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What do they know that I don't?

Paulustrious May 8, 2009 06:16 AM

You're in the supermarket and some wizened old lady is inspecting some unrecognisable yams. After discarding two or three she selects one based on criteria outside your knowledge. I haven't the faintest idea how to tell a 'good' one. Mind you, I can pick out male Sicilian eggplants - less seeds.

But the one that burns me are the blue crabs. Hundreds of 'em, all looking very crabby. But the Chinese buyers are very selective - they only want certain ones. But what they are looking for: Old? Male? Pregnant, no algae, really wobbly eyes?

So what's the inside scoop? And do have a similar query to ask of other CHers?

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  1. tatamagouche RE: Paulustrious May 8, 2009 06:27 AM

    Cantaloupes. When it's ripe it "sounds hollow when thumped," supposedly. WTF? Now I have to have a musical ear to buy a piece of fruit? Yes, it supposedly also "smells ripe"—but I rarely catch that either. At any rate I get it right about as often as I get it wrong.

    8 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche
      ScubaSteve RE: tatamagouche May 8, 2009 07:45 AM

      i shake my melons. if i hear 'sloshing' that means the seeds have released from the flesh and the fruit is ripe-n-ready.

      1. re: tatamagouche
        lisavf RE: tatamagouche May 8, 2009 08:11 AM

        I'm not sure about cantaloupes, but for honeydews, press on the spot where the stem was. If it gives, it's ripe. If it doesn't give, it will not be ripe. (No guarantee on sweetness, just ripeness.) It won't be super-soft, but you can definitely feel the difference. Works every time for me. This may work for cantaloupes, too. I just eat way more honeydew.

        1. re: lisavf
          tarteaucitron RE: lisavf May 13, 2009 12:21 PM

          And if the stem is still there, having a cracked "scab" around the stem means that it's ripe enough. Also, I smell the backside of the melon to check for ripeness. No smell == no good.

        2. re: tatamagouche
          huaqiao RE: tatamagouche May 14, 2009 01:52 PM

          I was at Whole Foods 2 days ago looking for a cantaloupe. I figured the pricy stuff at Whole Foods would be tastier than the stuff they have at my local Albertsons.

          None of them smelled sweet. None of them had any softness at the stem spot.

          I left without buying any. Been a LONG time since I've had a good cantaloupe. The last 2 I've tried to buy were pretty blah. :(

          1. re: huaqiao
            BobB RE: huaqiao May 15, 2009 04:50 AM

            I agree that it's been hard to find a good cantaloupe lately, but at least Whole Foods (at least my local one) puts out samples to try. Last time I was there I took a taste, found it too hard and bland, and moved on to the pineapples, which are easier to choose as there are three reliable ripeness indicators: 1) golden as opposed to green, 2) smells pungent, 3) if you can easily pull out one of the small leaves in the center of the topknot, it's ripe.

            1. re: BobB
              jfood RE: BobB May 15, 2009 06:09 AM

              jfood has the four-day rule this time of year. Pick a cantaloupe by the firmness and color, that's the bones. Then leave on the counter in the house for four days. Then cut. There is a perfect "10" group of pieces in the fridge as he writes.

              Pieapple is almost and easy one compared to cantaloupe. ive a soft tug on one of the fronds. It should pull out easily. Then smell the pineapple. This process has about a 95% success rate.

            2. re: huaqiao
              xanadude RE: huaqiao May 15, 2009 08:08 AM

              It's May--probably too early in the season...

            3. re: tatamagouche
              lergnom RE: tatamagouche May 15, 2009 06:37 AM

              Cantaloupes are difficult because they don't show much of a surface web. A rule from growing melons is to check not only the stem end but the extent to which the natural pattern has risen. A youngish, unripe melon is smoother.

              But there is no way to tell reliably which of a bunch of ripe melons will taste best. It's luck of the draw.

            4. phofiend RE: Paulustrious May 8, 2009 06:37 AM

              The only thing I do with crabs is pick an especially lively one. If he tries to pinch me, I figure he's fresh ;-). But how do you pick male eggplant? Is it innie or outie? Heavy or light? I never seem to be able to get a good one.

              Funny story: Some years back, I was in the grocery store to buy eggs. I kept picking up carton after carton, looking inside to find cracked or broken eggs in every one. This went on for some time. A few minutes into my search, a gentleman came up next to me and started doing the same thing. After a few cartons he asked "What exactly are we looking for?"

              10 Replies
              1. re: phofiend
                Davwud RE: phofiend May 8, 2009 07:55 AM

                Crabs, lobsters, whatever, when picking them live, look for the ones that kick up a storm when handled. They're the healthiest. If it seems lethargic, it's almost dead.


                1. re: Davwud
                  jfood RE: Davwud May 14, 2009 11:57 AM

                  And get the lobster very excited and agitated right before the sauna.

                2. re: phofiend
                  modthyrth RE: phofiend May 12, 2009 12:46 PM

                  Ha! I had a similar experience with eggs. My husband (who ate out for 100% of his meals when I met him), watched me check eggs when we went grocery shopping for many months. I gently rock each egg to see if any are stuck/cracked at the bottom where it isn't visible. After a few months, he asked why I bothered to count the eggs every time--there were always twelve, after all!

                  It used to be pretty rare that I'd find a cracked egg. In the last couple years, it seems that I have to go through four or five cartons before I find one where an egg *hasn't* cracked.

                  1. re: modthyrth
                    PegS RE: modthyrth May 12, 2009 01:00 PM

                    Yep, my husband and I have learned to do that too. We've gotten so many cartons lately where an egg is cracked that now we check each egg first.

                    1. re: modthyrth
                      Sooeygun RE: modthyrth May 12, 2009 01:46 PM

                      I rock each egg too. Sometimes they don't look cracked on the top, but there is a crack on the bottom and the leak makes the egg stick to the carton.

                      1. re: Sooeygun
                        BobB RE: Sooeygun May 13, 2009 10:54 AM

                        Yup. Learned that one from my mom.

                      2. re: modthyrth
                        HLing RE: modthyrth May 14, 2009 11:25 AM

                        the way the vendors check the eggs is quick and safe: hold the carton open like a book, scan for cracks, (eggs are on the right side, say) close it, shift to left hand, open the right, and you'll be checking the underside, all at once. No need to shake each egg loose this way.

                      3. re: phofiend
                        janetms383 RE: phofiend May 13, 2009 11:43 AM

                        Interestingly enough, you can tell the "sex" of an eggplant by lookign at the end where the stem released. If it's oblong, it's a female, has more seeds and could be more bitter. If it's round, then it's a male and has fewer seeds.

                        1. re: phofiend
                          stevuchan RE: phofiend May 14, 2009 01:19 PM

                          Hi PF, why not after 3 or so tries with the eggs just make your own perfect dozen. Is this some kind of unwritten market code?

                          1. re: stevuchan
                            phofiend RE: stevuchan May 14, 2009 01:30 PM

                            I used to do that, but stopped after once trying to swap out a cracked one for a good one, and having the bad one (and I mean REALLY BAD) break and spill it stinky contents all over me. It was summer. And I had a long drive home. With no air conditioning. I never went back to that store.

                        2. c
                          comestibles RE: Paulustrious May 8, 2009 07:06 AM

                          To answer your question about the blue crabs - Chinese buyers usually look for FEMALE crabs, for the roe.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: comestibles
                            Karl S RE: comestibles May 8, 2009 07:09 AM

                            And lively. One is usually looking for the liveliest crustaceans, too.

                            1. re: comestibles
                              Paulustrious RE: comestibles May 8, 2009 07:18 AM

                              After a little googling I found this: http://www.bluecrab.info/identificati...

                              However, the CBs seem to want to inspect the underneath. Is there some 'pregnancy indicator' there?

                              1. re: Paulustrious
                                comestibles RE: Paulustrious May 8, 2009 07:36 AM

                                No, they are checking the shape of the apron. They don't rely on the tip color of the claws. Obviously pregnant females should not have been fished out of the waters, and if discovered, should have been thrown back in.

                                1. re: Paulustrious
                                  lisavf RE: Paulustrious May 8, 2009 07:41 AM

                                  Look at the pictures further down the page on that link - the apron is shaped differently in males vs. females. That's why they're looking at the underside.

                                  1. re: lisavf
                                    cb1 RE: lisavf May 15, 2009 08:38 AM

                                    As I tell my daughter, if the apron is the Washington Monument it's male, shaped like the Capital it's female. That's how I was raised

                              2. c oliver RE: Paulustrious May 12, 2009 12:07 PM

                                If you speak the same language as the "expert," just ask. I had an older gentleman ask me about avocados not long ago.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: c oliver
                                  Paulustrious RE: c oliver May 14, 2009 08:23 AM

                                  That could have been me. I wanted to know how to recognise a good Jamaican Avocado. They all seem rock-hard to me. I lived in Florida but do not remember seeing one.

                                  An aside:- avocados are one of the few fruits which does not ripen on the tree. It has to be picked first. Same as a banana.

                                2. Chocolatesa RE: Paulustrious May 13, 2009 02:16 PM

                                  I wonder what difference does it make in the taste whether you buy a lethargic (but still living) crab and a very lively one?

                                  1. greygarious RE: Paulustrious May 14, 2009 12:44 PM

                                    re upthread posts:
                                    1) I have on occasion had wonderful canteloupes and honeydews which had no loose juice to slosh around. For all melons, smell the stem end and do not open until you get a good whiff of sweet smell, unless soft spots start to develop, in which case it will rot if you don't cut it up right away, sweet or no.
                                    For canteloupe: Look for a pinkish/yellow hue over most or all of the melon. Green means not ripe.
                                    For honeydew: Look for a yellowish blush, no deep green. Look for "sugar lines" - these are the rough, thin ropey webbing on the skin. The more the merrier. Also, feel the skin for a slight tackiness, as though it's been rubbed with rosin. This is good.
                                    2. I recently read that the whole male/female thing with eggplant is an old wive's tale. The older the eggplant, the more, and bitterer, the seeds. Also, paler-skinned varieties are milder in flavor than darker. So the common large purple supermarket eggplant is inherently more likely to be bitter than the Japanese, striped, or white eggplants. Best time for them is early in their harvest season.
                                    3. If your stuck eggs are in a cardboard carton, briefly set it in a shallow pan of water, and you'll be able to remove the egg - whether or not you want to use it is up to you. I do, for baking or another use in which it will be thoroughly cooked.
                                    5. Strawberries get redder but not sweeter once picked, so avoid the ones that are white around the stem. And they should have a rich perfume.
                                    6. I think it was Julia Child who said pears only get softer after picking, not sweeter. I don't buy that. Since you can't taste one half of a pear or peach while leaving the other half to ripen, it's probably unproveable, but form, odorless stone fruit and pears kept at room temp in a paper bag for a few days both soften and develop a ripe aroma. Green, rock-hard fruit is beyond help, unless you stew it with sugar.

                                    1. Sam Fujisaka RE: Paulustrious May 14, 2009 12:53 PM

                                      Artichokes: the diameter of the stem, not the size of the choke tells you which one has more meat.

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