Ask Chef Rachael - October 2012
Q. What does "parboil" mean?
A. Parboil isn'ta technically accurate word, because the prefix par means partially – and you can't partially boil something. You can par cook anything – and boiling is a technique that may be used to do so. This is where the casual term parboil (to parcook by boiling). Parcooking may be used for a few reasons: either to speed up cooking by doing some work ahead of time (such as with parboiled rice) or to allow the use of a cooking technique which wouldn't effectively, thoroughly or efficiently cook something on its own (such as parboiling potatoes before grilling them).
Q. What is canola?
A. Canola is what the market calls rapeseed oil. The term was coined by the Canadian seed oil industry, perhaps to avoid the unfortunate term rape seed, from which the oil is expressed. It is a very widely used oil in Canada and increasingly so in the United States due to its low levels of saturated fats and high levels of monounsaturated fats (those are good ones!). It has a very mild, almost neutral flavor.
Q. Can you substitute red onions when a recipe calls for yellow ones?
A. Red onions tend to be sharper and more tart than white or yellow onions, which are often used interchangeably. Both white and yellow onions are fairly mild, with yellow being a bit sweeter yet more pungent, depending on the variety. A particular variety of yellow onion, the Vidalia, is exceedingly mellow and sweet. Yellow onions aren't often eaten raw, and they can be hard on the nose and eyes due to their high sulfur content. If you are unsure of what type of onion a recipe calls for, you can almost always use yellow, especially if the recipe calls for the onions to be cooked (as in soups and stews). Red onions do not have a lot of heat and are most commonly eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches. In a pinch, you can surely substitute one for another.
Q. I have a recipe that calls for thyme but doesn't indicate if it is dried or fresh – which should I use?
A. This will hold true for most herbs: if the herb is called for early in the cooking process (before heat is added), it's probably dried. The fresh, bright, grassy properties of fresh herbs are lost when cooked. Recipes calling for herbs at the end of preparation or just before serving probably require fresh. Another indicator would be the modifiers chopped or minced. Such prep is usually done to fresh herbs only. If you still can't tell, try fresh first. You may need to double the amount later if you feel the flavor is too muted. I don't recommend starting with dried unless you start with half as much. Because the flavor is concentrated in dried herbs, you could accidentally add too much.
Q. What is the difference between biscuits and scones?
A. Depending on who you ask, a lot – or not much. They share common ingredients and preparation techniques, including cutting butter into a flour mixture, dropping or rolling/cutting dough and baking. Though the recipes are quite similar, the ways in which they are served may differ. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that biscuits are usually more savory and are served as part of a meal any time of day. Scones are typically a breakfast or tea time only treat and they're often sweeter, richer and could include fruits, seeds, cheeses, etc., in their dough. They may be served with a sweet glaze or drizzled icing on them, too. You can modify most biscuit recipes to approximate a scone by adding a little sugar and an egg or egg yolk and replacing the milk with half-and-half or cream. If desired, you can stir in dried fruits, chopped nuts or chocolate, etc., and add a basic glaze or icing. Take a look at the following simple recipes for a delicious Southern-style biscuit and a lovely scone that starts with a baking mix rather than separate measures for flour, leavener, etc.