5 Common Kitchen Misconceptions You Probably Didn't Realize You Got Wrong
A local cooking instructor and author sets the record straight.
Photo by Meredith Heuer
1. A honing steel will sharpen your knife.
It will not. Contrary to popular belief, this slender tool is not designed to sharpen your knife. It is meant to straighten it in between sharpenings. As you use your knife, the thin edge (i.e. the very tip of the blade) will bend this way and that as it encounters hard materials, like bones, pits, and nuts. You can’t see the bends with your naked eye, but they are there. The honing steel takes care of those, beautifully realigning the edge after use. To compound the confusion, honing also makes your knife feel sharper, because it glides more effortlessly through food. But it’s just straighter. Make sure you have a knife sharpener at home too, so you can grind down your edge to make it sharp again. Otherwise, you will be using a very straight, albeit dull knife.
2. You can’t cook with extra-virgin olive oil.
This is simply not true. What you cannot do with extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is use it in a wok or to deep-fry food (like doughnuts or fried chicken); those cooking methods create temperatures that are too high for EVOO’s unrefined state, filling your kitchen with smoke. However, to sauté vegetables or pieces of meat and to roast vegetables in the oven, it is the perfect choice. It is flavorful, healthy, unprocessed, and non-GMO, which is nearly impossible to find in a bottled cooking oil these days.
3. Canola oil is good for you.
Wrong. It is one of the “garbage oils” that line the supermarket shelves, with about 90 percent of what’s available being from genetically modified seeds (think obscene amounts of weed killer saturating the plant’s soil). For those seeking a “neutral oil” (meaning: no flavor), you can source a blond, refined oil as long as it follows these three criteria: 1) it's sold in a glass bottle (no plastic leeching); 2) it’s “expeller-pressed” (no chemical solvents); and 3) it’s “organic” (does not contains GMOs).
4. “Organic” doesn’t really mean anything.
It means everything about the quality and care of the food you are eating. If your food is labeled “organic,” it means it has not been grown with chemical fertilizers or sprayed with chemical pesticides. It is also not a GMO. The US has no laws that require genetically modified foods to being labeled as such, so buying “organic” is your only way to avoid these pesticide-rich crops. If you want to start slowly, converting from conventional to organic, use this handy guide and start by switching the “Dirty Dozen” crops that you regularly buy to the organic variety, which will go a long way in cutting down the chemical load you bring into your home.
5. You can tell when meat is done by cutting into it.
This is not an accurate way to tell when your meat is properly cooked. Instead, use an instant-read thermometer and stick in through the side of the meat you are cooking, so the length of the probe is only touching the center of the meat, for the most accurate read. Cutting into the meat only releases valuable juices and forces you to judge doneness by a particular color, which generally leads home cooks to overcook their meat for fear of serving undercooked food to their loved ones.
If you are intrigued by any of these misconceptions, check out Jennifer Clair’s new cookbook, Six Basic Cooking Techniques: Culinary Essentials for the Home Cook, which is chock full of this kind of culinary advice, as well as colorful step-by-step photography covering the six essentials skills every home cook should know.