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How do you break a spouse of a bad cooking habit? [moved from Home Cooking]

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SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 02:50 PM

My DW is definitely my better half in many ways but not so much in the kitchen. It took me years to get her to appreciate a medium rare steak rather than one cooked until the last remnant of juice and taste flees. But steak was easy compared to my current challenge: Fish.

There are many reasons I eat a lot of fish now. Taste, health, variety, quickness in preparation and the fact I was allergic as a kid so I'm making up for lost time. My wife share my enthusiasm, but not my philosophy to cook fish until it is just done so it remains tender, juicy and full of flavor.

So when I come home from work (I get home a couple hours later than my DW, who also works) it is too often to the smell of fish cooking long after it's been counted out, and let e tell you, while the smell of fish cooking is a nice one, the smell of fish overcooking is not.

This evening she began to bake fillets of trout so I volunteered to look after them so she could relax, and took the out just as they were barely done. They were just cooked through, perfect to my taste, but when she took a bite, she feigned a smile and her eyes screamed out for another 15 minutes in a 385 oven.

There is a fine line between being a foodie and being a food snob and there are many ways t enjoy any ingredient. But in my book there are no pages for overcooked fish. How do I make my wife a convert?

  1. BamiaWruz Apr 17, 2010 03:01 PM

    You were allergic to fish when little?
    Is there hope for my SO? He's afraid to try it and we always carry benadryl around with us incase he's in an establishment that serves it or is around fish.

    If I may ask, what kinds of fish were you allergic to?
    My SO can eat tuna and the doctors said that's because it's a "deep fish" but I believe his fish reaction came from Sole as a kid and things like fish sticks cooking caused his eyes to puff up so he'd get away before it got more serious.

    What you described with your wife was a similar situation I dealt with my SO's mother,. she always cooked the fish until it was so hard. Other than volunteer to help and maybe take your piece out first to your taste letting her eat hers the way she likes it you risk being labelled a "snob" just as I feared myself.

    3 Replies
    1. re: BamiaWruz
      s
      SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 04:37 PM

      As a kid I had moderately severe reactions twice to tuna. My parents didn't get me tested but our doctor advised them to not let me eat fish or shellfish or any type.

      As an adult I got myself tested (skin prick test) and had no reaction to any fish or shellfish. It's an easy test to take and in fact I took it because one of my children developed food allergies too (though not to fish). I've since eaten many dozens of types of fish and shellfish. The only one that affects me at all is Salmon, which I avoid.

      Has your SO been tested? Besides a skin prick test, which would be a first step, he can give a blood sample to test for allergen-specific antibodies.

      You are right about being careful not to offend family. My mother-in-law is the same way. But with my wife I had hoped she'd be as open about fish as she was, eventually, about steak -- she won't eat steak beyond medium these days.

      1. re: SouthernHoo
        BamiaWruz Apr 17, 2010 06:36 PM

        Thank you for that info! I will see if I can get my SO to take the test, it sounds pretty easy and I think it would help avoid the stress and fear of being around fish. I used to be vegetarian myself only eating fish, but it's been a few years now that I avoided it all together due to fear of even bringing it in the house, and I began eating meats for protein.

        I can understand your wife's taste in meat, I grew up eating meat stewed or well done. It's a cultural thing, and most people from the middle east prefer their meat very cooked, with the exception of some dishes like raw kibbeh from lebanon and such. I thought I could never attempt to eat a medium steak like my SO but now I can eat meat even more rare than him which he finds shocking.

        I hope with some time and patience your wife will come around! Btw. do you know if it's the texture of flavour of the steak that she doesn't like?

        1. re: BamiaWruz
          s
          SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 06:56 PM

          That's a really interesting observation about the cultural influence. My wife's family grew up poor in southern Europe and I always imagined that the only time they ate meat other than a holiday was when an animal was too old to be otherwise useful -- hens no longer laying eggs, for example. Older animals need to be cooked slowly with moist heat to break down connective tissue -- but do the same with a grocery store chicken and it will dry out.

          My wife like medium rare steak -- she went through an evolution like you did (and so did her Dad). It's the fish she's squeamish about and you are right that I should find out better what exactly about it she finds unappealing,

          Good luck with your SO and his allergies!

    2. Phurstluv Apr 17, 2010 03:03 PM

      Not everyone enjoys fish at that "Perfectly Cooked" point, it may be the texture that they don't like, the taste, any number of reasons.

      I'll never forget going to a high end restaurant with my Dad, and cringing when he asked for his Ahi Tuna Steak to be cooked "Well done." And even though I tried my best to explain to him that the best taste, etc for the ahi was at rare, my Mom just interjected that "Daddy doesn't like to eat his meats that way." So I accept him as he is, and no longer try to correct the way he likes to eat. He always gets all the end pieces of every roast I make for him, and if I lived closer to my parents, I would be happy to make them fish, however they wanted to eat it, b/c I now appreciate them as individuals, and don't think of them as just Mom & Dad.

      Maybe the solution for you & your DW is to cook your fish pieces separately, or take your piece(s) out early, and leave her piece(s) in the oven or on the flame longer. I really don't think that in the end, you will be able to change her taste. I suppose it's possible that you can take her out to a fish restaurant and see what she orders and how she comments on the doneness of her fish. Maybe a certain preparation or a special chef can "show her the light". But in general, I think it's best to accept her as someone who likes her fish to be "well-cooked".

      1 Reply
      1. re: Phurstluv
        s
        SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 04:51 PM

        Thanks for sharing the story about your Dad. It's interesting you mentioned tuna because my wife does like Tuna just seared on the outside; now that I think about it, it probably is a texture-thing, since rare tuna still has a certain firmness but a just-done trout will be slightly soft.

        Ironically enough, given your story about your Dad, my Mom was notorious for cooking steak so it didn't get beyond the still-mooing phase. But you are wise to cook to the taste of your guests and steak lends itself well to that, especially on a grill.

        The challenge for me is that I have seen my DW's tastes change and develop over time so part of me thinks she may change her preferences about fish.

        I've tried the different cooking times approach and I'm happy to do that when I'm cooking. Perhaps the best way to "show her the light" is by gradually reducing the cooking time of her fish, leaving it in longer than ideal but not quite as long as she might cook it.

      2. r
        RGC1982 Apr 17, 2010 03:16 PM

        I think your only solution is to speak up politely, express your appreciation for the fact that she is cooking for you, and just communicate that you would like your food to be put in the oven ten or fifteen minutes after she puts hers in. If she is cooking early and keeping the food warm enough to become overcooked for several hours until you come home, you need to find another solution. I've been married for nearly 30 years, and DH definitely eats things done differently from my own preference. You just need to find an way to accommodate it. It is all about being appreciative and communicating what you want. You will not be able to force each other into eating other ways. This is not a bad habit as much as it is lack of knowledge about each other's preferences and also about timing your dinner. Maybe if she knows you are coming home two hours later, she can cook later? Figure out a compromise.

        1 Reply
        1. re: RGC1982
          s
          SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 04:57 PM

          That is sage advice. Perhaps at a time when we are not cooking, I should ask her what I can change to make her life a little happier -- there's no doubt things I could do -- and then, if she asks me the same question, I can raise the issue in the way you suggest.

          "Habit" was a sloppily-chosen word by me. It's a preference, as you suggest.

        2. elfcook Apr 17, 2010 03:40 PM

          I think you will have better luck if you approach it as cooking the portions of fish to 2 different doneness-es than trying to make her like it your way. My DH likes things very rare. I have also converted from shoe-leather steak to a medium-rare, but that is as far as I go. I don't have to like his steak & he does not have to like mine. Try to see it from her point of view - it is not overcooked to her, it is done the way she likes it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: elfcook
            s
            SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 05:09 PM

            Out of curiosity, how do you convert in your tastes in steak? Is it a change that in hindsight you are glad you made even though at one stage in your life a medium rare steak might have been unappetizing? I made a similar transition myself, preferring well-done steaks as a child, though the change came from within and not the result of someone advocating rarer steaks.

            I do try to see it from her perspective and I appreciate that she likes fish cooked until it is very firm, flaking apart and dry. We tend to make extra when we cook fish (to pack for lunch) so perhaps I can cook pieces the way she like, the way I like and something in the middle, place them on a platter, and just let her chose. Over time, she may change, but that will be up to her.

            1. re: elfcook
              elfcook Apr 17, 2010 05:20 PM

              I was brought up in a home where steaks were well-done only. I liked them with BBQ sauce - probably because the meat didn't taste that great alone. I didn't really like steak enough to order it out, so I had little exposure to other degrees of doneness. Once married, my DH manned the grill & liked steak. Originally I'd make him cook mine more, but over time I gradually ate it less hockey-puck-style and discovered that there was something tasty about steak. We still disagree about burgers: I cannot stand the taste of his under-done burgers. He thinks they are perfect. Our steak tastes are closer, but I still take the thinner portions that are past rare, and leave the really pink stuff for him.

            2. Cherylptw Apr 17, 2010 04:16 PM

              This reminds me of a time I was manning the grill at my mother's house. There were burgers & hot dogs; I took the burgers off when they were medium well because neither one of us like raw/rare meat. They were nice & juicy but oh no, they weren't cooked enough for her so had to return to the grill. She cooked those things until they were hockey pucks and I didn't eat any. I tried to tell her they were cooked but sometimes you can't convince people to eat things the way you do so why try? The way you eat fish is just right...for you but not her so just cook individually

              2 Replies
              1. re: Cherylptw
                s
                SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 05:28 PM

                I would never try to change my Moms preferences when she was around because at a certain age people aren't so eager to explore change. My DW is relatively more open, so I held out hope. At least we both like steaks the same way. I love a medium rare burger too, but these days, you really need to do it the Alton Brown way to be completely safe. (Brown buy a whole cut, cooks it for 30 seconds in boiling water to kill any surface bacteria and then grinds it.)

                1. re: SouthernHoo
                  Cherylptw Apr 17, 2010 07:37 PM

                  I don't eat rare meat but that's an interesting method that Alton Brown uses to kill bacteria. ...

              2. eight_inch_pestle Apr 17, 2010 04:52 PM

                I would recommend (1) cooking yours how you like it and (2) coaxing her down slowly. Pull hers out halfway between when you pull yours and when she would pull hers if left to her own devices. If she learns to like that, you can try to gradually introduce less and less overcooked fish. This is how I brought my girlfriend down from the dry steaks of her childhood to medium-rare. She still doesn't always go for a truly rare steak that I enjoy, but I'm fine with that---at least I don't feel like I'm wasting money by turning a nice rib-eye into cardboard.

                2 Replies
                1. re: eight_inch_pestle
                  s
                  SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 05:21 PM

                  I was thinking along similar lines -- see one of my replies a few above. Baby steps.

                  By the way, that's a great handle.

                  1. re: SouthernHoo
                    eight_inch_pestle Apr 18, 2010 12:34 AM

                    "By the way, that's a great handle."

                    That's what she said.

                2. s
                  smartie Apr 17, 2010 05:50 PM

                  who cares how other people like their food done, suit yourself and suit them at the same time. All it takes is less or more cooking and starting one steak, burger or piece of fish before the other one to be ready at the same time. I like my scrambled eggs a bit runnier than one of my daughters so I just put half the eggs onto my toast and she scrambles the rest to her doneness.

                  Why do people feel they have to try to change someone. Have you noticed that they often don't try to change you?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: smartie
                    s
                    SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 06:50 PM

                    A few things to consider:

                    (1) My wife cooks for me at least as often as I cook for her because of our work schedules. So it's not simply an issue of me cooking for her as she likes it; it's about getting her to cook fish for me the way I like it.

                    (2) There have been plenty of things that I love to eat now that were an acquired taste, everything from tripe to broccoli rabe. I often find that new tastes and textures that seem strange and unappealing at first grow on me. So I start with the premise that if my palate can change and grow, so can others. The starting point, though, is wanting to experiment, and that is a barrier for some.

                    (3) This may be politically incorrect but I don't view all food preferences as equal. Some people might prefer overcooked, watery past drowned in sauce but that wouldn't change my view that past tastes better when it is al dente and tossed in sauce so that their is a balance between the two.

                    1. re: SouthernHoo
                      s
                      smartie Apr 17, 2010 08:27 PM

                      I think it's passive aggressive not to say anything to her. If you like your fish done a certain way why not say so. Otherwise in x number of years when you are both old and doddery your grandchild will cook you fish and it will be overcooked and she will say grandpa likes it overcooked. And all those years you ate it without complaining or commenting.
                      My feelings are not hurt when someone asks for their steak medium rare when I am the cook. I don't get how your wife doesn't know you.

                      1. re: SouthernHoo
                        pikawicca Apr 17, 2010 08:36 PM

                        If, by definition, your food preferences are superior to your wife's, you need counseling. Your preferences are just that -- yours.

                        1. re: pikawicca
                          Veggo Apr 17, 2010 08:45 PM

                          And don't ask for advice from Larry King on this one.

                          1. re: Veggo
                            pikawicca Apr 17, 2010 08:55 PM

                            Skating on the edge here, my friend. Shape up! Sam would have found a way to say the same thing in an acceptable manner. (Ouch?) You can do it. (Of course, my post could use a little less snark. I'll try to do better.)

                    2. s
                      small h Apr 17, 2010 06:40 PM

                      One thing you might try is poaching fish rather than baking or pan frying. It cooks through without drying out, satisfying those who dislike a raw-ish interior while still remaining palatable to folks saddened by over-cooking. It won't work on all fish, but I like skate and flounder done this way.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: small h
                        s
                        SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 07:16 PM

                        Thanks for the great suggestion. I've actually looked forward to cooking skate and I will try it that way. I could use different cooking liquids to infuse some flavor too.

                      2. WCchopper Apr 17, 2010 07:02 PM

                        Once upon a time, I had an "ick" reaction to scallops. I came to realize that it was a texture, not a taste, aversion and tried to figure out how to overcome it myself. Since it ruins a good scallop to cook it to "firm" all the way through, my solution was to sear them and then just cook them enough- to that Perfect Doneness. It sounds like, since your wife likes tuna cooked thusly, the crust that forms on a seared piece of seafood may be a solution. If it is cooked to have a "crust" but still be moist and tender inside, she may be able to handle the softer internal texture- a little contrast between crisp and tender. It worked for me.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: WCchopper
                          s
                          SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 07:21 PM

                          Thanks for another excellent suggestion! I have been meaning to try that method anyway, searing a fish like fresh cod in a cast iron pan and then finishing it in the oven -- I'll definitely give it a try. And my DW does like seared fish -- one of the best fish I ever made was a swordfish cooked over high heat that I flipped ever minute and applied an Asian-influenced glaze that formed a crust on the exterior.

                          1. re: SouthernHoo
                            WCchopper Apr 20, 2010 06:59 PM

                            Cool- love to hear how it goes!

                        2. r
                          ricepad Apr 17, 2010 07:23 PM

                          This is not a bad habit, this is just a difference of opinion.

                          1. pikawicca Apr 17, 2010 07:25 PM

                            If my SO, who has worked a full day, feels the inspiration to put a home-cooked meal on the table, I would zip my lip. As my mom used to say, "Always thank the cook."

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: pikawicca
                              s
                              SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 07:37 PM

                              So if your SO consistently cooks something more than you like and it would take no more effort to cook it less, you would never say anything, even if it meant a lifetime of eating what is, to your taste, over-cooked fish? Would you want you SO to do the same if the roles were reversed? Would it bother you if your SO said that he/she would like it prepared differently? It seems to me one can raise the issue in a tactful and kind way.

                              1. re: SouthernHoo
                                pikawicca Apr 17, 2010 07:42 PM

                                I just feel for the folks who are trying to get a home-cooked meal on the table after working all day. IMO, they're already way ahead of the folks eating fast food or take out. If it's not to your liking, cook your own food when you get home.

                                1. re: pikawicca
                                  s
                                  SouthernHoo Apr 17, 2010 07:48 PM

                                  Thanks, but I think my DW would rather I talk to her about what I like then to not eat what she cooked and cook something myself.

                                  I agree we are lucky both of us like to cook rather than rely on takeout or fast food.

                                  1. re: SouthernHoo
                                    pikawicca Apr 17, 2010 08:01 PM

                                    You might be right, but you might want to do a reality check. Speaking as a home cook who puts serious effort into putting meals on the table, I do not take it kindly if Hubby tells me the fish is over-cooked. I've done my best, under the circumstances. If you can do better, have at it.

                                    1. re: pikawicca
                                      lisavf Apr 21, 2010 07:12 AM

                                      I agree with you that the cook should always be appreciated, but there is a difference here between overcooking the fish accidentally (as happens to everyone from time to time) and not taking someone's preference into consideration. The first should always be forgiven by the diner. The second should be discussed, particularly if the cook and diner eat together regularly. As the cook of the house, I do try to cook to the preferences of my diner(s), "try" being the key word.

                            2. greygarious Apr 17, 2010 09:35 PM

                              Cook yours to your preference, then finish hers in the microwave, which will only take a couple of minutes, so you can eat at the same time.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: greygarious
                                pdxgastro Apr 20, 2010 11:42 PM

                                I was going to suggest this too, Grey. It's what my mom did to my pink roast beef when I was a kid. Now,of course, I appreciate it pink :-)

                              2. t
                                tastesgoodwhatisit Apr 17, 2010 11:37 PM

                                Personally, I hate it when someone tries to 'convert' my tastes, on the basis that their way of doing it is better/more sophisticated/more authentic/higher class. It basically says "My way is right, yours is wrong, and you have to change." Trying to do this to the person who is *cooking* the meal is likely to get a frying pan chucked at your head.

                                So I'd make it an issue of personal taste. When she cooks, ask her to take your fish out of the pan or oven when it's just done. When you cook, you cook hers for longer, so that she can enjoy her own food.

                                Otherwise, turn about is fair play. If you expect her to eat fish cooked the way you like it when you cook, then you have to eat fish cooked the way she likes it when she cooks.

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