Unlike urban legends, cooking myths tend to sound pretty convincing. (Ever heard of any of these about poached eggs?) Many have been written in cookbooks and passed down for generations, so you’d think they’d have to be true, right? Wrong. Let’s separate fact from fiction as we debunk the most popular cooking myths. Read on to see if you’ve been fooled by any of these.
Myth #1: Alcohol burns off when cooked.
It’s common knowledge that alcohol burns off from heat, leaving behind only the flavor of the liquid itself. Is it true? Yes. No. Maybe.
Reality: Heat does reduce alcohol’s potency (so you’re not getting anyone drunk with Grandma’s famous rum cake recipe), but the alcohol doesn’t completely cook away. It will if you heat it long enough, but that would take up to three hours in most dishes.
Myth #2: Hard boiled eggs are easier to peel if you add vinegar to the water.
There are a lot of tips out there for making hard-boiled eggs easier to peel. I’ve tried every trick in the book, from using acidulated water (the kind with vinegar added) to poking holes in the shells and everything in between.
Reality: It boils down to water temperature. Start your eggs in boiling water and you’ll make a better hard-boiled egg that’s also easier to peel. And when you’re finished, use them up in with these recipes that call for hard-boiled eggs.
Myth #3: Salted water boils faster.
I actually remember my mother telling me this when I learned to cook: “Don’t forget to add salt to the water or it’ll take forever to boil” (right after she told me a watched pot never boils).
Reality: Adding salt raises the boiling point of the water, so it does make your water hotter but it’s not going to boil any faster. The main reason to use salted water is to season the food you’re cooking in it.
Myth #4: Rinse your pasta to stop the cooking process.
Some things need a rinse or an ice bath to prevent them from overcooking (like blanched vegetables or hard-boiled eggs). The question is, will pasta overcook if you don’t rinse it in cold water?
Reality: Pasta doesn’t have much carryover cooking, so there is no need to cool it down before tossing it in hot sauce. Rinsing pasta actually does some damage by removing the starchy coating that helps the sauce stick to it. The only reason you may want to rinse your pasta is to cool it down for pasta salad.
Myth #5: Cooking removes nutrients from vegetables.
Many people believe that eating vegetables raw is the best way to get their nutrients. If you expose the vegetable to heat, the vitamins and minerals will break down and make the vegetable less healthy, the thinking goes.
Reality: Most vitamins are not too much affected by heat from boiling or steaming, and cooking vegetables might actually make some of them easier to digest. Boiling water-soluble vitamins (like vitamin C and B) does remove some nutrients into the water, but most remain.
Myth #6: Lard is unhealthy.
Even the word lard is off-putting to most people. At one point, I started calling it “pork butter” on my restaurant’s menu to prevent that “Eww, gross” reaction.
Reality: Lard has less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter, and unlike partially hydrogenated vegetable oils it has no trans fat. Lard makes the best pie crusts and tortillas, so don’t be afraid to use it.
Myth #7: Searing meat seals in the juices.
I’ve heard this one over and over (and believed it for a while). Every TV personality will tell you this, making it so commonly known it’s impossible that it’s a myth…
Reality: According to Harold McGee, food scientist extraordinaire and author of "On Food and Cooking," searing meat actually forces it to lose moisture, making the meat less juicy. Searing does produce a delicious crust and creates texture, but the best way to seal in the juices is to rest your meat for five minutes before slicing.
Myth #8: Marinades tenderize meat.
Marinades are really common, especially for tough cuts of meat. But do the acidic components of the marinade really make the meat more tender?
Reality: It’s true that acidic ingredients denature proteins (change their structure), but most marinades don’t actually penetrate deeper than the meat’s surface. The real reason to use a marinade is to flavor your food and help it retain moisture.