Ask Chef Rachael - December 2012

Q. I have a recipe that calls for me to put the food on a "warm platter." What does that mean?
A. It might just be a nice touch suggested by the recipe's author (it does sound nice to get a hot meal on a hot plate, doesn't it?), but it could be that the flavor or texture of a dish may be negatively impacted if the dish cools too quickly or too much before it is eaten. You can warm an oven-safe plate or platter in an oven heated to its lowest setting (usually 120°-170°) for 5 min. or so, depending on how many plates you are heating at once.

Q. Every time I buy fresh ginger I end up throwing away more than half because it gets moldy, soft or spoiled. How should I store it?
A. First, buy firm, unwrinkled ginger. Don't peel it until you are ready to use it. If you are only using a portion of it, cut it off and leave the rest unpeeled. It will eventually get soft (like celery or asparagus) after about 6 weeks or so. (It won't keep forever.) Store it in your vegetable crisper in a zip-top bag. Don't wash it or get it wet before storing it. Don't wrap it in a paper towel; it needs to breathe. (Mold suggests moisture, so be sure there is good air circulation in the crisper and that it's not stuffed too full.)

Q. What is brining?
A. Given the seasonality of your question, I'm guessing you are referring to the brining of meat (or a turkey?) and not the type of brining that we talk about when it comes to making or canning pickles – though both involve soaking something in a strong liquid. In common usage, the process of brining meat or poultry refers to soaking it in a salt-water brine. It works on the scientific principles of diffusion and osmosis to hydrate protein cells, allowing them to retain more moisture after cooking. Here are some tips for brining a turkey, though they also apply to brining of other proteins:

  • Be sure the brine mixture is completely cooled before adding the turkey.
  • Refrigeration at 40° or below is required at all times during the process.
  • Pick a container with enough room. Turkeys may require a cooler or plastic bucket. Replace about one third of the water with ice if a cooler is used.
  • If possible, use spring or bottled water for your brine.
  • The turkey should stay completely submerged in brine. Weigh it down with a plate if it floats.
  • Brined meat cooks faster. Start checking for doneness about 3/4 of the way through the normal cooking time.
  • Do not wash off meat after brining. Simply pat dry with paper towels.
  • Avoid salting brined meat while cooking. Salt the finished meat to taste.
  • It is not recommended to brine "self-basting" turkeys, which are injected with a salt preservative solution. It will create an overly salted bird.
  • It is best to start cooking immediately after removing the bird from the brine.

Q. What is blanching?
A. Blanching refers to a technique used to either: 1) firm flesh and loosen skin (usually of fruits) or 2) heighten flavor and set color (usually of vegetables). It is done by cooking the food in boiling water for an extremely short period of time, then plunging it into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. It's a great way to preserve the vibrant green of Brussels sprouts, asparagus and broccoli before sautéing or roasting them, or making tomatoes or peaches easier to peel.

Q. Can I substitute untoasted sesame oil for toasted sesame oil?
A. The flavor of toasted sesame oil, which is made by expressing oil from toasted sesame seeds, is much darker and more intense than untoasted, or regular, sesame oil. Toasted sesame oil is most often used as a finishing oil, something to drizzle over a salad, soup or stir fry, for example. Using regular sesame oil won't pack the same "punch." Regular sesame oil is commonly used for frying, sautéing and salad dressings. If you want a more intense dressing, you could substitute toasted oil, but I wouldn't recommend toasted sesame oil for frying or sautéing. Your finished dish might taste unpleasant at best, and at worst somewhat burnt.

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