Cooking Questions & Answers
I get email from you guys all the time asking me questions about various cooking topics. The questions come from all over and I do my best to answer them. If I can't give you a good response, I recruit the help of one of my many professional chef friends. Here are a few questions I bet many of you would like answers to.
Pounding Chicken Breasts
What is the correct way to pound chicken breasts to use in chicken picatta? Do I start with thin slices or if I already have "normal" sized chicken breasts, do I slice them thinner before pounding? How hard should I pound?
You do not need to slice full breasts any thinner in order to pound them out. I would use the smooth side of a meat mallet or even a fairly heavy, smooth bottomed frying pan. Spray a little oil on the meat so the mallet will slide and then start in the center, pounding and sliding off to one side (as opposed to just crashing straight down on the meat).
Continue pounding, sliding off in a slightly different direction each time (or, conversely, turning the meat between each blow) to create an even thickness. I've also seen this done with the meat between two pieces of plastic wrap and I have used wax paper. Keep pounding until the meat is roughly 1/4" thick and all your frustrations have melted away. Another great reason for learning how to cook.
Take your time; this isn't a test of strength. In fact you want to do this a gently as possible (if pounding can ever be considered gentle) because you don't want to tear the meat. This same technique can also be used on any other type of lean meat--turkey, pork or beef.
I want to know how to make restaurant style smashed potatoes....the kind that are chunky.
Okay, here's what you do: use red bliss potatoes, or some other type of potato with lovely red skin. If they are very small, boil them whole in well salted water until easily pierced with a fork. Cut larger potatoes in half or quarters.
When tender, drain well, then put back on the heat and let them dry for a couple of minutes. This will keep them fluffier--the dryer, the better. Leave the skins on. Since you want to keep them chunky, add all your add-ins before you start smashing: some warmed dairy--either milk, half and half, cream, sour cream (don't let the sour cream boil), etc.
Salt and pepper to taste, butter to taste and perhaps some roasted garlic. Then, smash away with a potato masher that has large openings - the kind that has one thick metal tube that curves back and forth is a good one for this. Smash to your particular smashiness and enjoy.
For garnish try sprinkling with fresh chives or parsley.
How do you tell if your eggs are expired and not good to use?
That is an "eggcellent" question, and no, I couldn't help myself!
Eggs stay usable for a surprisingly long time as long as they are refrigerated. The best way to tell if an egg is still usable without cracking it open is to put it in water--at least 4 inches of water. If it stays on the bottom, you're good to go. If it's a floater, toss it away.
Why this works: All eggs have a membrane between the shell and the albumin (the clear, viscous liquid inside). There is no air between the membrane and the shell in a freshly-laid egg, but as the egg ages, the air pocket inside gets larger and larger due to osmosis through the permeable shell. Once the egg has enough of an air pocket to float, it has definitely passed its prime.
I have also been told by a egg farmer that if you hold an egg with the pointy side down and shine a flashlight on the top of the egg, you can see a space between the egg and the shell with older eggs. I've tried this and either it doesn't work or my eggs were all very fresh.
Prolong egg life by storing eggs in the containers they came in on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Don't store them in those cute little egg holders that come in some refrigerator doors. It's warmer in the doors because of all the opening and closing.