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Fact or Fiction?

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#1.) Adding vodka to the water before boiling lobster makes it more "tender" (forget exact words--read it recently in a magazine).

#2.) Adding vinegar to the boiling water of potatoes helps them hold their shape, and not overcook. (chowhound poster)

What secret ingredient/method can you share that really works?

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  1. As posted on another thread: sugar sprinkled on meat (along with other rub) does not taste sweet but creates a 'barrier' that holds in the juice. Works like a charm on hamburgers.

    Not a secret but lot's of kosher salt in pasta water does make a difference in taste.

    Cocoa powder added to a too acidic soup or stew or sauce helps 'ground' it and give it an earthier flavor.

    5 Replies
    1. re: krissywats

      "As posted on another thread: sugar sprinkled on meat (along with other rub) does not taste sweet but creates a 'barrier' that holds in the juice. Works like a charm on hamburgers."

      I would have thought this would have been debunked by now. There is no such thing as "sealing in the juices". (1) the sugar carmelizes and that adds a nice flavor. (2) The carmelized exterior of any meat does nothing to hold liquid in the meat. Water molecules are pretty darn small. See Harold McGee's classic book "On Food and Cooking" for more info about this.

      1. re: Darren72

        Sugar is added to a salt brine (Cook's Illustrated method) which aids with the reverse-osmosis (or whatever it's called when the meat takes in the liquid), so maybe a similar action is at play with krissywats' theory...

        1. re: Funwithfood

          The brine does its job because of the salt water. Sugar is added to brine for flavor, and to balance any residual saltiness that the brine introduces. But the sugar itself isn't necessary for the brine to work.

          I was more commenting on the idea that carmelizing the exterior of meat "seals in the juices". It sounds reasonable: you create a hard seal on the meat and the liquid inside is trapped! But it's entirely a myth.

          1. re: Darren72

            I hear what you're saying about the old searing myth to "seal in juices"...

            On the other subject though, I've read the need for a small amount of sugar in a brine for increased effectiveness (just don't remember the source--pretty sure it was CI.)

      2. re: krissywats

        I just made caponata this weekend for the World Cup using a Mario Batali recipe that called for unsweetened cocoa powder, and it added a great, earthy flavor to the sweet acidity of the tomato sauce/orange juice/eggplant.

      3. Get a lobster really, really mad before throwing them in the cooker. I was told years ago that the lobster excretes soemthing from the brain into the body (like adreneline) that makes the meat even more tender and delicious. I will not post what I have done to them over the years. I apologize to my chowhound animal lover friends.

        4 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          For years I didn't cook my own lobsters because I couldn't bear to put them into the pot. Then a friend told me that if you tickle the underside, where the little belly feelers (? - not sure what these are called) are, the lobster goes limp. It works perfectly and now I can steam my own lobsters. I could never, ever throw a struggling lobster into a pot.

          1. re: cheryl_h

            And if you put them in the freezer for a half hour before cooking them, it slows their circulation enough to numb them, having the same effect.

          2. re: jfood

            jfood, were your lobsters more tender and delicious as a result of your "efforts"?

            1. re: Funwithfood

              the results were spectacular. i am the designated lobster maker for all my DW's family and they are Bostonians. summer on the Cape and they give the lobster duty to the 50-year old kid from NJ. quite a coup. now if i can get them to listen to me on getting sand out of steamers and leaving the husks on the corn we'll have a great feast.

          3. a scoop of garlic/herb butter on a steak hot off the grill gives it that great steak-house flavor (think sparks)...(but don't tell my cardiologist i'm suggesting this)

            1. a dash of vinegar to the broth pot brings out the calcium from the bones...from Adele Davis

              2 Replies
              1. re: toodie jane

                The acid does, indeed, leech calcium (and other minerals) from the bones. Why someonone would want to do this, though, is beyond me, as the flavor lies in the pores of the bone and the marrow, not the bone itself. Not only are you gettting no extra flavor in this transaction, you're impairing the aesthetic of your stock by making it cloudy.

                1. re: scott123

                  hey, Scott, I'm just makin' chicken soup; and all old ladies like me need extra calcium in any form we can get. There is no vinegar taste, and I don't care if the broth is cloudy as long as it tastes yummy. And it does.... especially yummy with homemade wide noodles to soak up the broth....oh, heaven!

              2. When cooking octopus, add a wine cork to the simmering water. It ensures tenderness in the octopus.

                1. This tip sounds familiar--just not sure it was for octopus only...

                  1. * Add a SMALL amount of instant coffee granules to gravy to darken it.

                    * When boiling corn on the cob, add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water.

                    * Always add some sugar to tomato based pasta sauces. It cuts the edgy tomato taste.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Scagnetti

                      Why would you want to darken gravy for asthetic reasons only?

                      What does the vinegar do to the corn? If you are after vinegar flavor, why not brush it on after removing the corn from the water?

                      Adding sugar to tomato dishes is a good idea. Tomatoes have natural sweetness, but sometimes that sweetness doesn't show through. Adding sugar brings out the natural sweetness in the tomatoes (much like adding salt brings out the flavor of many things).

                    2. My mother used to add milk to water when she boiled fresh corn. She was a lousy cook overall, but i never understood what the milk might do. Any ideas?