attractive, and last more than twice as long as softwood spoons.

Why is good heat distribution a virtue for a stove-top pan?

Unless heat can quickly spread through the entire bottom of a pan, "hot"

and "cold" spots will develop. The hot spots will be directly over the places

where the heat source comes in contact with the pan. Thus, if the gas


is starfish-shaped, or if the configuration of the electric coil is a spiral, the


spots will follow those patterns.

The problem of frying or braising in a pan that has hot and cold

spots is that you cannot cook the food properly—unless you do nothing


but constantly and thoroughly stir the contents (and when braising, you


not do that even if you so desired). The food over the hot spots will


Or, if you lower the heat to prevent scorching, the food will take longer to

cook or there will probably be insufficient heat to cook the other portions of

the food.

If you discover that your pots have hot spots and you do not wish

to replace the equipment, you can minimize the defect by using a heat

diffuser or by using a low heat setting.

When cooking food in a generous quantity of boiling or simmering

water, you need not worry so muchabout the negative effects of hot and


spots on the bottom of your pan. By the time the heat reaches the food, the

cooking medium (water) will have more or less equalized the two


extremes. The same principle holds true for steaming.

The speed at which heat can travel through a pan's bottom is a

function of how well it conducts heat (see "How is heat transferred to food?"

in chapter 2, pp. 28–29). Conductivity varies mainly according to the type of

metal as well as the thickness and finish of the metal.

Of the popular pan materials, which are the fastest heat conductors and

which the slowest?

The fastest guns in town are silver, tin, and copper. Aluminum is quick on


draw, too.

Middling-speed substances include cast iron and carbon (rolled)

steel, the type of sheet metal that is used to fashion traditional woks and

crepe pans. Stainless steel ranks even lower in heat-flow efficiency.

Even poorer conductors are glass, porcelain, earthenware, and

pottery in general. The sluggish attributes of these materials, however, can

be a plus in serving dishes. Providing that such a vessel is covered and its

walls are thick enough, it absorbs and gives up heat so languidly that it

should keep your food warm for a long time.

Factors other than the type of metal also determine how evenly a

pot heats food. The thicker its gauge, the more uniformly a pot will


heat throughout its interior surface. However, though a thicker gauge will


compensate for the mediocre heat-conducting properties of iron, the weight


the extra metal usually makes the pot unwieldy. A metal's finish also


cooking efficiency.

Are copper pots worth the money?

It depends.

We do not recommend purchasing mass-produced pseudo-copper

pots and pans—the lightweight, stamped stainless steel type with copper-

coated bottoms. The buyer gets the headache of the genuine copper

equipment (keeping the metal polished) without enjoying the heat


advantage. The copper coating that is used to produce this lower-priced

equipment is typically less than 1/50 of an inch thick—too thin to distribute

heat uniformly. Even the stainless steel is deplorably thin.

Authentic copper pots and pans, which are quite dear, are

excellent because the thick copper metal distributes the heat evenly

throughout the base and the lower sides of the cooking utensil. However, if

the copper base becomes mottled with black carbon deposits, the even


distribution is greatly impaired and hot spots develop, turning a positive into


negative. This is why we never recommend copper cooking equipment to

anyone who doesn't have the time and inclination to keep it clean and

polished—and it is a chore, to be sure.

Another drawback of authentic copper pots is that they must be

periodically relined with tin, an expensive process. The pan must be relined

once the tin starts to wear away appreciably because if too much copper

leaches into your cooking foods, your liver won't be able to remove the

excess from your blood. The results can be noxious. However, the amount


copper leaching from a few scratches in the tin lining shouldn't prove to be

dangerously toxic—that is, if you minimize or avoid cooking foods that are

high in acid or highly pigmented, which chemically hastens the release of


copper and its oxides. Finally, fat-based cooking (frying) will release less

copper than water-based cooking (boiling, braising, and stewing).

Is enamel cookware practical?

Enamel cookware resists corrosion, and its shiny, often colorful veneer can

make it quite attractive, both on the range and on the dining room table.

Unfortunately, its beauty is only "skin deep." Enamelware (a misnomer) is a

metal, not an enamel, pan. The enamel is no more than a thin coating

produced by fusing a powdered glass onto the metal (often cast-iron) pan in


kiln. This sheer layer can chip easily if the cook accidentally bangs the pan

against the hard sink. Thermal shock is another hazard; a stove-hot

enamelware pot can shatter if the cook sets it in cold water.

How do nonstick surfaces work?

Most nonstick kitchenware is made with chemically inert fluorocarbon


that is baked onto the cooking surfaces. These substances cover the pores

and microscopic jagged peaks of the metal (usually aluminum) and


deny food the opportunity to latch on to something.

Nonstick coatings in effect season the pan. The

commercial "seasoning" method produces a much slicker surface than the

home method—so slick that you can, if you want, fry foods with little or no


or butter.

What are the pros and cons of nonstick coatings?

The nonstick surface is a blessing to people who must drastically restrict

their fat intake. However, for others, the main selling point of the nonstick

lining can turn out to be a drawback. When one cooks without oil or fat, the

taste buds and olfactory receptors are deprived of rich flavors that are

essential to superb dining.

An indisputable positive feature of a nonstick pan is that its

smooth surface can be washed free of food quickly and with minimum effort.

However, should metal utensils and scouring pads be used, they can easily

scratch, making it more likely that food will stick to the pan. A nonstick


also discolors with misuse, or in time, even with proper use. Too many of


nonstick coated pans are too thin and thus—because of the resulting


heat distribution —are not ideal for most stove-top cooking methods.

Finally, the nonstick coating is not truly nonstick ("low-stick"

would be a better appellation), and its surface will eventually wear away,

despite what some kitchenware ads and salespeople profess. Generally,

there is a correlation between how much you pay for a pan and how long


nonstick surface will last.

How does an anodized aluminum pan compare with a nonstick aluminum


An anodized pan will likely be thicker gauged and better built but, like a

nonstick pan, can be easily scratched and impaired by a careless cook or

dishwasher. Both pans help prevent food from sticking, though the nonstick

pan performs that mission demonstrably better. Unlike the nonstick variety,

an anodized pan usually needs to be seasoned occasionally.

The anodization process is based on the principle that an oxide

layer forms naturally on aluminum and that this oxide helps prevent food


sticking to the metal. The thicker the layer, the more effective the defense.

Manufacturers discovered that they could artificially create a reasonably


layer by means of electrolysis.

Why are pans that are constructed with multi-ply bottoms so highly touted?

Their bottoms have three layers: a middle ply (generally aluminum)

sandwiched between two stainless steel ones. The purpose of this design


to give the cook the best of both worlds by eliminating each metal's


The aluminum layer cannot become discolored, nor can it color or

flavor foods, because it is completely enclosed within the stainless steel.


upper stainless steel layer does not have the hot spots that are common in

100 percent stainless steel pots, because by the time it reaches that

stainless steel tier, the heat from the burner has been more or less evenly

diffused by the aluminum (which is, unlike stainless steel, an excellent

conductor of heat). And because the pan's entire metal surface is stainless

steel, it has an attractive shiny finish and is easier to clean. Still another

bonus is that multi-tiered construction has much the same effect on the

pan's bottom that it has on plywood: The possibility of warping is


Why must I season a cast-iron or carbon steel pot before using it for the



The surfaces of both of these nonstainless, iron-based metals are rather

porous and have microscopic jagged peaks. You season a pan or pot by

rubbing it with oil, heating it for 30 to 60 minutes in a 300°F oven, and then

cooling it to room temperature. The oil fills the cavities and becomes

entrenched in them, as well as rounding off the peaks. Two culinary benefits

result. First, the cooking surface develops a nonstick quality because the

formerly jagged and pitted surface becomes smooth. Second, because the

pores are permeated with oil, water cannot seep in and create rust that


give food an off-flavor.

Why do pans sometimes become deseasoned?

One common reason is that the pan has been scratched with a sharp metal

tool, such as a spatula. Sometimes the cause is indirect: If one lets a pan

rust, it probably needs to be washed and very likely scoured with soap or

detergent. When cleaned in this way, some of the oil that coats the pores

and minuscule jagged peaks of the metal bind themselves chemically to

some of the cleansing agent's molecules and flow down the drain with the


Naturally, the more fiercely one scrubs, the stronger the cleansing

solution, and the longer the pan is soaked, the more the pan becomes

deseasoned. If damage done by the cleaning is not too great, the pan will

automatically reseason itself the next time you fry in it—so no harm done. If

the damage is severe, you will have to start the seasoning process over


from the very beginning. If rust has developed deep inside the pores of the

interior surface, dump the pan into a trash bin—all the king's cooks couldn't

put it back in serviceable order again.

Once my carbon steel wok or omelet pan is seasoned, can I wash it with


Many cookbooks say "never," but that advice can run counter to sound

hygiene and pleasing taste. Unless you use these metal utensils daily,


should be washed briefly with a little soapy water (then rinsed and


dried) in order to rid them of excess surface oil. Otherwise, the surplus oil


become rancid within two days or so, giving cooked foods an off-flavor.

Washing your wok or omelet pan gently with a cleansing agent need not


your prized possession.

Some cookbooks recommend an alternative method: Scour the

pan with dry salt. Since that technique can also chemically precipitate

rusting, we do not follow that advice.

Why does an aluminum pot give a red tomato sauce a brownish tinge?

If an unlined aluminum vessel is used to cook a high-alkali food such as

potatoes, or if the cooking medium is hard water, or if the pot is washed


high-alkali cleanser, the metal's surface becomes stained. When the pot is

subsequently used to cook tomato sauce or any other high-acid ingredient,

such as onions, wine, lemon juice, or cabbage, the acid chemically


some of the stain from the pot and transfers the discoloration to the food.

Although the brownish tinge diminishes the aesthetic appeal of the food, it

poses no threat to your health.

Another drawback of aluminum pots is their propensity to warp

when subjected to abrupt changes in temperature extremes (more so than,

say, stainless steel of identical gauge). And aluminum implements dent

easily, especially if they are thin-gauged.

On the plus side, the heat-flow efficiency of a thick-gauge

aluminum pot nearly rivals that of a copper pot of similar gauge, which is

noticeably heavier and many times more expensive. Unlike cast iron or

carbon steel, aluminum doesn't rust (though it does oxidize slowly). If


with care, aluminum pots will last for decades.

Why can a quick temperature change shatter glass?

The natural brittleness and poor conductivity of glass make it susceptible to

cracking when it experiences a rapid change in temperature from hot to


or vice versa. Contemplate what happens, for instance, when boiling water


poured into a cold glass jar. Because glass has a low heat-flow efficiency,

the heat that is transferred from the water to the jar's bottom travels


slowly (by conduction) to the top of the jar. Since glass (or any other

material) expands when heated, the jar's bottom will quickly swell, and—

what is most critical—without a corresponding expansion in the upper part


the jar. This disparity creates a structural stress that cracks the doomed


Treated glass, such as Pyrex, is much less vulnerable to

shattering than is regular glass, though it, too, has its limits. Even less

susceptible is Corningware. Standard porcelain, earthenware, and other

pottery, however, do indeed have glass's "Achilles' heel," so it is a good


to preheat a vessel made with one of these materials (with, for instance, hot

tap water) before placing it in a preheated oven.

What makes a pan warp?

A metal will not shatter like glass, partially because it has a higher


efficiency, but chiefly because it has a sturdier intermolecular structure.

Metal does, nonetheless, warp for the same reason that glass cracks:

structural stress caused by a sudden and significant change in the relative

temperature of two closely situated areas of the cookware.

The metal of inexpensive metal pots and pans (except for the


iron variety) is typically thin-gauged, and that of higher-quality utensils is

thick-gauged. The thicker a sheet of metal, the greater its structural


and therefore the less likely it is to warp. Since warped cookware conducts

heat unevenly, cheap pots are seldom a bargain.

Are there essential differences between a skillet and a sauté pan?

Though many cooks freely substitute one for the other, each pan is


with specific functions in mind.

A skillet's sloping side allows you to turn and remove food such

as scrambled eggs more easily. In contrast, the comparatively high, vertical

wall of a sauté pan interferes with these cooking tasks. The rationale behind

its construction is different: The design is meant to reduce the amount of oil

that splatters beyond the sauté pan's rim when, for instance, the cook pan-

fries chicken.

The sides of a sauté pan, incidentally, should not measure more

than 2 1/2 inches. Higher walls cause excess steam to build up in the pan


gaseous water molecules are released by the frying foods. Moreover, some


the imprisoned steam molecules then condense and fall into the oil,

needlessly causing extra splatter and lowering the oil's temperature at the

same time.

Why don't the wok-cooked dishes that I prepare at home equal those made

in a topnotch Chinese restaurant?

Even assuming that your cooking talents and ingredients match those of a

professional Chinese chef, your stir-fried food can't have the same intense

color, elegant flavor, and crisp texture. A difference in the heat power

available to you explains the disparity. A typical home stove-top gas burner

generates fewer than 10,000 British thermal units. (A BTU defines the

quantity of heat required to raise 2 cups—1 pound—of air-free, 60°F water


1°F at normal atmospheric pressure.) The BTU output for a gas range in a

first-rate Chinese restaurant is at least twice as high because of the stove's

special design features. It has much more gas to burn because the gas line

that supplies the fuel to the burner is much larger in diameter. Moreover, the

heating unit itself consists of many concentric burner rings; the normal


gas burner has but one. Finally, the restaurant burner apparatus is normally

several times wider.

The higher heat more effectively seals in the juices of the

ingredients and therefore helps lock in flavor and nutrients. Just as


since fewer of the internal juices in the cooking food emerge, the pan sauce

better clings to the food, making the dish more appetizing. A crisper texture

results because the higher heat firms the surface of the food before the

interior becomes overcooked. In addition, the higher heat more effectively

triggers the chemical reactions that heighten the color of the vegetables as

they start to cook. And because the cooking period is very brief, the vivid

colors developed do not have a chance to fade.

Can I use a wok on an electric range?

Unfortunately, the highly functional configuration of an authentic wok is

incompatible with the heating surface of an electric stovetop or cook-top.


area of contact between this rounded vessel and a flat surface is small, and

therefore heat is severely limited. Yet, a genuine wok must have a rounded

bottom as a matter of practicality. Stir-frying is best executed with a small

amount of cooking oil concentrated in the hottest zone, the heart of the


and a concave pan accomplishes this goal. In addition, the combination of

the height and slope of the sides facilitates tossing, an essential stir-frying


Electric ranges (and electric woks, too) are ill suited for stir-frying

for yet another reason. Many a stir-fry recipe calls for a quick lowering or

raising of the temperature in the middle of the cooking period. Electric

heating units generally respond slowly to temperature adjustments.

Do not buy one of those "woks" that has been designed with a flat

bottom specifically for use on an electric unit. You cannot properly stir-fry in

one of these vessels, which are essentially high-walled skillets. The


bottom is required for true Chinese stir-frying.

Are smoke hoods a good investment?

Two basic types of smoke hoods exist, both equipped with exhaust fans.

One sucks the polluted air out of the kitchen into the great outdoors, as a

fireplace chimney does. The other—a less efficient device—simply filters


recycles the adulterated air in your kitchen. Both reduce grime buildup in

your kitchen, minimizing the need for elbow grease and redecoration.

According to the results of a study conducted by the Lawrence

Berkeley National Laboratory in California, there seems to be an even

stronger reason for having a smoke hood, at least in restaurants where a

clutch of ovens bake or roast continually. The researchers found that oven

exhaust can contain excess levels of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (both

can create respiratory disorders), vinyl chloride (a cancer-causing agent),


carbon monoxide (capable of producing headaches, nausea, and death).

Most homes have a smoke alarm in or near the kitchen, but few

have a carbon monoxide detector to sound an alarm when it reaches a

precarious level. Unlike smoke, carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless.

How does a self-cleaning oven work?

When the oven is heated to nearly 1,000°F, at the "self-clean" setting, any

clinging grease on the walls disintegrates into fine particles that either free

themselves or can be easily wiped away with a damp cloth. Bear in mind


this feature comes at a price besides dollars. It consumes space inside the

oven unit. This reduces an oven's interior dimensions and—consequently—

the maximum size of a pot, pan, or sheet you can place inside the oven.

Which is better, a gas or electric range?

A range (also called a stove-top) is the open cooking surface where you fry,

sauté, and boil foods. Most good cooks prefer a gas over an electric range


reasons described later.

Which gas is better for range cooking, propane or natural gas?

Natural gas is superior. Propane generates 10 to 20 percent fewer BTUs


natural gas. This means, for instance, that propane will take longer to boil a

pot of water. And it more readily blackens the bottoms of pots and pans

because it does not burn as cleanly as natural gas.

Propane has its place. It fuels nearly all outdoor gas grills. If you

live in a country home that is not connected to a natural gas pipeline—and

you do not like the alternative of cooking on an electric range—then


is the answer. You will need an outside propane tank and a range that can


converted to use propane.

What are the electric range options?

The two basic electric range categories are coil and cook-top.

The electric coil variety uses a spiral heating element that sits

exposed on top of the range. This device heats and responds to


adjustments very slowly. It is difficult to clean. It is more likely to


than other range types. Avoid electric-coil ranges, even though they are the

least expensive range.

An electric cook-top is a flat, smooth-surfaced range. The heating

units lie hidden under the glass-ceramic panel. There are several electric

cook-top subcategories: radiant, halogen, and induction.

What are the pros and cons of the three cook-top types?

You need a range that can be adjusted in small increments and can


quickly to any heat adjustment. That is crucial when, for instance,


starts to boil that shouldn't. The range must also heat food reasonably fast.

The original radiant cook-tops disappointingly botched the above

duties. Although ribbon-style radiant cook-tops do better, they still do not

perform those jobs as well as the halogen and induction cook-tops. And


cooking area remains hot long after the pan is removed—a hazard.

Halogen cook-tops produce the cooking heat with a halogen bulb.

Like radiant cook-tops, they heat the cook-top, which heats the pan, which

heats the food. Because they become a great deal hotter than a radiant


top, they are even more hazardous.

Induction cook-tops heat a pan directly by means of a magnetic

field. They do not heat the glass-ceramic panel that lies between the pan


the magnetic induction device. When you remove a pan, the cook-top's

cooking area is not hot. What warmth it has comes from the heat


from the hot pan. Magnetic induction cook-tops heat and respond to

temperature adjustments as fast as halogen and gas ranges. A major

drawback is that you can use only pots and pans that contain a metal (like

iron or steel) that is responsive to magnetic fields.

You can purchase a mixed-unit cook-top. It is built with a

combination of radiant, halogen, and/or induction heating units.

Because of their flat surfaces, all cook-tops are easier to clean

than gas and electric-coil cook-tops. However, it is expensive to replace a

glass-ceramic cook-top that has been broken by an accidentally dropped

pan. Moreover, a pan has to be perfectly flat for optimum cooking on the

smooth cook-top. Gas burners—because they cook with flames—are more

forgiving if the pan's bottom is dented or warped. Another advantage of gas


that you can see the flames, which help you estimate without uncovering a

pot the intensity of the heat that is being applied to the food.

Overall, most good cooks cast their vote for a gas range. Those

who prefer electric ranges are partial to magnetic induction cooktops.

Which is better, a gas or electric oven broiler?

The electric oven wins hands down. Electricity is by far the best energy

source for the oven-broiler unit, for many reasons. An electric oven reaches

the desired temperature more quickly, and if the oven has cooled because

the cook opened the door, it regains the programmed temperature in less

time. Generally, an electric oven is more accurate (particularly at low

temperature settings) and maintains a relatively steady temperature. (Many

gas ovens, unless turned on full blast, fluctuate by 25°F or more around the

programmed temperature in a roller-coaster fashion.) Many electric ovens


self-cleaning because they can reach a very high temperature. Since the

broiler is built into an electric oven, it is easier to reach and can

accommodate thicker foods. Finally, an electric oven heats the kitchen less

(a boon when the room is hot; not so when it is cold).

Can I have the best of both worlds—a gas range and an electric oven


Although virtually all single-unit range-oven-broiler systems made for home

use are either the all-gas or all-electric variety, you can buy a gas range


electric oven-broiler unit separately. The first snugly fits into a hole cut into

your counter. The second is installed in a wall cabinet or under a counter


not directly under the separately installed range because of space

limitations). Go for the dual system the next time you remodel your kitchen.

Is a convection oven better than a traditional one?

Both the convection and traditional ovens depend on convection heating.


salient difference between the two is that the convection oven uses the

principle of convection more effectively. It has a built-in electric fan that

increases the circulation of hot air molecules within the oven. This increase


air circulation is a boon when you roast meat or bake breads and pastry


has no effect on covered foods). Since the oven temperature is uniform

throughout, the food's surface will be more evenly cooked and browned

(though the outside of a meat does not develop as appealing a crusty

texture). Another advantage of the convection oven is that it reduces the

required temperature and cooking time and therefore meat shrinks less.

Furthermore, most meats do not require basting, and so the cleanup chore


less bothersome because there is less splatter. Energy cost savings are

often realized because of the unit's efficiency and generally more compact


Should I buy an oven that combines the convection and traditional ovens?

The combined oven makes sense if you are short on kitchen space. Bear in

mind that when a manufacturer builds a convection oven system into a

traditional oven, the oven's interior dimensions shrink.

Is a pressure cooker worthwhile?

For someone who lives at a high altitude or who cans and preserves foods,


pressure cooker is an asset. In Denver, for instance, water boils at 203°F

instead of 212°F, as it would, say, in San Diego. Consequently, any given

ingredient takes longer to cook in Denver. The predicament of having a

relatively low boiling point for water can be solved with a pressure cooker,

since it allows water to reach a temperature of up to about 250°F.

Water inside a pressure cooker boils at a high temperature

because the atmospheric pressure within the pot is increased. The

ingredients also cook faster because the steam—most of which does not

escape the pot—is a better heat conductor than air. And thanks to the

increased pressure within the pot, that steam more aggressively penetrates

the food.

The higher temperatures of pressure-cooking also benefit the

home canner because the heat can more effectively destroy the pathogenic

microorganisms that contaminate the food. This capacity is particularly

critical when canning low-acid ingredients.

For other cooks, a pressure cooker can shorten the cooking

process and thereby reduce fuel expenditure, compared with the

nonpressurized boiling method. From a gourmet's viewpoint, however, the

texture of pressure-cooked foods like meat still resembles that of ordinary

boiled food.

Why are budget-priced food processors seldom a good value?

If you are planning to use your food processor only for tasks that require

relatively little power (such as slicing a cucumber or other soft vegetable),

then a budget-priced model may serve your purposes. Chances are,


that you also want your machine to perform more arduous chores, like

chopping meat, in which case a budget model is no bargain.

A key reason that a budget-priced food processor is ill suited for

chopping foods like meat is that it does not have enough horsepower. If the

motor is not powerful enough, it is apt to balk momentarily, or even

permanently, when you process a heavy load.

Another reason for poor performance is that nearly all budget-

priced models are belt-driven. (In other words, the motor turns a belt, which

turns the cutting-blade unit.) The belts in inexpensive models tend to slip

when you process a heavy load. This problem doesn't occur when the

motor's drive shaft directly rotates the cutting blade, as is the case with


of the better processors.

Motor-balking and belt slippage are major mechanical deficiencies

because they make it impossible to chop a batch of food uniformly. What

inevitably happens in the case of beef, for example, is that when some of


meat is properly chopped, the rest of the meat is too lumpy (underchopped)

or too pasty (overchopped). As good cooks know, a pasty grind guarantees


heavy and compact, and therefore inferior, meat loaf or hamburger patty.

Why is an electric deep-fat fryer unsuitable?

When deep-frying, you sometimes have to adjust the temperature quickly.

The conventional pan-on-a-flame method gives you reasonable flexibility, but

with an electric deep-fat fryer there is too long a lag between the time you

reset the thermostat and the time the oil reaches the desired temperature.

Deep-frying with a pan on an electric range causes almost as much trouble

as the electric pan method.

How does a microwave oven work?

A tube within the oven, called a "magnetron," emits high-frequency

electromagnetic waves (similar to radio waves). This radiation is scattered


the oven by a fanlike reflector (called the "stirrer"). When the waves


the food, they reverse the polarity of the water and other liquid molecules,

billions of times a second. This oscillation causes the molecules to vibrate

and bounce against each other. These collisions create friction and, as a

byproduct, the heat that cooks or warms the food.

The microwave's heating element does not heat the circulating air,

the oven walls, or the vessel holding the food. When a bowl or plate


warm in a microwave oven, either it absorbed the heat from the cooking food

or the surface of the vessel not touching the food was wet before the oven

was turned on.

What are the pros and cons of microwave cooking?

Speed is the name of the game in microwave cookery. Most foods cook in

one-quarter to one-half the time that other basic cooking methods require

because the food cooks from within. Microwave cooking costs less


it requires about one-quarter the power that a traditional oven uses. A

microwave oven also causes less splatter and hardly heats up the kitchen.

Baked goods rise higher in a microwave oven. On the other hand,

bread, rolls, and other baked goods do not brown as well as they do in a

traditional oven. Neither does meat, which means it won't develop the

desirably flavorful crust caused by the Maillard (browning) reaction (see p.

33). Some microwave producers deal with this problem by adding


fans and electrical heating elements. These devices do work, but their


pale compared to those of dedicated conventional and convection ovens.

Cooks face other problems as well. Microwave cooking tends to

give meats a dry, mushy texture. It's also harder to predict the proper

cooking time, especially for a large cut of meat. Consequently, microwaved

food is more likely to come out of the oven undercooked or overcooked.

Frozen foods can take a long time to cook in a microwave oven.

Since the water molecules are frozen solid, the electromagnetic waves

cannot agitate them. Until enough water molecules liquefy and then


hot enough to thaw the adjacent frozen water molecules, the cooking

process proceeds at glacial speed.

Another inconvenience is that of not being able to use your metal

pots and pans or aluminum foil containers in a microwave oven. Oven

manufacturers warn against the use of metal because of the possibility of

arcing—an electric spark jumping between the metal pot and microwave


wall when the pot is placed too close to the wall. Arcing can damage the

unit's magnetron tube. Although the chance of arcing is relatively low in

quality oven models, there is another strong reason not to cook in metal: It

reflects electromagnetic waves and therefore causes uneven cooking.


there is always a chance of radiation leakage, though, unless the unit is old

or damaged, the possibility of a radiation leak with today's equipment is


Should I buy a charcoal or gas outdoor grill?

If you relish grilled foods imbued with rich, sweet, woodsy, smoky flavor, as

most serious barbecuers do, then a charcoal grill is for you. But remember

that serious barbecuers use hardwood charcoal, not briquette charcoal.

Hardwood charcoal normally consists of whole chunks of seasoned wood,

such as hickory, apple, or mesquite. They produce clean, faintly sweet,

richly flavored smoke. Briquette charcoal is manufactured in a process that

compresses minute pieces of wood charcoal (normally not the best) into


briquette shape.

A gas grill may be your best bet if you are a casual weekend

barbecuer and you do not require a grill that's portable. It produces a

decently pleasant smoke from the drippings. You do not need to make as

many fuel-restocking trips to the store. You wait 10 to 15 minutes instead


25 to 40 minutes for the grill to reach its ready-to-cook temperature. You

have greater control over the grilling temperature. Your cleanup is quicker


less messy.

See chapter 2 (p. 27) for grilling tips and insights, such as how to

handle flare-ups or how to cook large roasts.

Is a fire-starter chimney helpful?

This device is a metal cylinder used to reduce the time that charcoal takes


reach its ready-to-cook temperature. It works like a chimney, hence its

name. The enclosed vertical pathway speeds the airflow, which increases


charcoal's heat. Moreover, the charcoal pieces heat more uniformly. You do

not need to use a liquid fire starter, which sometimes imparts a chemical

taste to grilled foods. You can construct your own fire-starter chimney out


a large can, but the manufactured ones will likely hold more charcoal and


a better job—and they do not cost that much.

What is the most underrated section of a refrigerator?

Many cooks look upon the crisper as a feature, not as a basic function like

the appliance's freezer and main section. The crisper is designed to retain

moisture. Without one, you would have to store fruits and vegetables that

need refrigeration in the appliance's main section. That would be


because the main section is notorious for dehydrating foods, particularly

fruits and vegetables with high water content. The resulting cellular water


shrinks the produce and severely shortens its storage life.

To extend the storage life even more, insert and seal a fruit or

vegetable in a plastic bag before placing it in the crisper. Be sure to pierce

the bag in a number of areas to allow air to circulate between the bag and


crisper. Otherwise, excess surface moisture could form on the produce,

hastening bacterial activity.

A crisper serves another important function. It prevents the

assertive odors of some fruits and vegetables from scenting lightly wrapped

foods stored in the refrigerator's main section.

Is it wise to keep a refrigerator as long as it keeps working?

A refrigerator—even a new one—is one of the biggest users of electricity in

your home. As it ages, it gradually becomes less efficient and has to work

harder, which mean more electric consumption. It usually pays to replace a

refrigerator when it's 12 to 15 years old. The money you invest in a new

refrigerator will be repaid in about 5 years by the money you save on

electricity (not to mention the cost of repair bills to fix an aging appliance).

Should I operate my kitchen appliances during a brownout?

A 5 percent or so voltage reduction may cause your television or computer

tube to flicker, but it shouldn't cause a serious problem for your kitchen

equipment. Your worst setback will probably involve heating appliances like

toaster ovens. They will generate a little less heat than they do normally.

A 10 percent or greater reduction, however, could cause some

motor-driven appliances, like an electric mixer, to struggle and overheat.

Since overheating harms the equipment, and you probably have no way to

measure accurately the drop in voltage, caution is in order. When you see

the lights dim, don't use your motor-driven kitchen appliances unless

absolutely necessary.

If you cook and live in a brownout-prone city, keep in mind that


peak brownout period is typically just after 5:00 p.m., when most offices let

out en masse. The electricity-hungry elevators tax the local utility's


Copyright © 1981, 1989, 2003 by Howard Hillman. Reprinted by permission

of Houghton Mifflin Company.'

Product Details

Hillman, Howard
Mariner Books
Courses & Dishes - General
General Cooking
Cooking and Food-Culinary Reference
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
February 2003
Grade Level:
8.01x5.55x.76 in. .85 lbs.

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Cooking and Food » Reference and Etiquette » General

The New Kitchen Science: A Guide to Knowing the Hows and Whys for Fun and Success in the Kitchen New Trade Paper
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$18.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Mariner Books - English 9780618249633 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
In this revised and updated edition of the book that thousands of cooks have turned to when they have a question, the science authority Howard Hillman provides the latest findings about everything from cooking methods, equipment, and food storage to nutrition and health concerns.
"Synopsis" by , Includes bibliographical references (p. 293-296) and index.
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