Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Shuckin' and Jivin' with Cook's Illustrated

I have a love/hate relationship with Cook’s Illustrated. I love the recipes, the kitchen tips and the product reviews. What I don’t like is the template for recipes, which basically every article follows. The author starts out with a problem—how to make a turkey burger that’s not dry; rescuing tabbouleh, for example—and goes through a series of experiments that ends with a eureka moment and a triumphal result. For instance, in the turkey burger article from the current edition, the author tries grinding different cuts, adding a panade (milk and breadcrumbs), stock, butter and bacon fat, then baking soda and gelatin. Finally he tried a second grinding of a portion of the mixture, and then various grains and starches, before—aha—adding white mushrooms and soy sauce.
This is relatively interesting process on its own, but when every article follows the same script—then I got an idea, and it worked like a charm!—it begins to wear one’s patience. Besides, the presentation of the recipes in this scientific manner belies the many variables in the home kitchen that might affect the result. But nevertheless, the recipes are invariably interesting, and often quite good.

What set me to blogging this morning, was an article from the current issue about the “easiest-ever way to shuck corn.” Here is how it’s described:

Removing the husk and silk from an ear of corn is a chore, and a “corn de-silker” gadget that we tested proved to be a bust. But now we’ve found a better way: A short stint in the microwave and a quick shake are all it takes to cleanly slide off the corn husk and silk. The cob will heat up a bit, but the kernels won’t be cooked. 
1. With sharp chef’s knife, cut off stalk end of cob just above first row of kernels. Place 3 or 4 ears at a time on microwave-safe plate and microwave on full power for 30 to 60 seconds.
2. Hold each ear by uncut end in 1 hand. Shake ear up and down until cob slips free, leaving behind husk and silk.


I was intrigued by this, as one of my personal peeves is stray pieces of cornsilk that elude removal during shucking. I tried this three different times over the last two days. Here are my observations:

First of all, in the time it takes to cut off the stalk end and microwave the corn, you can shuck the ear (especially if you grew up in Essex County).

Secondly. Shaking the ear up and down produces no result whatsoever, let alone the cob “slipping free.” You have to work it out like one of those push-up popsicles. But it works, and there is less stray silk, but not none.

Overall, I’d judge it less effective than the traditional method. Could my failure have been due to this particular batch of corn? To the time in the microwave? To my shaking technique? Perhaps, but that just serves to emphasize my point about science vs. uncertainty in the kitchen.

Oh well. At least I got a blog post out of it.

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