10 rules to break?

Thought this post was interesting, mostly because there are a bunch of rules I don't agree with. Was wondering what others think.


  • Posted by: ATG117
  • April 19, 2013


ChefOno April 26, 2013

I'm not a microbiologist but I've been told viruses and bacteria stick primarily to the natural oils on our skin. Soap allows the oil to be rinsed off and the bugs go along for the ride. One might assume produce would benefit from similar treatment but the USDA and independent testing labs have shown soaps and commercial washes to be ineffective and a waste of money. Repeating a bit from a previous post, some material is dislodged by running water, more comes off by rubbing / scrubbing and even more comes off on the towel.

As you've no doubt noticed there's a direct relationship between water temperature and cleaning efficiency but produce and hands have their limits. 20 seconds in warm water is the conventional advice.

ATG117 April 25, 2013
thoughts on the vegetable and fruits sprays or some home concocted alternative? If just water, should it be hot?
ATG117 April 25, 2013
how does water alone remove bacteria and germs. I've always been puzzled by people that "wash" their hands with water. Water makes things wet, not clean, right?
ChefOno April 25, 2013

I'm all for cloth towels and the drawer full of them in my kitchen stands as proof. But we have to be careful not to let our desire to save money / the planet bite us in the butt. Damp paper towels beg to be thrown away. A fresh, properly sanitized cloth towel will accomplish the same task but requires considerably more thought and effort -- two things that tend to work against us. It does no good to wipe the germs off the produce then subsequently transfer them back onto the knife and board only to recontaminate the item you just washed.

ChefOno April 25, 2013

Guidelines for washing fruits & vegetables:


Basically, all produce, including organics, should be thoroughly rinsed under running water before eating, peeling, cutting or cooking. No soap or commercial produce washes. Use a clean produce brush where possible. Dry with a clean towel, preferably paper. Laboratory testing has shown more bacteria are removed by drying with paper towels than during the washing step itself.

Note the warning about raw sprouts -- the most dangerous vegetable.

pierino April 25, 2013
Raw sprouts? Amen to that brotha!
amysarah April 25, 2013
All good, but why 'preferably paper'? Clearly, a new paper towel is better than a previously used kitchen towel; but a freshly laundered one is just fine. I say this as a recovering paper towel addict, trying to be a little more conscientious. Simple, white cotton kitchen towels are inexpensive in bulk (and far cheaper than PT in the long run), so it's easy to have a stack of clean ones without moonlighting as a laundress.
ATG117 April 25, 2013
What is the best way of cleaning fruits and veg? What bothers me most is the thought of all the dirty hands that have touched (squeezed, sneezed on) the produce before I have.
pierino April 25, 2013
ATG, excellent point. Recently I was at a local supermarket and watched a little kid, accompanied by a parent, stroll down the produce aisle slappling everything in sight apparently because he was attracted by all the bright colors. I also saw a store employee pick up a bunch of radishes off the floor and put it back on the top of the pile. The produce manager, who is a friend of mine, would have tossed it right away.
ChefOno, my point on bagged lettuces is this; you are correct that unwashed greens are just as susceptable to contamination from outside sources but it might be located to a single part of a field. The washing and bagging process actually proliferates the contagion. Compare it to ground beef where the meat might come from parts of hundreds of animals and e-coli can contaminate the whole lot. Which is why I grind my own meat in order to minimize that risk at least somewhat.
ChefOno April 25, 2013

Pegeen, theoretically bacterial contamination of fruits and vegetables doesn’t matter if they are cooked to a safe level (like, hopefully, chicken). But food safety, like any proper security system, is comprised of layers, the more the better. It's like setting an alarm system but leaving your front door unlocked. Or stepping into the street because you have a green walk light without judging oncoming traffic first. Or jumping out of a plane without a backup 'chute. Better to wash then cook, just in case.

Proper washing of hard-skinned fruits and vegetables should remove any contamination (leafy greens are less of a sure thing, see post above). On the other hand, bacteria in a chicken is more than skin deep. It is often systemic because chickens are not susceptible to salmonella. They can look and act perfectly healthy (because they are) but they, or sometimes the eggs they lay, can be contaminated. Cattle don't pose the same problems but their meat can still become contaminated during handling. That's why a medium-rare steak is safe to eat, the outside is thoroughly cooked and the inside is out of bacteria's reach. Not so with poultry.

Cutting boards: Growing up in a stainless steel and Pyrex world, I remain leery but test after test have shown wood boards can be safe. Regardless, I feel better running plastic boards through the dishwasher. And I will make this argument: It's far easier to maintain multiple plastic boards. Every home should have at least one for raw meat and another for vegetables. Plastic boards are thinner, lighter, easier to store and clean. And only a clean board is a safe board no matter what it's made from.

ChefOno April 25, 2013

Pierino, as I understand the situation, the same issues that can contaminate prewashed greens can just as easily poison regular produce. The real problem is that, just as e. coli and other bacteria survive triple washing, they also can't be washed off at home. Contamination has to be controlled up the supply chain, as close to the source as possible. At least bagged produce should be free of pesticides, filth and contamination due to consumer handling.

Both government and independent labs have shown prewashed greens to be safe up to the printed date on the package, another advantage over bulk produce. Notice it's a "use by" date rather than a "best by". The greens start out with a negligible bacterial count which, although slowed by refrigeration, continues to increase. The count should remain at a safe level until sometime after that date.

Pegeen April 24, 2013
Sorry, another question: why does washing vegetables/fruit matter but not rinsing off chicken? Or any animal protein?
Pegeen April 24, 2013
One more question - are wooden cutting boards safe to use? Well they must be, or we'd all be in hospital beds. But what do you have to do to de-germ them? Just boiling water? Is soap necessary?
Pegeen April 24, 2013
Holy cow! (Or not so holy.) When I think of all the times my mother left the frozen chicken, beef, pork chops, whatever, in the kitchen sink overnight to defrost, and we ate everything without a thought as to washing it... but probably in those days everything we ate was domestically raised. See you later - going to wash out my veg crisper in the fridge with boiling hot water! :-)
ChefOno April 24, 2013

While you're at it, do the same with your refrigerator's plastic egg tray if you use one. Not that eggs are a high-danger item these days but that tray is still a possible source of cross-contamination.

Pegeen April 24, 2013
Sorry for the lagging sentence about fruits and veggies
pierino April 24, 2013
Here is where I will politely disagree with my chum ChefOno; prewashed greens. I'm with Cynthia on this one. I happen to live in a part of the country where most of your prewashed bagged greens come from. The risk to you, convience shopper, is that if a portion of a field is contaminated by maybe being located next to a cattle lot e-coli poisoning can spread throughout the whole batch that is supposedly "triple washed" through the washing process itself. No, and ChefOno is exactly right on this, you can't wash off salmonella from poultry but you can cook it off. People sometimes complain of "stomach flu". There is no such thing. Odds are you've had some sort of food related poisoning. Hey, it's a mean old world.
Pegeen April 24, 2013
This is a very helpful, educational thread.

Chef Ono & all, my bad about not reading the link I posted, more carefully re rinsing chicken. I am still doing my homework re rinsing vegetables and fruits.

Does that also apply to fruits and vegetables?

boulangere April 24, 2013
It does, Pegeen. It isn't simply the question of pesticides that it used to be, but rather washing away possible contaminants. Foreign countries where much of our produce comes from, certainly in the winter, don't have laws as strict as ours concerning irrigation water. And even here, as everywhere, many food contaminants occur naturally in soil. I avoid bagged lettuces for that reason. Remember the terrible cantaloupe contaminations with listeria and salmonella? Melons should always be washed before cutting the rind away because the instant you knife passes through it, it drags with it whatever is on the surface of the melon.
ChefOno April 24, 2013

No apology necessary, Pegeen. I was amused, you were so close!

It appears Cynthia and I had a different interpretation of your question so I may be answering a different question than the one you asked but the jest is the same (except I have no fear of pre-washed greens).

One must assume all poultry is contaminated with one sort of pathological bacteria or another. Some erroneously call the pink-colored liquid that oozes from a bird "blood" (it's not, it's a combination of water and proteins). We refer to it in my kitchen as "salmonella juice" to remind ourselves to treat it as the bio-hazard it is.

Fruits and vegetables are also likely contaminated with something -- whatever the person before you had on their hands (the goo dripping from their kid's snotty nose perhaps), pesticides (avoiding the organic debate, the stuff that drifts on the wind from neighboring farms), bird and animal droppings, e. coli from flies playing hopscotch on cow patties -- all manner of yuck. If that weren't enough, there's the big one -- norovirus.

The difference is that you can't wash salmonella juice off a bird or otherwise neutralize it and, even if you did, it would just reappear. Definitely wash your fruits and vegetables.

ChefOno April 25, 2013

Ahhh! Where did my paragraphs go???

BoulderGalinTokyo April 24, 2013
'Room temperature' is not a good term. I really like Cynthia's suggestion: "Place your eggs in a bowl of warm (not hot) water, about 100 degrees, for 5 minutes."
I once took my eggs out 4~5 hours before using, then closed the kitchen door forgetting that the heater was on in the living room and none in the kitchen (separate room heaters). When I started the mixer, I had the egg swirling experience Cynthia described!

So warmed, not 'room temperature'.
QueenSashy April 22, 2013
On the subject of chocolate, I am from the school of thought that you should bake with the chocolate you would enjoy eating. And, just like you, I pondered the question of how important it is to use Valrhona instead of something else, which led me to experiment with different chocolates in the same recipe. I baked with cheap stuff (and regretted it forever), Ghirardelli, Callebaut, Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. My observation is the following - the more elaborate and sophisticated the dish, the more noticeable the difference between a decent chocolate bar and a high-end one. Ghirardelli is a good starting point, and it will not let you down, but in recipes such as Sacher torte, chocolate mousse and hot chocolate, where chocolate is THE focal point of the dish, the high-end stuff really shines through.
ChefOno April 22, 2013

On a related note: Instead of adding eggs one at a time, if you whisk them together first you can simply stream them into the creamed butter. The mixture will come together much more quickly that way. Whisking the yolks with the whites forms an emulsion and partially denatures the proteins in the whites helping them incorporate with other ingredients.

cookbookchick April 21, 2013
I love this thread, too, for what it reveals of the passion, the humor, and the incredible wealth of culinary knowledge we have among us on Food52. Thanks everyone!
petitbleu April 21, 2013
I put my cold eggs into a measuring cup of 75-degree (or thereabouts) water. That seems to do the trick.
I think the interesting thing about this entire discussion is that cooks are really incredibly opinionated about what works for them. And frankly, what works for you is great unless it's causing you to cook bad food. For instance, I love my super sharp Japanese-style knives, but my mother, an excellent cook, uses really bad, dull knives. Guess what? Her food is still great. She's not cooking gourmet fare (neither am I for that matter), but her knives certainly get the job done for her.
But the technique-related issues (the room temp eggs and such) are important if you want your recipes to turn out as awesome as possible. It only takes a little more time to do things the right way.
ChefOno April 21, 2013

"Room temperature" means different things to different people in different places at different times of year. And for different purposes. When it comes to creaming butter, leaving it on the counter overnight might not be the best idea if, say, it's winter in Montana or any time of year in Hawai'i. Being the scientist I am, I always turn to the thermometer for accurate guidance in such matters. The ideal beginning temperature for the butter is between 65 and 67F.

The goal of creaming is to form as many little pockets of air as possible by grinding the sugar crystals into the fat. If the starting temperature is higher the butter, which will warm from friction as it is beaten, will soon begin to lose capacity to hold air which results in decreased rise. Colder butter lessens the ability of the sugar to create air pockets to begin with.

I give my butter and eggs each a quick ride in the microwave as the first step when a recipe calls for creaming, allowing enough time for the internal temperatures to equalize.

ChefOno April 21, 2013

I love the picture Cynthia painted of the eggs spinning around and around and around in the mixer bowl…

boulangere April 20, 2013
Charge the defibrillator and crank up the oxygen! Ignoring numbers 6 and 3 - oh please! Recipes which imply that whisking dry ingredients together make me long to reach for a stiff drink. Those which imply that it isn't important make me literally (can you hear me now?) scream. How freaking long does it take to measure them straight into a sieve, purchased at the Dollar Store for a dollar, and set over a mixing bowl, or a piece of parchment (which doesn't need to be washed). And any one who scrambles eggs on high heat has never read Richard Olney's description of how to properly scramble eggs (http://www.amazon.com/Simple-French-Food-Richard-Olney/dp/0020100604) has no concept of what sex is truly about.
ATG117 April 20, 2013
I'm on the good-knives-are-a-must team, and I agree with chefono on most other points. But the two I'm still most curious about are the chocolate and room temp ingredients rules. Re chocolate: I always wish I had time to experiment on my own (bake the same cake, different quality chocolates, etc), always wonder when and where I'd be able to detect the difference. Same goes for wine, excluding cooking wine or anything really cheap. As for creaming, I still don't understand how room temp eggs are a game changer. I follow the rules blindly, but I'd love to know why.
boulangere April 20, 2013
I am thrilled to address room temperature eggs. The creaming method of mixing begins many cakes and cookies: whip room temperature butter and sugar(s) until pale - nearly white - and fluffy, then add room temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Butter is an emulsion. Standard butter in the U.S. comprises 80% butter fat, 18% water, and 2% milk solids. The butter fat and water percentages are key. Eggs consist of one hell of a lot of water in the whites, and some beautifully emulsifying fats in the yolks. Crack all of your eggs into a liquid measuring cup because it is very easy to tip one egg at a time into your mixer. If you add cold, as in straight out of the refrigerator, eggs to room temperature (left to sit out overnight) butter, what do you think is going to happen to the butter? It is going to chill down. You will see the mixture of butter-sugar-one egg spin around and around in the bowl as the egg tries to ingratiate itself into the butter-sugar mixture. The sugar has done its job of binding up as much free water in the butter as possible, and it's trying for all its might to incorporate the water and fats in the egg, but that egg is just too cold. If you let it beat and beat, eventually, you'll see them emulsify. Chances are, though, that you'll grow impatient and figure what the he** and toss all the eggs in and move on with life. Have you ever done that and wound up with a bowl full of what look like scrambled eggs? You've broken the emulsion. By adding the room temperature eggs one at a time, you maintain the butter-water emulsion. Breaking it means that you have lots of free water (from the egg whites) rambling around in your dough just waiting for some gluten strands in the flour to which to attach themselves and develop (gluten, the protein in flour, develops in the presence of water). You will have a tougher dough as a result. Your cookies and cakes will have a tougher consistency than they would have otherwise had if you had taken the time to raise you eggs to room temp. How to do that easily? Place your eggs in a bowl of warm (not hot) water, about 100 degrees, for 5 minutes. That's all.
drbabs April 20, 2013
ATG117, you always bring up the best discussions. I'm not a chef--far from it--but I have to agree with Chef Ono & pierino about unsharp knives. Even if you're a college student, sharp knives are safer and they increase the pleasure in cooking. (It's really really hard to cut things with a dull knife.)

And Pam spray? Not a fan. You don't have to melt or soften butter to butter a pan--you can just rub a stick around the baking pan. Quick and easy, much better tasting.

And I'm thrilled that teh Amateur Gourmet's cookies are "the bee's knees," butnI totally disagree with his methods--I don't think baking cookies requires mad science skills, but a little extra care--letting everything come to room temperature, mixing the dry ingredients well--produces superior results.

Voted the Best Reply!

ChefOno April 20, 2013

Maybe I'm "in a mood" tonight but I'm going to disagree with everyone. Sam you know I love you but I couldn't disagree more here. I know my knife needs steeling when it slips off a tomato. Sharp knives cut straight, dull ones slip and cause injuries. Kids should be taught proper knife skills early, when they're teachable and before they pick one up when nobody's looking. By the time they're in college they should be impressing dates with their cooking skills.

Pegeen, you don't need my advice. The recommendation to not rinse chicken is right at the link you posted (except two paragraphs up). Water carries contaminants from whatever it splashes on (or in). I know it feels wrong but rinsing doesn't really accomplish anything.

Chocolate: "Best" is a judgment call but this guy shows off his lack of knowledge and confidence by using Ghirardelli as an example of lesser quality (which it's not) but he says this even though he claims it's his favorite. If it's his favorite, it is the best.

Wine: The rule is "cook with a wine you would drink", meaning not anything labeled "cooking wine" or leftover wine that has gone off. Beyond that, there are so many more issues to choosing a wine to cook with that apparently mean nothing to him.

Mixing The Dry Ingredients: Obviously he's never tucked into a cake with a clump of baking powder in it. And apparently doesn't understand the effects of gluten development.

Ingredient Temperatures: Also unclear on proper creaming technique.

Chicken: Anyone who brings up Thomas Keller's name but pooh-poohs trussing *really* doesn't understand the issues and the technique (or Keller).

Garlic: Always a judgment call but, yes, there certainly is such a thing as "too much garlic". Rarely does anyone complain of too little but boy is the reverse true.

Scrambled Eggs: No you don't have to baby scrambled eggs but you will overcook them following his advice. But thanks for the warning; I won't order eggs at wd~50.

Buttering a Pan: Butter doesn't polymerize like lethicin and most sprays are canola based. Ugg.

Salting Beans: Yeah, big stubborn myth.

pierino April 20, 2013
ChefOno, I'm not worthy! I agree with you completely on every single point you made---especially on knives. You are more likely to injure yourself with an unsharpened knife than one that has been properly cared for. I also agree with you on sprays. I did a (thankfully) brief stint at a B&B where the innkeeper "chef" used cooking spray on everything even non-stick items. I was making waffles one morning when he came over and said, "You're in trouble". "Oh, why is that?". "You didn't use the spray." Then I said, "watch this". Boink, boink, boink---all the waffles popped right off, perfectly cooked. He looked at me and said,"beginner's luck" and then walked off. I almost took that as compliment.
FutureChef April 21, 2013
I pretty much agree with everything, but I just have to put my two cents in to briefly say the following:

1) ghiradelli--ewwww.... gross! At least guittard if not making your own chips!

2) don't knock Dusfresne! 'Eggs Benedict' is a signature dish which I highly recommend plus eggs are basically his favorite thing!
ChefOno April 22, 2013

My comment wasn't meant to denigrate Dufresne, quite the opposite, sorry. (If you have to explain a joke…) The author tried to back up his preference and method for overcooked eggs by claiming a well-known chef does the same. Although I've never had the pleasure, I'm sure he (Dufresne) knows better than most what happens when you apply too much heat to an egg.

Pegeen April 20, 2013
#9 about not rinsing chicken in fresh water after removing store packaging, then patting it dry before cooking, sounds wrong. (Calling Chef Ono for advice.)
While I love Jacques Pépin and want to have his children, that TV series with Julia Child was a decade or more ago... the FDA has figured out a few things since then.
For starters: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Chicken_from_Farm_To_Table/index.asp#12
Sam1148 April 19, 2013
One thing I Cringe at for people advice for people learning to cook is "Get a really good sharp knife".
If you're just starting out don't bother. That's advice for people with knife skills...and preping for 6 people or so.
A college kid is going to cut his/her finger off with that trying to emulate fast chopping skills. I never had a 'decent' knife until I 30 or so---and even now I'll reach for a steak knife to chop an bit of onion or something. (yeah, you do that too at home don't you --admit it).
nutcakes April 21, 2013
No I do not do that at home, ever. I still don't have a really expensive one, but I cut pretty much everything with an 8" chef's and I wish I'd got a decent one much, much sooner. So I'm with the people who say to get a good, but not necessarily over the top one unless you can afford it. Get a forged, full tang for balance, accuracy and safety so you can control your cuts and up your skills.
anita April 21, 2013
Really? Dull knives are so much more dangerous as the user has to put extra pressure on it to make it cut, increasing the chance that the knife will slip, out of control and jam into your finger.
Panfusine April 24, 2013
Yep! Yep I do that all the time!
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