Past Articles

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Onions Make You Cry

Here in the Atomic Kitchen, we bring the gamut of emotions. We like to make you laugh.  Today, we might make you cry.  Fair warning: you may need a box of tissues as we explain why cutting onions makes you cry.

Your tears are primarily water.  Saline. Salt water.

Onions can be divided into two categories:  Sweet and Storage.  Sweet onions have a much higher water content, and have a limited shelf life.  They have a milder reaction with your eyeballs and tear ducts because of that high water content.  We're going to address yellow, white and red onions used in cooking – the “storage onions” sometimes referred to as “dry onions,” with a relatively low water content.

You're embarking on a fantastic recipe.  You've got a sharp knife at the ready.  You peel the skin off the onion and place it on the cutting board.  Shortly after making that first slice, your eyes tear uncontrollably.  These do not feel like “Oh, the suffering of humanity!” tears.  They burn.  What is going on?

Lurking within your onion are a mishmash of chemicals separated by cell membranes. In the whole onion state it is stable.  But inside some of those cells are many amino acids, among which are sulfoxides.  When you cut into the onion, you break the cell membranes, releasing a chemical medley through the onion, creating instability in Onion World.  The sulfoxides become sulfenic acids.  These are free to combine with other molecules, and one of the by-products is propanethiol S-oxide, a gas which takes a vapor form.  Propanethiol S-oxide wafts upward, interacting with the moisture in your nose and those saline tears in your lachrymal ducts to create small amounts of sulfuric acid.

Sulfuric acid burns.  Your tear ducts create more tears to wash the irritant away, and before you know it, you look like you just watched “Ol' Yeller.” 

To avoid the waterworks, chill the onion for 30 minutes before cutting it.

Thanks for reading The Atomic Kitchen!  Please share us with your friends. 

Next week:  Acidosis

Last Week:  How to Avoid Curdling

  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Going Curdless: Tips to Avoid Curdling


A good rule of thumb for cooking with dairy products, including cream, milk, eggs, butter, cheese and mayonnaise, is:  patience!

Sauces made with milk,  cream and cheese may curdle for several reasons:
  • not enough fat content.  Skim milk will curdle more than heavy cream, and low-fat creams and cheeses are more likely to curdle than their whole-fat compadres.
  • too high heat.  Cream sauces must be cooked at low temps. Use a thermometer to ensure temperatures stay lower than 175 degrees F.
  • too much acid.  Cream should be added last (with exceptions like lemon juice). Wine can be very acidic, and should be reduced.  any ingredients should be of medium temperature before cream is introduced, as it will separate at boiling.

How curdling occurs:
Dairy fats combine to form a rubbery mesh, which squeezes out water.

One possibility to prevent curdling is Carrageenan.  There are three kinds, and Lambda Carrageenan is best for sauces because it is water soluble. It is derived from red seaweed.  80% of the world's supply originates from the Philippines, although its name originated from an Irish fishing village noted for a pudding made from seaweed and sweetened milk.

Interesting fact: Camel's milk will not curdle.  It may be tougher to find on your supermarket shelves.

If a cream or butter sauce “breaks,” it can be fixed.  In a separate pan, gently heat a small amount of your cream or your dairy base, and gradually add the broken sauce, whisking as you go.  The added dairy fat plus the gradual temperature reduction will rectify the curdling.  This is called “tempering” a sauce.

Or... remove the curdled sauce from heat immediately and place pan in an ice bath, which will immediately halt the cooking process.  You may add an ice cube to the sauce as well. This quick-cooling should help bring the sauce back together.  Some cooks recommend adding starch, such as a paste made from flour or corn starch and water.

None of these methods are foolproof, and many chefs will attest, sometimes you may have to just start over!  C'est la vie!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Atomic Kitchen: Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers

The Atomic Kitchen: Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers: Wrapping meat in a papaya leaf from the paw paw tree is one way to tenderize it naturally. Meat derives much of its flavor from fat.  Th...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers

Wrapping meat in a papaya leaf from the paw paw tree is one way to tenderize it naturally.
Meat derives much of its flavor from fat.  The ideal cuts have fat “marbled” in its texture.  Some cuts of meat are simply tough.  Many meat tenderizers are available on the market.  The critical ingredient in most of these is papain.  As you might guess, papain comes from papaya.  I was not able to figure that out on my own.  I though it came from the Pope.

Good news!  You can tenderize your meat without a packaged meat tenderizer or papal intercession. 

  • Liquify or smash ripe papaya to create a tasty marinade that will tenderize your meat using natural papain.  You can also wrap meat overnight in paw paw leaves to reap the benefits of papain.
  • Use fresh pineapple.  It contains an enzyme, bromelain, that quickly tenderizes meat in 30-60 minutes.  It will add flavor to the meat, which may be good, or not.
  • Use a meat mallet to pound chicken, beef or pork.  It breaks fat tissue, increasing tenderness.   

Be sure to use fresh pineapple and papaya.  Canning and bottling destroys these enzymes.  Do not tenderize for long periods or your meat will turn to mush.

Papaya leaves, which are very bitter in their raw form, are believed to cure scarlet fever, lessen menstrual pain, treat acne, increase appetite and improve digestion.