Culinary wives tales

There isn’t much food science being taught at school, but for me, it’s an important part of learning how to cook. I do a lot of research on my own, trying to understand the chemical reactions and effects temperatures and elements have on the recipes we’ve made in class, and recipes I’m developing at home and for work.

So this week, when Chef told us to add a little oil to our butter to extend the smoking point, I raised my hand. I learned otherwise. I tested it first hand. I knew it wasn’t true. I assumed it was just something he was told at some point during his career, and he believed it to be true.

I started thinking about other culinary wives tales we have been told, and wondered why they continue to be taught:
the need to add salt to water when cooking green vegetables; sear meat to seal in the juices; stock must be started with cold water; add oil to pasta water to prevent sticking, to name a few.

I’m guessing that “guessing” was the root of the wives tales, until a few smarty-pants people tested the hypothesis and settled any dispute on whether or not the technique really worked.

My next question for Chef will be about blooming spices. We’re forbidden to bloom in oil during class, being allowed to only toast spices in a dry pan and then add to the recipe. The theory is that the oil will make the spices bitter. I have no idea if it’s true; I imagine it’s not, as long as you control the heat of the oil. After all, centuries of Indian cuisine can’t be wrong. Or can it?

What’s the craziest culinary wives tale you’ve been told, and how did you discover the truth?

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