How to Cook

December 9, 2020

9 Cream of Tartar Substitutes You Probably Have in the Kitchen

Where would we be without grapes? Think of all the culinary marvels the fruit yields: Jelly, balsamic and red wine vinegars, and of course wine. But lofty cakes, ethereal meringues, and chewy snickerdoodles also owe their existence to another child of the grape: cream of tartar. The white powder is most often found in baked goods, where it serves as a stabilizer, a leavening agent, or a crystallization inhibitor (more on this later). If you’ve just embarked on some baking endeavor only to find your jar of cream of tartar empty, there’s no cause for alarm. There are plenty of substitutions for cream of tartar, you just have to decide which purpose that sub needs to serve. But first, what is cream of tartar? Cream of tartar forms as crystals (rather glamorously known as “wine diamonds”) on the walls of wine barrels during fermentation, before it’s refined and crushed to the white powder probably sitting in a jar in your pantry. Chemically speaking, this powder is potassium bitartrate, a salt of mild tartaric acid, with a whole range of useful kitchen applications, from stabilizing beaten egg whites to keeping caramels smooth and chewy. Should you run out, replacing cream of tartar seems daunting at first, but there are actually a number of cream of tartar substitutes—many of which are probably already in the kitchen. Short of harvesting your own wine diamonds, here are 9 cream of tartar substitutes, divided up by use. From Our Shop de Buyer French Copper Egg White Beating Bowl $150–$182 More Sizes Silicone Grip Whisk (Set of 2) $25 More Colors Sale! Organic Ceramic Cake Stand $70–$100 $56–$80 More Options Stabilizers When egg whites are whipped to form peaks, their proteins gradually denature, stretching and linking to form an open lattice that transforms liquid whites into airy foam. But once proteins start linking, they can get carried away, turning the foam into a weepy mess. Cream of tartar is often added to whipped egg whites in recipes like meringues or angel food cake to keep whipped egg whites stable. But there are plenty of other ways to achieve the same fluffy result. Lemon Juice Like cream of tartar, lemon juice helps achieve lofty beaten egg whites. The general rule is 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice per egg white, so if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of cream of tartar, just multiply by four. Of course, unlike cream of tartar, lemons come with a distinctive, but bright and zingy, flavor. Vinegar Other acids, like vinegars, help egg whites hold their peak in exactly the same way, but their harsh flavor can spoil a delicate confection. Try distilled white vinegar for the least overbearing flavor; substitute four times the amount of vinegar, by volume, for cream of tartar. A Copper Bowl Though it sounds like Dadaist word art, you can actually replace cream of tartar with a copper bowl. The French have used copper bowls to beat egg whites for centuries, but it wasn’t until author of On Food and Cooking Harold McGee became curious about this odd habit, that anyone understood the science. Molecular copper, McGee discovered, forms strong bonds with sulfur groups, which, like with acids, prevents them from bonding with each other and squeezing out air and water. As you beat eggs in a bowl, minute amounts of copper are freed from the surface of the vessel and mixed into the eggs. I haven’t tested this, because copper bowls are expensive, but apparently whites whipped in copper take on a faint pink hue. A Silver Bowl Silver works similarly to copper, but with a more ruinous effect on your wallet. Don’t debase a silver bowl by whisking eggs in it unless your meringue is very, very important. The 9 Best Egg Substitutes in Cooking & Baking 11 Handy Sugar Substitutes to Keep in the Pantry (& the Fridge!) Leavening Agents When cream of tartar is mixed with baking soda, it creates a fantastic raising agent. So fantastic, in fact, the combination is a typical pantry ingredient: baking powder. Baking soda reacts with cream of tartar, releasing clouds of carbon dioxide, making a cake rise. If you’re out of cream of tartar, here are a few other ways to get a rise out of your baked goods. Baking Powder As noted above, technically if you have baking powder, you do have cream of tartar. It’s just mixed with baking soda, in a ratio of one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar. That means that for a recipe that calls for cream of tartar and baking soda, you can leave out the baking soda and substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 2/3 teaspoon cream of tartar. Lemon and Vinegar If you’re out of baking powder too, consider acidic ingredients like lemon or vinegar to create a rise in your bakes. Try double the volume of cream of tartar called for in the recipe, but note the added liquid might alter the texture a bit. Buttermilk Fluffy buttermilk biscuits and pancakes rely on the sour dairy product’s acidity for leavening. But because buttermilk is much less acidic than vinegar or lemon, you’ll need to use a lot of it to replace even a small amount of cream of tartar. Unless you have the leeway to do some recipe testing, your best bet is to find a recipe that already uses buttermilk for leavening. Crystallization Inhibitors When you sink your teeth into a rich caramel or a chewy cookie like a snickerdoodle, you’re enjoying the absence of crunchy sugar crystals. As sweets cool, the dissolved sugar tends to return to crystal form, ruining the smooth texture. Cream of tartar’s acidity disrupts this process by hydrolyzing some of the sugar into its component parts, glucose and fructose, keeping your sweets satisfyingly smooth. You can achieve this same effect in a few other ways. Corn Syrup Corn syrup is almost pure glucose, and it does an excellent job disrupting sugar crystal formation. Just replace some of the sugar in your recipe with corn syrup and skip the cream of tartar for the desired effect. Butter Everything's better with butter—often chewier, too. Like glucose and fructose, fat molecules help disrupt the formation of sucrose crystals, preventing unwanted sandy cookies and crunchy caramels. This is obviously not a one-for-one substitution with cream of tartar, and there may be some trial and error involved before you find the right balance. But generally, when it comes to butter, the more the merrier. And next time you’re grocery shopping, buy an extra jar of cream of tartar to have on hand for your next baking project. You don’t have to worry about them going bad. As they say, wine diamonds are forever. Have you had any luck using one of these cream of tartar substitutes? Let us know in the comments.
December 9, 2020

How to Cut an Avocado (Without Cutting Your Hand)

Learning how to cut an avocado is simple, fun, and yields a whole fruit's worth of smooth, creamy green goodness. If you love avocado but don't quite know how to approach preparing it at home, we’ve got some time-tested tips for breaking into this beloved staple of the produce aisle. Soon you’ll be slicing and dicing avocado for guacamole, sandwiches, burgers, salads, toast (or, if you're looking to breathe new life into the concept, avocado toast salad, or simply eating it on its own with a sprinkle of salt and lemon juice. How to Tell If an Avocado Is Ripe Slicing a perfectly ripe avocado is much easier than slicing an overripe or underripe one. Squeeze the avocado gently—almost barely—toward the middle (where the center of the pit would be located) to avoid bruising it. If it yields under the slight pressure of your fingers, it's ripe and ready to eat. If it buckles, it may be overripe (but still likely good to eat), and if it doesn't yield at all, it may need another day or two on the counter before it's at peak deliciousness. Using a Knife To slice an avocado with a knife, hold the avocado in your nondominant hand, make the initial cut into the avocado until you hit the pit, then rotate the avocado in your hand, slicing lengthwise around the pit, keeping contact with it, until you've cut all the way around. You can also make the initial cut, then place the avocado down on a cutting board and keep it steady with your nondominant hand while you slice around the pit. It doesn't have to be perfectly even, but you do want to complete the cut where you began it for a clean, easy separation. Using both hands, gently twist the halves in opposite directions, and they'll begin to come apart. One half will contain the pit. Lightly tap the pit in its center using the sharp edge of the knife, then hold the avocado half in your nondominant hand, rotate the knife slightly to wedge the pit out of the flesh, and lift it away on the knife blade. The pit will be slippery, so instead of trying to pull it out of the blade using your hand, place the pit on the cutting board with the knife at a 45-degree angle and apply slight pressure until the pit is released. You can use a kitchen towel to hold the pit steady while you do this, if necessary. When the pit has been removed, you can discard it or sprout it for a fun zero-waste project. Hold each avocado half in your hand or place on a cutting board, flesh side up, and carefully score slices down its length, or down its length and across if you're making cubes. No need to create sculptural marvels here—leave that to the pros. Avoid making the slices and cubes too thin or small or they may turn to mush as you try to turn them out. When you've created the slices or cubes desired, invert the avocado and push gently on the roundest part of the skin to release the slices or cubes You can do this directly onto the cutting board (if using them to top soup, burgers, or sandwiches) or directly into a bowl for salad and guacamole or even the jar of a blender for a smoothie. Continue to push gently on the outer skin all the way around to release the avocado flesh. Repeat with the other half or store it to use later. From Our Shop our line! Five Two Essential Knives $49–$139 More Options Avocado-Dyed Linen Napkins (Set of 4) $48 Countertop Sprouter $25 Other Ways to Cut an Avocado There's more than one way to cut an avocado, and several tips and tricks to get the exact slices you're looking for. If perfect presentation is the focus of your dish, follow the above steps until you've got two avocado halves ready for slicing, and then instead of slicing into the flesh (stopping when you hit the peel) place both halves face down on a cutting board, slice through the skin and flesh, then peel the skin away from each avocado slice just before serving to help it retain its structure and keep the outside layer bright green. You can also abandon both the pitting method and slicing lengthwise method entirely and just slice the avocado crosswise into rings, especially if you won't be using the whole avocado right away (this method helps prevent the oxidation that turns the flesh brown and mushy). Using a Tool Avocado slicing tools are sold online and at specialty kitchen stores, though keep in mind they'll take up drawer space to perform one function that you could do with a sharp kitchen knife in any of the aforementioned ways. Separate and remove the pit from the avocado halves, hold one half in your nondominant hand, and "scoop" the flesh from the peel using the tool (which is shaped specially for this purpose). The flesh should release easily from the peel in even slices. Repeat with the other half. What Is Avocado Hand? Believe it or not, people end up in the emergency room all the time with what surgeons have dubbed "avocado hand" from underestimating the sharpness of their knives, the thinness of the avocado's skin, or a combination of both. Your hand is indeed quite vulnerable while holding the avocado half you're slicing into, so exercise abundant caution—no, even more caution than that—the first dozen or so times you attempt this technique. Don't be afraid to rely on your cutting board more than your bare hands until you're intimately familiar with the slippery ins and outs of avocado butchery. Bacon-Stuffed Burgers with Pimento Cheese and Avocado Which dish just isn't complete without avocado on top (or inside?) Let us know in the avo-comments.
December 8, 2020

The Most Memorable Chicken Recipes Always Have Vinegar

As someone who develops and tests recipes for a living, it’s literally my job to describe how and why certain flavor pairings work. Usually, that’s a relatively attainable task, but sometimes, when faced with this particular why? I can’t think of a better answer than: Just, because! Think about pork and brown sugar. And seafood and butter. And beer and sausage. And of course, chicken and vinegar. They just…work. These combinations have been around for a long time, in countless cuisines, yet are also constantly revived in new recipes. Today, we’re exploring the last. What is it about chicken and vinegar? Let’s find out. Chicken isn’t a fatty meat compared with, say, beef, but schmaltzy, well-salted, crispy-skinned chicken is still rich. And there’s no better way to cut fat and salt than with acid, be it freshly squeezed citrus or, arguably chicken’s favorite, vinegar. Tangy, salty, and sorta sweet, vinegar leaves me wanting more. It’s not only that I’m an acid fiend (though that’s not not a factor here); it’s about culinary harmony. Chicken with vinegar appears in countless long-standing dishes. Poulet au Vinaigre, a French classic thanks to chef Paul Bocuse, calls for red wine vinegar to be reduced until thick and syrupy, then mixed with cream and seared chicken pieces. In Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken, an acidic component is vital to the sweet sauce slathered on the chicken before grilling: In her cookbook Aloha Kitchen, Alana Kysar’s version calls for rice vinegar. This ingredient is also used in Amelia Rampe’s recipe for the classic Filipino Chicken Adobo, braising in a sauce with a whole head of garlic for maximum punch. From Our Shop our line! Five Two Essential Skillets $89–$139 More Options our line! Five Two Essential Knives $49–$139 More Options Natural Fiber Cutting Board $210–$260 More Options Contemporary dishes lean on the combination, too. Alison Roman’s Vinegar Chicken With Crushed Olive Dressing was the most popular recipe on NYT Cooking in 2019, and an adapted version of Kysar’s Huli Huli Chicken (calling for rice or apple cider vinegar) also made this list. “Acid grants the palate relief, and makes food more appealing by offering contrast,” writes Samin Nostrat in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. “While salt enhances flavors, acid balances them. By acting as a foil to salt, fat, sugar, and starch, acid makes itself indispensable to everything we cook.” The first time Nosrat made Poulet au Vinaigre, at the suggestion of a mentor, she was skeptical: “It hardly seemed appetizing.” However, Nosrat realized the vinegar mellows as it cooks. Her cookbook’s Chicken With Vinegar recipe calls for white wine vinegar, added to the pan along with searing chicken pieces, simmered until the meat is cooked through, and splashed in again to perk up the dish just before serving. “It heightened my appreciation for what acid can do for a rich dish.” In his new cookbook The Flavor Equation, Nik Sharma talks about using vinegar in marinades for chicken. Characterizing his use of the condiment as a “flavor booster and also as a brining solution,” Sharma stirs vinegar into marinades for a grilled chicken salad, roast chicken thighs, and chicken lollipops (Sharma’s are doused in a brick-red sambal oelek–based sauce). Of the salad, he writes: “Together salt and acid affect protein structure and increase the water retention capacity of the chicken breast. The result is a chicken breast that’s juicier and more tender.” When I think of vinegar and chicken, my mind immediately jumps to Chicken Savoy, a dish native to northern New Jersey, where I grew up. Though the dish is simple (chicken parts smeared with an herby paste, baked hot and fast, finished with lots of vinegar), it’s attracted a cult following in Essex County. After first debuting at Belleville’s Belmont Tavern in the 1960s, the dish has turned up on menus at red sauce restaurants all around the area. And though the official recipe remains a tightly-kept secret, when I crave chicken and vinegar at home, I riff on Chicken Savoy. It’s the double dose of vinegar that brings the dish together: Both sweet balsamic and zingy red wine vinegar—a tip shared with me by Steven Amadeo, the owner and manager of Miele’s Restaurant in Verona, New Jersey—go into the pan with sizzling chicken. Before serving, I stir in another glug of each vinegar, because you can never have enough. Garlicky Chicken With Herbs & Vinegar Do you have a favorite chicken recipe made with vinegar? Tell us about it in the comments!
December 4, 2020

How to Make Juicy Shredded Chicken to Use…Everywhere

Learning how to shred chicken is like following a map, because like all meat, chicken forms a noticeable grain as it cooks. Separating chicken along that grain results in juicy, tender shreds that are both handy for reducing prep time and incredibly versatile. A container of shredded chicken is as at home in your favorite chicken salad recipe as it is in tacos, soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, and anything else that needs a boost of protein and flavor. Using little more than your hands—or two forks—you can easily take down a pile of leftover chicken (or chicken you made specially for shredding) and stash it away in the refrigerator for a speedy weekday lunch or simple but hearty dinner. Need a New Chicken Recipe? Cathy Erway Has 50. What Kind of Chicken Can You Shred? The good news? Any cut of chicken, cooked pretty much any way you want! (If it's cooked, it can be shred). If you are cooking specifically to shred: the ideal contender is poached, slow-cooked, or roasted, and shredded while still slightly warm. You'll have a little more trouble shredding fried chicken wings, grilled chicken breast, or cooked chicken straight out of the refrigerator as these tend to be stiffer and denser with less of their natural juices intact (a problem you won't run into using wet- or slow-heat cooking methods). Shredding the leftover meat off the carcass of a roasted chicken is also a great way to make the most of a whole bird. What's the Best Way to Shred? Your bare hands are the best possible tools for shredding chicken. Using your hands helps prevent too-fine shreds (more on that later), and will help you locate and discard bones, skin, and cartilage more easily, while also maximizing the amount of meat you're able to get off the bone. Hold the cooked, still-warm chicken with your non-dominant hand and firmly pinch on one side with your dominant hand to locate the grain. Pull off this first shred in the size you'd like, and the lines of the grain will show you where to pinch and pull next. Repeat until the whole piece of chicken has been shredded. Or, use two forks—because not everyone fancies diving into a pile of chicken with their hands. Use one fork in your dominant hand to pull a shred of chicken the size you'd like (with the grain) away from the remainder, which you'll hold in place using the fork in your non-dominant hand. The chicken will "fracture" naturally along its grain, which you can follow to help locate your next pull. From Our Shop Sale! Food52 x Staub Round Cocotte $299–$389 $99–$389 More Options Simple Bamboo Lidded Bowls, Set of 3 $58 More Colors Ceramic Crock & Utensil Set $80 Other Tips: Avoid shredding the chicken too finely. The finer the shreds, the less succulent the chicken will be, and the more quickly it will dry out. Refrigerate shredded chicken in an airtight container with a half-cup of the poaching liquid (if available) to keep it moist and juicy for up to three days. Bring refrigerated cooked chicken to room temperature before shredding to help it separate more easily. Don't forget the skin! Separate it from chicken before cooking, season with salt and pepper, and crisp up separately on its own on a sheet pan for about 20 minutes at 375°F or until dark-golden brown and crunchy. Cool, crumble, and use as an umami-packed garnish for soups, salads, tacos—anything you like, really. Extra-crispy crispy chicken skin is truly a thing of beauty. Pulled Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Salsa How do you put a mountain of shredded chicken to good use? Got a great shredding tip? Let us know in the comments below.