My first thought when I saw the title of Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them was please, spare me from another irreverent take on serious kitchen happenings. Relief came when I spotted the authors names. Team Bruce Weinstein (chef) and Mark Scarbrough (food writer) have collected culinary notches on their apron belts with a James Beard nomination for Ham: An Obsession with Hindquarters, as authors of the Ultimate series of cookbooks, and as contributors and columnists for food publications -- Cooking Light, Leite's Culinaria, and Weight Watchers. Their website, The Real Food Blog, is an entertaining mix of culinary exploration, inspiring recipes and joie de vivre humor, as is the newest cookbook in their line-up.
The book reads like a series of short stories, pleasantly different from a textbook style culinary reference. Weinstein and Scarbrough bust myths by categories arranged into ten chapters starting with their ten chosen classics-the ones we do "because we've always done it that way."
Like the commonly asked, "Is its safe to refreeze meat"? Yes, under certain conditions: if kept at a temperature of 40 F for a day or two; if the meat has not been left out at room temperature for more than an hour or two (at most). But not if it comes labeled previously frozen when purchased.
Or (I am saving this favorite bit to share with the crowd who scrutinize restaurant health code ratings before they dare eat out) more people get sick from meals at home than from meals in restaurants! Its common sense to wash hands before handling food, but home cooks need to know about food temperature safety zones (food held below 40 F and above 140 F) - the biggest culprits for food borne illness.
Other chapters are designed around themes like alcohol, (for drinking AND cooking), grilling (grilling and barbeque are interchangeable terms), poultry (how to cook a frozen turkey without thawing), "the plant kingdom" (peanuts are legumes not nuts), nutrition fads (eating at night does not make you gain weight-thank you food gods), historical myths (honey and spices were used as a method to preserve in the Middle Ages not as a way to cover up the taste rotten meat- eat rotten meat and not taste the putridness?), even myths surrounding kitchen gadgets (microwaves do not work with the same kind of radiation as a nuclear reactor).
The arrangement of information is a bit madcap, as is the mix of history, food safety, food science, folklore, and culinary expertise. Which is why the book of myths and their corresponding truths is so much fun. There were moments I had to go back and re-read a section of facts after being distracted by the silly, off beat, often making me groan, humor.
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The most enjoyable chapters: "Myths from the Fevered Brains of Culinary Food Snobs" and "Myths You May Have Heard from Your Bubbe, Abulea, MeeMaw, or Some Other Random Old Person." In the former, the authors encourage the cook to be fearless- go ahead and use the olive oil of your choice in sautéing fish, even a (gasp) bottle of fragrant extra virgin olive oil to heat up and cook with. Just don't waste the $$$ stuff in the deep fryer, "heating may break down a few of the oils flavor compounds, but by no means all of them. And many of those luscious flavors will go directly into the food being cooked."
I chuckled that the five-second rule was covered in the random old people chapter instead of a chapter on frat boy cooks. Bottom line-we are warned if you are going to eat off the floor, "consider which floor its been on. And then ask yourself if its really something you need to eat. If the answer is yes, you should probably take a good, hard look at your life."
The book's 25 recipes are scattered throughout the chapters. They are loaded with informative tips on the steps and methods used. Clear, detailed and concise, the recipe instruction in the book is just as good as having a live culinary instructor talking you through with methods and tips. The recipes are sophisticated without being too complicated for an occasional cook to master. Peanut sheet cake, made with peanut oil and chocolate frosting, African Ground Nut Stew, and Jerked Chicken Thighs have hit the top of my "recipes to share" list.
Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them and 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking is due to be released in July, and is available for pre-order.